Dr. Steven Hansen
Associate Director for Faculty Development at the Center for Teaching Excellence
An item that students consistently rank with a low average on teaching evaluations is “the instructor used a variety of instructional strategies.” In all honesty, sometimes I get stuck in a teaching rut where I conduct every class in the same way with the same instructional strategies. I become formulaic in my teaching. My pedagogy becomes liturgically predictable (i.e. – PowerPoint with mini-lectures and think-pair-share activities). It gets old after a few class sessions for the students and the instructor. How do I enliven my teaching routine?
I occasionally teach naked.
Of course, I am not being literal here. The idea comes from Bowen’s Teaching Naked (2012) where he makes a case for using technology outside the class to inform learning and focusing class time on authentic face-to-face interactions between faculty and students. If you regularly teach using PowerPoint, try to occasionally send the information electronically to students ahead of class for review, and spend the class time solving an intriguing problem or discussing issues that the material raises. This approach works particularly well for topics that you have seen students struggle with in previous semesters and allows you to spend more time coaching and allowing students to practice during class time.
I occasionally have the class play a game.
I recently had to teach a nuts and bolts session to graduate students on giving feedback and grading fairly. Wanting to break away from the monotony of PowerPoint, mini-lecture and discussion, I decided to design a game that I entitled “University Clue.” Like the traditional game, students were asked to solve who, where and what of a mystery: “A professor is hurting students with negative feedback. The morale in the professor’s class is at an all-time low. You must put the clues together to discover who the professor is, where the professor teaches, and what weapon the professor is using.” While students worked through a series of worksheets to solve the mystery, they were analyzing types of feedback that an instructor can give and examining how approaches to grading impact learners. Academic games are a great way to add some variety to your teaching repertoire.
I occasionally employ spy tactics.
According to Sun Tzu in The Art of War, an ancient Chinese military treatise, “Be subtle! Be subtle! And use your spies for every kind of business.” Students are great sources of information to enliven your teaching repertoire. From the first day of class, try to learn as much about your students as you can. Discovering their interests, hobbies, majors and talents allows you to think of new ways to relevantly teach your discipline. You can also ask your students to spy on you and give you feedback about how the course is going. In my experience, students will often tell me what will help their learning and make suggestions about classroom activities they would find useful.
While we do not have to change our instructional strategies every class, occasional changes to our teaching routine reduces the likelihood of receiving low ratings on teaching evaluations, and more importantly, makes learning interesting for students.