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Designing an academic course or revising an existing one, getting it approved by the relevant authorities and subsequently implementing it, is a very complex and challenging process. The design of an educational programme has been commonly associated with the idea of a curriculum. In formal education a curriculum generally consists of a range of courses described in terms of their content and/or learning outcomes that are offered by an educational institution together with a specific learning program. The learning program usually includes students' formative experience in terms of methods of teaching, learning and assessment adopted by that institution to reach the purpose of the educational programme.
Unlike the teachers in primary or secondary education, where course design has been handed over to 'experts', teachers in higher education have a considerable advantage: they are in control of their curriculum. An important feature in the profession of teaching is the design of the curriculum including the choice of the course, its aims and the planning of student learning experience. Consequently course design is an advantage of which many teachers in universities seem quite unaware of.
The new environment in which universities operate as a consequence of changes in their student population, their mission and organization have had a major impact on the ethos of higher education and implicitly on the nature of the university curriculum. For a long period of time the academic life has been shaped around the different disciplines and subject areas that have provided a means of structuring knowledge and understanding, contributing in the same time to the formation of professional and social identity. (Rabinow, 1984).
In the 1980s to 1990s, the organization of university curriculum around the different disciplines has started to be found as inappropriate. There were a series of factors including economical, technological or social-cultural expansion that were going to impose fundamental changes in the academic heartland of the disciplines and subject areas. Policy-makers were aware that in order to make the national economy competitive in global markets, a step forward was to improve people's skills and capabilities to make them act in new productive ways. Toward this the education was viewed as playing a crucial role by adopting a strategy of creating and developing knowledge within a multidisciplinary context. In the same time technological developments, particularly in the area of information technology was facilitating the creation and transfer of knew knowledge with huge socio-economical impact. Beyond economic and technological causes, socio-cultural trends, such as the pressure to widen the participation to higher education were also working to change traditional curricula to accommodate the diversity of student interests, experience and social origins.
As a result, many of the traditional way of organizing and delivering knowledge in a framework based on disciplines, had to be reconsidered, changing the nature of the relationship between education and society. In the attempt to understand the nature of those changes and how these have affected the curriculum development, four models have emerged (Bocock and Watson, 1994).
Higher education as private interest has dominated the nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries, reflecting a position in which the forms and practice of higher education were mainly a matter of the private interests of the academic community, the engagement in knowledge discovery for its own sake being its main characteristic.
Higher education as Public interest is a model that started to shape in the last quarter of the twentieth century, when the state became interested in the performance of the higher education. The curriculum was still dominated by disciplines, but started also to carry some degree of public interests.
Higher education as public direction is a feature of the late twentieth century in UK and is represented as an active intervention by the state in the internal character of the academic life. In designing curriculum, the curiosity of academics in discipline development is restricted and students learning experience involves an acquisition of learning and skills with a primary focus on their application and economic return.
Higher education as Market direction is a modern model where the curriculum development is market driven in terms of both students' interests and employability
The four models presented above illustrate the evolution of the values and constraints driving the development of the curriculum in higher education during the last century, which has been shifted from a discipline focused to a learner centred curriculum. All these have resulted in a series of different approaches to curriculum development in higher education, including those reflecting traditional values in universities or those based on more recent beliefs about the role of higher education within the socio-economical context of the nation.
1.2 Ideologies in curriculum design
Based on the study by Toohey (1999) there are five main approaches that can be identified over time in universities and colleges' curriculum, the design of which was driven by a series of fundamental educational questions such as:
What is the characteristics of knowledge in a particular discipline or profession
What are the goals and objective and what content is essential to achieve these goals
How the knowledge transfer is implemented and assessed. What is the role of the teachers and what is expected from students
According to these considerations the five main approaches to curriculum design are:
The traditional or discipline-based approach structures the knowledge around the different disciplines. This approach has dominated the academic life till late in the twentieth century and it is still used in some universities for the development and implementation of traditional programmes (Ex: Mathematics degree, Biology degree, Chemistry degree etcâ€¦). Programmes of study are generally structured around important concepts in some rational manner. For example, in mathematics the course might be structured based on the different branches: Algebra, Geometry, Calculus, Topology, Probabilities, etc.; in English literature, course might be divided according to the major forms (poetry, prose, drama) and the historical development of each. The principal characteristic is that the course exists within the subject matter itself, the knowledge being considered independent from the way people learn, or their interests, or the everyday problems. The knowledge is viewed as a large body of information that the teacher is supposed to filter in order to extract the main concept and communicate them to students, the learning goals being often described as a list of important topics that the student is expected to become familiar with after the completion of the course.
