Good teaching emerges in a complex interplay and depends on the concrete framework conditions and the people involved. But even though successful teaching is highly individual and context-sensitive, there are some basic factors that can significantly support and strengthen the teaching and learning process. In this section, we present some of these success factors.
Together with the students, you as the lecturer are at the center of the teaching-learning process. You play a very significant role in shaping the learning environment and set the framework in which competencies and knowledge can be acquired. It is you who gives the subject a face, whose voice describes the phenomena and the questions of your subject area, and who motivates the students to learn on their own responsibility. And it is you who inspires students to think critically and act responsibly.
Good teaching places high demands on lecturers and goes far beyond reproducing subject content correctly. It is closely linked to the personality, self-competence and social skills of teaching staff. Therefore, there are no patents that guarantee you to teach well. Your teaching is always very personal and just as individual as you are – and only in this way can it be good teaching. Learning and teaching are essentially interactive processes and include an important social component. Finding your own style and living it authentically are important factors for enjoying teaching yourself – and reinforce the learning success of your students, because you thereby create conducive conditions for motivated and inspired learning.
- Important prerequisites for good teaching are an interest in the successful learning process of the students and in the subject. Think back to what excited you as a student. What motivates you today in your engagement with students and the topic?
- Make sure you are comfortable: with the way you teach, the role you take as a lecturer, the methods you choose, and the content you want to convey. This will enable you to communicate with students fluently and sympathetically, and to have a pleasant, and fluid teaching-learning dialogue.
- As a lecturer, you do not always have to be nice and accept transgressive behavior. It is also important to set clear boundaries and ensure that rules of the game are followed. Think about what is really important to you and make it clear to students in a friendly but firm manner what you expect from them. Provide feedback that is open and developmental. This way, students know their limits and what is required of them.
- Try out how you can activate your students and inspire them to engage intensively with the content. How you do this should suit you as a person, the easier it will be for you to apply the appropriate method with a good feeling and in a target-oriented manner.
- Of course, the linguistic expression, formulations, as well as your body language play a major role, for example, for the quality of the teaching-learning process, the comprehensibility of the content and the contact with your students. Nevertheless, stay natural, do not put yourself under pressure to be the perfect rhetorician! If you want to improve something in your appearance, start with small, concrete changes. Observe how you feel and what successes you achieve. Little by little, you will expand your scope of action as a lecturer more and more.
Motivated lecturers promote the motivation of their students – and vice versa. Unfortunately, the reality in the lecture halls also looks different: Lecturers experience students as disinterested and unmotivated – and vice versa. The result can be a cycle of declining teaching quality, insufficient exam results and poor teaching evaluations. It is therefore important that you design your teaching in such a way that it enriches you. Your satisfaction and joy in teaching will also benefit your students.
It is not uncommon for university faculty to perceive their teaching responsibilities as an additional burden that diverts resources from their research activities. The exposed position of teaching seems unfamiliar and is experienced as uncomfortable. However, if you succeed in designing your teaching in such a way that you enjoy dealing with the teaching content and the students, if you manage to cultivate a personal interest in the subject matter and if you are convinced of the effectiveness of your own teaching, then your teaching will become a source of exchange, inspiration and a sense of achievement – for you and for your students.
- To find the joy of teaching again, you should first ask yourself what reduces your motivation to teach. Consider which factors you can influence yourself. University teachers often underestimate the freedom they have to shape their teaching. Are you bored with teaching the same course every semester? Then create variety by trying out new teaching methods or varying the focus of the content.
- Not every topic is equally interesting for you. Nevertheless, you should definitely use your own approach to the topic for the concrete planning of the course. What content do you consider particularly unwieldy? What do you consider complex and what rather simple? Take these considerations into account when choosing the thematic focus, the structure and methodical preparation of your course. Consider the extent to which you can incorporate your own research interests into your teaching.
- Few things are more frustrating than finding out that students get little or nothing out of your course. However, we know that students learn particularly well when the relevance to their application and profession is immediately apparent to them. Therefore, create authentic learning situations by integrating forms and methods of work that are common in the professional field into your teaching and by inviting subject experts.
- Create forums of exchange with colleagues and benefit from their feedback!
- And by all means: Invest in contact with students! Ask about their professional interests and career goals, but also about their specific study situation.
