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Novice teaching mistakes (Part 3)

Posted on: October 20, 2016

This is Part 3 of my reflections on the teaching mistakes that some novice instructors and future faculty (FF) might make.

In Part 1, I shared three implementation missteps. In Part 2, I highlighted two problems with planning. In this part, I comment on mindsets.

The danger of lectures is that they create the illusion of teaching for teachers, and the illusion of learning for learners.

Calling all lessons lectures. I know of some FF who cannot think outside the lecture box. They label all sessions lectures even if they are tutorials, coaching sessions, workshops, laboratory experiments, field trips, etc.

This is not a matter of semantics, but of mindset. Play a word association game starting with “university” and “lecture” will probably be among the first mentions.

Lectures are the least effective method of promoting deep and meaningful learning and this is one of the first boxes I try to get FF to climb out of. Unfortunately, if you have been in the box for a long time, it can be hard to think outside of it. It could be the pedagogical equivalent Stockholm Syndrome.

Efficiency as the rationale for change. In trying to justify change, I have noted that quite a few FF justify better teaching methods as being more efficient.

Why focus on efficiency? Lectures are very efficient from a teaching and mass processing point of view. Why not dwell on effectiveness? After all, deep learning takes time, e.g., learning-to-be takes longer than simply learning-about.

Not paying attention to WHY or SO WHAT. While evaluating the writing, planning, and teaching of FF, I notice that some individuals put the WHY of the lesson last or do not emphasise it at all.

Why is the lesson important to the learner? So what is it to them if they know something? What if they did not?

These are important questions that need to be addressed before focusing on the what, how, where, and when.

Everything in the room should just work or everyone has a smartphone. This might be true in a well-maintained campus and if there is a population of well-off, well-connected students.

However, tools can occasionally not work and FF need to think of contingencies. Some students might, for whatever reason, also choose to not use technology despite being reminded to bring a computing device. How are they to learn if the tools do not work or if they choose not to use them?

I share these thoughts not to shame new instructors or FF. We have all made mistakes and we should learn from them. However, there is a serious problem if FF do not admit to or realise they are making these basic mistakes. This is why I mention these mistakes explicitly.

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