The performance or the systems-based approach has been introduced by Tyler (1949), whose view was that education is a purposeful activity, which goals needs to be clearly defined, the achievement of these goals being conditioned by well chosen teaching and evaluation methods. The systems-based approach has been further elaborated by Taba (1962) and Romiszowski (1984) into the so called instructional systems approach to course design, which main characteristic is that learning outcomes are clearly specified in advance in behavioural terms to allow an accurate evaluation of student performance. Within the systems-based approach the theoretical knowledge is presented only within an applied context, the main learning goal being to become a skilled performer. The learning outcomes are often presented as a hierarchy of behaviours (understand, evaluate, critique, apply) required to achieve the final skilled performance. Within this framework, the teacher has the complex role to determine the kinds of skills and knowledge that are required to achieve the outcomes, the order in which they need to be introduced and decide how they will be assessed. Based on all this, the student has a very clear view on what is expected from him to learn.
The cognitive approach was driven by the idea that the purpose of learning is to develop student's mind, to provide them with opportunities for developing their intellectual faculties. This approach, originated in the nineteenth century, was promoting the idea that some subjects such as Mathematics or Latin, were important not for its content, but for helping to develop specific intellectual abilities or transferable skills to other areas of knowledge. The learning goals of the cognitive approach are to develop good thinkers and problem solvers, in a context where knowledge is personally structured, being focused on real word examples, to insure that new knowledge is integrated with previous experience. Consequently, the content is not chosen for broad coverage, but based on the possibilities it offers to develop key intellectual abilities and mastering important theories. The role of the teacher is to guide the students through a critical examination of theirs understandings by facilitating small group interactions. Examples of cognitive approach to curriculum development include the curricula developed by Edward de Bono to develop creativity and lateral thinking (De Bono, 1970), the critical thinking curricula developed at Sonoma University (http://www.sonoma.edu), the cognitive apprenticeship model (Schon,1991), or the conceptual change curriculum for science learning (Ramsden,1988).
The experiential or personal relevance approach has been first developed by Knowles (1980) whose view on the matter was that educational programmes need to be designed with respect to students' needs and interests. Within this approach the knowledge considered is the one that has high relevance to the student, the emphasis being placed on learning from experience, including student previous experience as well as experience that is planned and organized by the teacher, whose role is to make students aware about the skills and knowledge that are relevant for their profession. The learning goals in the experiential approach may cover a full range of learning within the particular area of study, but it requires student involvement in their formulation. As for the content this is chosen as a result of strong collaboration between teacher and student. This kind of approach puts a lot of emphasis on helping individuals in taking responsibility for their own learning and in developing their own reasoning. The experiential based approach has been adopted in higher education in particular in management and education studies, the "action learning projects" being such an example (Kramer, 2008).
The socially critical approach is based on the idea that the role of educational system is to develop a critical consciousness in students to make them aware about the societal problems and motivate them to acquire a certain level of education in order to resolve them. Based on this approach, the knowledge is built within the historical and cultural context of the society and understanding is achieved through interactions with other people from the same social background, teacher's role being to help students to reflect on their own views and encourage them to consider other possibilities. A key question which always considered within this exercise is "Whose interests are being served here?" (Toohey, 1999). The learning goals are set such as to produce a graduate capable of self-realization within a social context, the content being usually organized based on investigations or projects, which similar to the experiential approach require a high level of small group interactions. A curriculum based on the socially critical approach has been successfully developed and implemented in the past within the literacy and political education programmes, which aim was to try develop a more critical consciousness about working conditions under different political systems (Freire,1970).