According to Ken Bain, a well-known university researcher, particularly successful lecturers have one essential characteristic in common: they can motivate their students and help them motivate themselves. But what actually is motivation, how does it arise, and how can I awaken it in my students?
Motivation represents the most important success factor for successful learning. Studies show that most first-year students start their studies highly motivated – but that this motivation soon drops. It is therefore important to create settings in which students remain motivated and do not become demotivated.
How can you as a lecturer create such settings? The basic motives of people can be divided into autonomy ("I can decide for myself when I do what"), experience of competence ("I feel that I can do something") and social embedding ("I want to be part of a community"). Students are motivated, for example, by being presented with positive challenges when they receive feedback on their performance, when content is packaged in such a way that students feel a connection to their personal motivations.
Your students chose the subject for good reasons and started their studies highly motivated; help them retain or rediscover that motivation. As a lecturer, you can motivate, for example, through lively introductions to a topic, practical references, group tasks, and interactivity – and this is just a small sample of the tools available to promote motivation.
- Just an exciting headline can already be motivating.
- At the beginning of a teaching unit, think about a motivating introduction to the topic, in which you show the relevance of the topic, for example, or start with an exciting problem or a typical task.
- Ask your students interactively about their previous knowledge and classify it as a basis for today's teaching material.
- Create references to your students, tie in current developments (newspaper headlines, television reports, political discussions, city gossip).
- You can also take a historical approach. Ask your students what developments, issues, problems led to the development of the content you are addressing today in the course. Show pictures of personalities of the past, make comparisons between old and current approaches.
- Be careful with rewards, they can destroy students' intrinsic motivation! If you reward, it is best not to do so materially, but e.g. with verbal feedback related to the performance in the task.
Learning outcomes are generally understood as statements about what students know or can do after attending the course. Wisely formulated learning outcomes lead students to become more self-directed in their learning.
Well-formulated learning outcomes serve the following functions:
- They support teaching staff in making the shift from teaching to learning.
- They support teaching staff in reducing the course to goal-oriented content (didactic material reduction).
- They make it transparent to the students what is to be achieved by the course, thereby strengthening self-responsibility and opening up alternative learning paths.
However, formulating learning outcomes is not easy - especially because most lecturers are used to starting from the teaching content to be taught (for example, starting with the bullet-point listing of content) and it is difficult to derive learning outcomes from this perspective. In fact, it should be the other way around: content points should be derived from learning outcomes.
A proven method of describing learning outcomes is based on Bloom's Taxonomy, a scale that describes increasingly complex performance. Learning outcomes are qualified using concrete and observable verbs that describe student accomplishments to be achieved. Bloom's Taxonomy describes cognitive learning outcomes (for example, knowledge, understanding, reflection) as well as motor skills and attitudes. Typically, a 45-minute teaching unit can be represented by three to five learning outcomes.
- Formulate learning outcomes in a way that students can assess themselves or at least estimate whether they have already achieved the learning objective or not.
- Formulate learning outcomes along the lines of "At the end of the course, students will be able to ..." and then describe the learning outcome as a student activity that is observable and auditable. The university office has created a handout for this purpose with blinding lists and specific examples.
- Consider Bloom's Taxonomy as a guide, but ultimately the reasonably accurate description of the service to be provided is more important than a correct taxonomy classification.
- Every once in a while, teaching staff present the learning outcomes at the beginning of the course; this, combined with an agenda, can lead to tedious redundancy. In your course, differentiate between the agenda and the learning outcomes; the former is intended to motivate and provide an overview, the latter is well suited for a pre-session briefing or summary.
While teaching staff often see the teaching process from the perspective of the course content, students, in contrast, often start planning their learning process from the examinations. If exams are not carefully designed, students usually learn differently and differently from what instructors intended: "What you test is what they learn."
Formulating learning outcomes is an important tool for defining precisely and transparently what the intended outcome of a course is. However, in order to encourage students to learn in depth and acquire competencies, in the sense of Constructive Alignment, not only the content but above all the examinations must be aligned with the learning outcomes: this is the only way to ensure that students acquire the intended competencies. In order to design a course according to Constructive Alignment, after the definition of the learning outcomes, the forms of examination are first determined, in order to then align the structure and content of the course with the examination tasks. However, this procedure is not strictly linear: For example, the realization that certain learning outcomes cannot be tested in a meaningful way can lead to a change in the desired learning outcome.
