The ‘good teaching’ project
This project explored high achieving university students’ conceptions of ‘good teaching’ and ‘effective learning’ in lecture and tutorial settings, using focus group discussions, critical incident technique and photovoice.
Thirty three high achieving Pacific (combined postgraduate and undergraduate), Māori, international and local (non-Māori and non-Pacific) postgraduate and undergraduate groups met twice over two weeks in August 2016, in seven focus groups. The first focus group session involved discussion based on open-ended questions and the use of critical incident technique, and the second used photovoice to elicit students’ ideas.
Project participants became part of a ‘student advisory panel’, since their insights will inform student support and staff professional development provision at the University of Otago. At the conclusion of the project, they were invited to a celebration hui with senior academic and student support staff from across the university, to acknowledge their contribution and provide feedback on our preliminary findings.
Findings about students’ conceptions of ‘good teaching’ and ‘effective learning’
Good teachers are passionate (or enthusiastic); approachable; and both knowledgeable and able to communicate knowledge effectively. While it is harder for some teachers than others to convey a sense of passion, and large classes can make it difficult to demonstrate approachability, passion can be exhibited in a range of ways, and small actions demonstrate approachability regardless of teaching constraints.
Passionate teachers speak in an animated way; relate content to personal stories and experiences; ask questions; proactively invite discussion; provide comprehensive written material; take time to consider new concepts from a range of angles; and use different examples to explain ideas.
These actions help students to focus, actively participate in class, ‘go deeper’ in their learning, and engage with and understand course content.
Approachable teachers proactively initiate communication; create opportunities for interaction regardless of class size; affirm students’ contributions; and are explicit about preferred avenues for student contact.
Approachable teachers foster relationships; invite diverse viewpoints; treat students as equals; use student questions as a teaching tool; and take the stance of both learner and teacher. Download the report here
Effective communication includes providing constructive and explicit feedback; articulating realistic expectations; and providing clear explanations, access to materials that support students’ study, and guidance on how to learn.
In the photovoice discussion, the students conceptualised good teaching and effective learning as a partnership where teachers and students work together. They suggested that recognising and catering to students’ diversity is central to good teaching, and that valuing diversity is central to effective learning. The students highlighted working with others (e.g. discussing ideas and hearing others’ perspectives) as an important aspect of learning at university, but stressed that learning effectively also requires recognising (and doing) what “works for you”. Finally, the students conceptualised good teaching as challenging students to see things in new ways. They suggested that effective learning involves seeing learning as a journey - recognising learning as “much more than marks”, and developing everyday practices that sustain and enable learning over time.
Notably, Māori students in our study commented on the impact of role models on their learning - senior Māori staff who are well respected by all students, and able to challenge dominant ideas. International students stressed the impact of clear communication on their learning, noting the importance of access to recorded lectures, particularly when teacher communication is not clear.
The students were overwhelmingly positive about their involvement in the study, and remained engaged throughout the research process. While some said that they found the photovoice task “challenging” or “difficult”, they also described it as “creative” and “fun”, and as prompting them to reflect on and “notice” teaching and learning. Students highlighted the value of running repeat focus group discussions over two weeks, although some suggested that a longer duration for the photovoice task might have been helpful. Recommendations included that we repeat the study with students in other academic divisions, and that in future, we endeavour to recruit students representing a wider spectrum of diversity.
Recommendations for university teachers and university students
For university teachers
Diverse teachers are needed to teach diverse students. There is no one way of being a ‘good teacher’ but our project findings suggest some principles that are likely to make teachers more effective when working with students. These are:
1. Good teachers demonstrate enthusiasm for their subject area, and for working with students. While not everyone is funny, animated, or entertaining in the way they teach, students find it easier to engage with teachers who seem to be personally invested in their subject area and in teaching. They notice when teachers seem happy and interested in their work!
2. Good teachers demonstrate approachability, or a willingness to engage with students. Small acts make a teacher seem approachable, even in very large classes. Examples include: introducing oneself to students, inviting and affirming teacher-student and student-student interaction during class, explaining how and when you can be contacted, and explicitly acknowledging and inviting diverse viewpoints.
