University lecturers need to be trained to teach

Besides knowing what to teach university students, professors should also be equipped with effective teaching skills.

I believe most university lecturers in our local universities do not need to attend any formal teaching classes.

But, if it is mandatory for teachers from primary to junior college levels to learn how to teach, no less should be expected of those at the university level.

Many professors continue to use lectures as the main avenue of instruction, even though evidence shows that undergraduates learn best when they actively participate in classroom discussions and activities.

My daughter, who is an undergraduate in a local university and did an exchange stint at an overseas one, has had lecturers who run the gamut from the ineffective to the enlightened. Some inspire her; others turn her off.

One of the more effective teachers she has had is a research scientist who trained at the National Institute of Education before he went into research.

Lecturers may not know everything about their subject, but students will always appreciate someone who is enthusiastic about it. Lecturers who are passionate about their subjects are able to spark interest in their students, even when the topic is inherently dry.

Perhaps lecturers can approach teaching in the same way they conduct their research.

Just as in scientific research, an instructor may start with a hypothesis about how a teaching method will help students learn a concept, and integrate assessment to determine its efficacy.

As in research, the results of each "experiment" should provide information on whether to improve the design of subsequent lessons.

Currently, many university courses mainly comprise lectures and tutorials, with high-stakes tests and examinations at the end of the course. This often proves detrimental to struggling students, who the lecturers do not identify before it is too late.

Having lecturers who are cognisant of evidence-based teaching strategies, which includes well-structured courses with prompt feedback from students, will enhance the learning experience of undergraduates, with far-reaching effects.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'University lecturers need to be trained to teach'. Print Edition | Subscribe