- Start by defining the learning outcomes. Formulate no more than three to five goals for a lesson that are as concrete, clear, and realistic as possible. Reduce the content accordingly in a didactically sensible way. Remain honest in your expectations towards yourself and your students.
- In the second step, design examination tasks with which you can test the intended learning outcomes.
- Only in the third step do you design the actual course; make sure that the teaching steps tangibly prepare for the exam. This strengthens students' motivation to actively participate in the learning process and to take responsibility.
- If you implement Constructive Alignment consistently, the effort at the beginning of the semester is actually comparatively high. The effort is rewarded by the clear structure and the higher motivation of the students.
- You can facilitate Constructive Alignment by aiming for higher differentiation and flexibility in the development of exams – of course, always within the framework of the examination regulations and the approved forms of examinations.
- In the course of supporting the Bologna Process, TUM Center for Study and Teaching provides handouts for implementing Constructive Alignment.
Since modern teaching and learning research has proven that learning is an active process, activating teaching methods have also been pushing their way into universities. This is a growing arsenal of teaching methods that are intended to release students from a passive-receptive role and get them to think intensively in a course and actively participate and join in.
Often in courses, especially large lectures, no real learning takes place. Instead, students sit out the time and gather material and information, only to actively engage with the material later, usually during exam preparation. Since this behavior pattern has a number of disadvantages (for example, only short-term and superficial learning, time constraints and stress during the examination phases), attempts are made to get students to deal with the material during the lectures.
To address and engage students personally, lecturers can use factual, social and personal tactics: On the factual level, it is important to arouse interest in the course content; on the social level, to strengthen the group feeling; and on the personal level, to increase one's own responsiveness. Naturally, this is easier in smaller events (seminars, tutorials), since students there cannot so easily submerge themselves in an anonymous crowd. But it is also possible in large lectures to get the students to think and participate actively.
- Expect that your students will not be enthusiastic at first about the fact that they have to think actively in the course because it is exhausting and unfamiliar. Do not be discouraged by a skeptical or negative attitude of your students; explain your teaching concept in the first lesson, motivate them to get involved and stay persistent. Thinking for yourself and collaborating is like a muscle that needs to be exercised.
- At the beginning of a course, you can use hand raising polls to snap students out of a passive consumer mindset early on and create an interactive atmosphere.
- Solid motivation for the subject matter and good rapport with students greatly facilitate activation.
- Questions and dialogical work are effective tools to achieve student activation even in large lectures.
- In smaller groups, there are also a number of small group exercises in which students can deepen acquired knowledge, critically reflect on it, or apply it on a trial basis. Here, the spectrum ranges from classic small group work to role plays to decentralized knowledge transfer using learning islands. There is sure to be a method that suits you. Feel free to get advice!
You can enhance the effectiveness of your teaching by using targeted media to support your lecture. This can be PowerPoint slides, but also objects brought along, video sequences or sound effects. However, if used improperly, media can also distract from the actual teaching content; here we give you some tips on how to use media professionally.
Media can support your lecture by illustrating key points, relieving the cognitive load and making it easier to keep the thread running. In addition to the classic visualization media such as PowerPoint, blackboard and overhead, there are also tablets, pinboards, or flipcharts, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Above all, however, you yourself are the most important medium by giving the teaching material a voice and a face.
- Slides should primarily provide visual support for your teaching lecture – don't misuse slides as memory aids (laboriously shuffling from keyword to keyword makes teaching lectures boring) or handouts (too much text on slides ensures that students read the slides instead of paying attention to you).
- The visualization should highlight the most important points: Limit yourself to the core aspects on the slides, add the rest orally or in dialogue with students.
- Slides should support you in explaining difficult issues (e.g. by graphics or small animations). Use pictures rather than text. Use diagrams rather than tables of numbers. Pay attention to reading direction and guide students through complex graphics (using laser pointers, animations).
- Font size should be no smaller than 18 points; use sans-serif fonts such as Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, or Tahoma; use no more than 4 colors.
- Changing media is a tool to add variety to lectures, reawaken students, and thus extend the typical 20-minute attention span.
- If you interrupt a presentation on the projector to draw something on the board, darken the presentation by pressing the "b" key or turn on the board light.