1.3. Is there a specific approach that dominates?
The five approaches to curriculum design presented above correspond to different ideologies about the purpose of the higher education and how it should be carried out. It can be easily noticed that these approaches are linked to the four socio-educational models presented in the previous section as well as the different theories about learning, i.e. the behaviourism, the cognitive and social constructivist or experiential learning models. Consequently, each of the approaches has its own advantages and its own limitations, and depending on the filed of study whether is related to sciences, engineering or humanities, one approach might be more predominant than another. Examples can include, sciences programmes developed using a problem based curriculum, where a high value is placed on experiential learning together with the cognitive approach. On the other hand in humanity studies it is the socially critical model that has become more and more popular over the past two decades, while for degrees in fundamental disciplines such as Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, etc, a discipline based approach is still appropriate at least for the first levels of study, to enable student to broaden their knowledge within a particular discipline, which is essential before aiming for more challenging educational goals.
In really, the majorities of the current higher education programmes have as educational goals a broad knowledge of the discipline, skilled performance, intellectual ability, meaningful learning or critical thinking suggesting that all the ideological approaches to curriculum presented earlier, are to be considered at some stage of the programme design process. Therefore, to set up the academic characteristics and standards of UK programmes and help the Higher Education Institutions with Programme design, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has defined 46 honours degree benchmark statements.
"Subject benchmark statements set out expectations about standards of degree in a range of subject areas. They describe what gives a discipline its coherence and identity, and define what is expected from a graduate in terms of the techniques and skills needed to develop understanding in the subject."
(QAA, 2000 http://www.qaa.ac.uk )
According to these statements, it is clear that regardless the discipline, a degree is more than subject content alone, and that together with subject specific skills, all curricula must include also generic skills as well as approaches and attitudes, that need to be introduced, practiced and assessed during the period of study. A way to achieve this is by employing a progressive skills map rather than a repetitive approach, and so by replacing the behavioural method with a constructivist approach where at various stages of the degree course new skills and attitudes are build on skills already achieved at previous stages. These considerations have led to a curriculum design linking the constructivist learning theory to an outcome-based approach, i.e. by combining the experiential or personal relevance approach to the system-based approach to curriculum design described previously. Firstly proposed by Biggs (2003), the combination of the two theories is known as the constructivist alignment being generated by two key principles. The first principle reflects the constructivist approach to learning, stating that learning and teaching should be learner-centred, while the second is derived from the systems-approach to curriculum design and states that: "aims and learning outcomes, learning and teaching activities and assessment must be aligned so that learners know what is to be achieved" (Morss and Murray, 2005). In addition, the clear formulation of the learning outcomes, in the constructivist alignment curriculum, gives the advantage that it can be used to measure the degree of effectiveness of the educational system. As a consequence, this approach has been particularly attractive to governments, which have tried to convince universities to adopt it whenever possible (Morss and Murray, 2005)
The different theories presented above reflect only the educational aspects that need to be considered when designing a curriculum. However, given the socio-economical environment within which the educational process is currently taking place, when establishing a new programme of study it is also important to ensure the sustainability of the course, which is subject to institutional related priorities and resources as well as the societal demands. Consequently, any new course needs to be first scrutinized to determine how well it fits to the university or school mission and what values are added to the existing provision, what are the resources required in terms of teaching support and facilities and whether the institution can dispose of these resources. In the same time any new course has to be marketable to students and to prospective employers and must produce enough funding to make it feasible.
Based on the study presented above we can conclude that designing a new programme or revising an existing one is not necessarily an easy task requiring a lot of consideration not only from the educational perspective but also in terms of programme management by taking into account the different constraints and facilities that are associated with the specific course. These considerations will be further discussed in the next section based on an example of curriculum design within my subject discipline.