3. Good teachers show competence and proficiency in their teaching. Students appreciate it when teachers have a ‘clear storyline’, link content to ‘real world’ experiences and examples, explain things clearly, provide a range of learning opportunities, and challenge students to explore ideas and see things in new ways. Good teachers can be seen as ‘translators’, who communicate effectively so that students understand, and engage in learning.
For university students
There are many ways of being an effective learner, and it is important to figure out (and do) what works for you. Our study findings suggest that:
1. Effective learners recognise their role in the teaching-learning partnership, and know what works for them. They prepare for and engage in class in ways that allow them to learn (for example, by reading course material and choosing to sit in a place that helps them stay focused). They also experiment with note-taking approaches to find what ‘works’ and feels comfortable, find and create study environments which allow them to both relax and focus, and actively seek out discussion and interaction as a strategic learning approach.
2. Effective learners focus on learning, rather than marks for their own sake. Effective learners conceptualise university study as a starting point, not an endpoint – as a ‘journey’ of discovery and exploration. Effective learners recognise the importance of time in the learning process. They understand that learning involves ‘sitting on’ information and ideas, and taking time to rest and to do things other than studying.
3. Effective learners remember where they have come from and where they are going. They keep their short and long-term goals in mind, and stay connected to people who can encourage them in the learning journey, including family, friends, classmates and teachers.
- Dr Vivienne Anderson
- Ana Rangi
- Esmay Eteuati
- Dr Rob Wass
- Assoc. Prof Clinton Golding
- Rafaela Rabello
(Pictured from left to right) Esmay Eteuati, Vivienne Anderson, Clinton Golding, Ana Rangi, Rafaela Rabello and Rob Wass
- Ako Aotearoa $9,954 (excl. GST)
- University of Otago $19,487 (excl. GST)
Project commenced: Mid 2016
Project completion: Mid 2017
Anderson, V., Wass, R., Anderson, V., Rangi, A., Eteuati, E., Golding, C., & Rabello, R. (2017). Reframing ‘curriculum transformation’ through attention to university students’ conceptions of good teaching. Proceedings of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) Annual Conference: Curriculum transformation, 27-30 June. International Convention Centre, Sydney, Australia. Retrieved from https://guidebook.com/guide/89612/event/16041647/
Wass, R., Anderson, V., Rangi, A., Eteuati, E., Golding, C., & Rabello, R. (2017). How do we foreground students’ voices to inform good practice (or curriculum change)? Proceedings of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) Annual Conference: Curriculum transformation, 27-30 June. International Convention Centre, Sydney, Australia. Retrieved from https://guidebook.com/guide/89612/event/16041635/
Anderson, V. (2016). What do ‘good teaching’ and ‘effective learning’ look like at university? Insights from international (and other) students. Proceedings of the 27th ISANA International Education Conference, 7-9 December. Te Papa, Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://2016.isanaconference.com/program
Wass, R., Anderson, V., Rangi, A., Eteuati, E., Golding, C. & Rabello, R. (2016). Insights from the Good Teaching Project: ‘Photovoice’ as a means for letting students speak. Proceedings of the Tertiary Education Research in New Zealand (TERNZ) Conference, 30 November - 2 December. University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://guidebook.com/guide/82933/event/14860127/
Rangi, A., Eteauti, E., Anderson, V., Rabello, R., Wass, R. & Golding, C. (2016). The good teaching project: Preliminary findings. Presentation at Ako Aotearoa Southern Hub Projects Colloquium IV, Christchurch. (14 November). Retrieved from https://akoaotearoa.ac.nz/download/ng/file/group-7/anderson-vivienne---colloquium-presentation.pdf
Besides these outputs, our project findings have also been integrated into workshops for students and staff at the University of Otago. We are also developing web-based and visual material for students based on our project.
|This report from this project is published under the Creative Commons 3.0 New Zealand Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike Licence (BY-NC-SA). Under this licence you are free to copy, distribute, display and perform the work as well as to remix, tweak, and build upon this work noncommercially, as long as you credit the author/s and license your new creations under the identical terms.|