Improving seminars – taking academic teaching seriously

Ina Fujdiak’s study is an excellent example of scholarship of teaching and learning. It investigates whether an introduction of active learning, especially student-to-student interaction, in six seminars was successful. Backed up by literature and observations an analysis reveal that the changed teaching method clearly was an improvement, even though further changes are still needed. The author concludes: “This teaching innovation convinced me that if the activities are planned well and properly integrated into the seminar, they can lead towards improved student understanding.”

This study took place at Masaryk University in Brno in a political science course. The author was responsible for six seminars included in a pre-defined course. The purpose of the seminars was, like in many cases to help students to construct a relevant and robust understanding of key concepts. The author, inspired by literature decided to encourage students to be active during the seminars. It resulted in the introduction of icebreaker exercises, group discussions, mind mapping, role-play, and other techniques to activate students. In the role-play activity students were asked to prepare by reading a case and then perform roles like “judge, prosecutor or the defendant”.

Several sources were used while collecting material for analysis. Two of these are student reflections and teacher observations of the activities. The author mentions that it would have been a further advantage to analyse the positions-papers student wrote and that was also graded. It would better have shown the level of understanding reached by students.

Having read the text I am struck by how experiences like these seem to be transferrable from teacher to teacher, from university to university, even between countries. First there is an idea about an improvement in a course. Second there is a bit of studying the literature, in this case on active learning. Third, designing teaching sessions according to the new idea. Fourth, teaching the class and being careful about what is going on. In this case also collecting data to pre-defined research questions. Fifth, analysing the material and sixth, deciding what worked and what did not and reflecting upon what to do next.

After more than thirty years as a consultant for academic teachers I can see the pattern repeating itself over and over again with good teachers. And in almost all cases it results in a conclusion saying that, “Yes, it did work, more or less. But next time I have to be a bit more careful about some things.” A teacher at Lund University where I work could have written this text. It would have been a very similar one. Conversely, it means that teachers at Lund University could also learn from this text.

It is like good teaching and good teachers look very similar. They take their task seriously. They read and think critically about teaching and use their insights to improve student learning. Mostly it results in improvements, but there is always room for further development, just as in this paper.

It reminds me of a paper published by Carolin Kreber where she investigates North American professors who were all rewarded both for their teaching and for their research. The main results, Kreber summaries are that these professors develop themselves in similar ways as teachers and as researchers. Teaching and research may be different practices, but as academics they read, they think, they collect observations and they constantly develop themselves.

Torgny Roxå, Lund University

Early Career Academics’ Reflection on Learning to Teach in Central Europe

SEDA is publishing an open access book online, with a chapter released on its website every fortnight.  Each time a chapter is released it will be accompanied by a blog post published on SEDA WordPress. The book is called Early Career Academics’ Reflections on Learning to Teach in Central Europe, edited by Gabriela Pleschová and Agnes Simon. This book contains case studies by participants of a new educational development programme who redesigned their course sessions to apply student-centred approaches, using innovative teaching methods and stimulate good learning.

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