- Bulletin boards are particularly useful for small groups to collect content interactively; students can write their ideas on cards and pin them, or you may have pre-written cards that you pin or reveal when students name them.
The influence of university lecturers on the actual learning behavior of students is usually overestimated – and underestimated in other respects: on the one hand, the majority of learning in studies takes place outside of courses as self-learning, but on the other hand, the opportunities to specifically integrate and support these learning phases can be used in a targeted manner.
In order for students to be able to control their own learning, they need to know what they need to learn and how, and where they are at the moment. So make it transparent in your course what you want your students to learn during the semester in and beyond the in-person event. Provide a frame of reference that defines the learning outcomes to be achieved in terms of their structure and stages, and keep pointing out important content, strategies, and contexts. Create targeted occasions that support self-learning: for example, through exercises, homework, quizzes, midterm exams, learning portfolios. Provide students with resources and help them assess themselves and their learning progress.
Help students find the learning strategies and techniques that are right for them: Explain the techniques and provide meta-explanations of why and how they work. Or encourage students to take study skills reinforcement courses. Encourage cooperative learning through teamwork so that students can also learn from each other and give each other feedback.
Always anticipate resistance, however, because students often have the expectation that knowledge will be served to them in a bite-size format. You should also not be discouraged by the typical learning cycle of many students to learn only in small doses during the semester and to familiarize themselves with the content only in preparation for exams. Self-study can and must be learned and taught like anything else – and remember: like any learning process, it takes time.
- Many learning strategies and techniques use e.g. transcripts, mind maps, index cards, old exam papers. Point them out on occasion, use them if necessary, and report on your own experiences with learning techniques, e.g. mnemonic bridges.
- Resources: In addition to classic materials such as book recommendations, links, journal articles, this area also includes office hours and tutor consultations as well as electronic offerings such as wikis or FAQs.
- Integrate your offerings into your students' natural learning environment. Spatially: students learn at home, in the library, or in learning spaces at the department or school, for example. Technical: Students often learn with the help of a computer, using Google, Wikipedia, mind managers, chats.
- Learning progress can be shown through e-tests, mock exams, homework corrections, for example. Also offer individual feedback in office hours, mails or discussion forums and show what students can already do and where they should still improve.
We are becoming increasingly aware of the diversity of the world in which we live in different contexts – heterogeneity among students is also growing in teaching. Especially in a university with the claim to attract the brightest minds nationally and internationally, the professional and innovative handling of heterogeneity plays a major role and represents an important success factor of successful teaching.
At the university, we encounter diversity on many different levels: Students and teaching staff differ in terms of age, gender, culture, language, health, background, religion, etc. Corresponding differences emerge in individual teaching and learning styles and significantly shape social interaction and communication between students and faculty. Nevertheless, age-, gender- or culture-related differences are rarely reflected and taken into account in the planning and implementation of teaching.
Instead, teaching staff tend to assume homogeneity of learning prerequisites. Deviations are perceived as disruptive because they break up habitual patterns of action, demand spontaneous reactions and impair the smooth flow of teaching. It is therefore worthwhile to consider the factor "diversity" already in the preparation of one's own course. By consciously dealing with the diversity of your students, you expand your own spectrum of action and perspectives as a teacher. At the same time, you make an important contribution to the participation of all talents in the scientific community, which will continue to gain importance in the course of globalization and lifelong learning. Competition for students and specialists is constantly increasing; innovative solutions in dealing with heterogeneous target groups are required to ensure equal opportunities for all through individual support.
- Reflect on how diversity influences your teaching: How is your teaching shaped by your own socio-cultural background, gender identity, skin color, religious location/worldview? What role do students' different assumptions and expectations play in your teaching?
- Sharpen your perception of situations in which you belong to the minority instead of the majority. What does the foreignness of your environment trigger in you emotionally? What, if anything, reduces or increases your discomfort?
- Regardless of the number and heterogeneity of learners, there are didactic strategies and methods that individually support the acquisition of competencies. These include, for example, taking prior knowledge into account, forming clusters, or using peer teaching.
- Offer a range of teaching and learning methods and convey content at multiple levels of understanding: Students with still-low learning skills get guidance through clear content summaries, advanced learners get excited about the topic through transfer questions, and outstanding students can deepen their knowledge by referring to more advanced research and literature.
- Take advantage of TUM’s advisory service on diversity matters!