2. Plan, design and evaluate major components of a curriculum utilising appropriate theories.
In this section I will present the way I planned, implemented and evaluated the statistics component within the Biomedical Sciences (BMS) programme, which is run by the School of Contemporary Sciences. The programme itself has been designed and implemented about five or six years ago, being approved by the Health Professions Council (HPC) and also accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS). The general trend in the BMS programme design follows the constructivist alignment approach discussed earlier and therefore it is learner-centred and is based on very clearly formulated aims and learning outcomes. As such, one of the aims of the programme is the development of practical skills involved in the gathering and utilisation of biological related data and information. This goal is reached through the implementation of the Techniques and Skills (1, 2 and 3) modules that run during the 1st, 2nd and 3rd levels of the programmes, each of these modules containing a considerable statistics component. As a consequence, statistics is not taught within a specific dedicated module. In order to reach the learning outcomes, the team involved in the design of the programme six years ago has found it more appropriate to structure the statistics component into three parts to be taught progressively during the first three years of the programme study. I joined the team three years ago, so I have not been originally involved in the design of the programme and the formulation of the learning outcome, however when the Technique and Skills modules get revised every year I am invited to design the statistics component in terms of content, method of delivery and assessment, ensuring in the same time coherence amongst the other components of these modules.
As mentioned above the modules have been designed based on the constructivist alignment method, the main focus being on aims and learning outcomes. In addition to that, the module descriptor contains the indicative content and the method of delivery together with the method of assessment to evaluate student learning. These different components of the module descriptor will be presented and discussed below:
Module aim: Generally, in order to describe the purpose of the activity, the aims are presented in broad terms such as: enable, facilitate, provide, introduce, etc. For the Techniques and Skills modules the aims were formulated as follows (http://cserv.abertay.ac.uk/modschem/modules):
Techniques and skills (level 1, module BI0703A): The aim of this module is to provide the student with competency and expertise in using experimental techniques, methodologies, data analysis and safe laboratory practice
Techniques and skills (level 2, module BI0806A): The aim of this module is to prepare students to undertake rigorous and independent study. To enable students to acquire and demonstrate competence in the gathering, interpretation, manipulation and utilisation of electronic information. To review and develop relevant statistical techniques.
Techniques and skills (level 3, module BI0905A): The aim of this Module is to develop expertise in experimental technique, methodologies and safe laboratory practice, to develop competency in statistical methods and reference searches, to formulate present and defend research proposals, and to give bioethical consideration to life sciences topics.
As it can be noticed, all three modules aim that students will progressively develop and apply statistical knowledge relevant to bio-medical sciences.
Learning outcomes: Unlike aims, learning outcomes are defined using specific statements of what students should know or be able to do after completing the module. According to the constructivist alignment, these statements should be described as a hierarchy of observable behaviours required to achieve the final skilled performance. Such behaviours are best presented using action verbs such as: describe, discuss, measure, calculate, demonstrate, appreciate, attain, evaluate, etc. In this way, the outcomes are SMART i.e. specific for the students to know what they have to do, measurable so that staff can evaluate student performance, achievable, relevant to the aims of the course and time limited (Moss and Murray, 2005). For the statistics component within the Techniques and Skills the learning outcomes have been defined as follows:
By the end of the module the student should be able to:
Level 1 (BI0703A): Demonstrate competency in biological data handling and experimental design.
Level 2 (BI0806A): Appreciate the importance of good experimental design and biostatistical analysis
Level 3 (BI0905A): Attain a working knowledge of experimental design and biostatistical analysis
These outcomes have been specified by the module coordinator, when the module has been firstly design and implemented a good few years ago, and to my knowledge they have not been changed since. In my opinion, the learning outcomes define the appropriate hierarchy of behaviours required for the student to achieve the final skills; however they don't seem to be specific enough. For example the LO for level 2, "Appreciate the importanceâ€¦" is too subjective and therefore difficult to measure. Perhaps, for the statistics component, the outcomes were deliberately described in vague terms by the module coordinator, with no indication on the statistical methods to be covered, to give enough flexibility to the unit tutor to choose an indicative content or methods of delivery and assessment appropriate for the level of study. Sometimes it can be quite challenging to teach a course someone else has design and this was the case when I first I taught this module, both methods of delivery and assessment being inherited from the previous lecturers. However, when the modules gets revised every year I am invited to redesign the statistics component in terms of content, method of delivery and assessment and align them to the appropriate learning outcomes of the different levels of study.
Indicative content: Given that statistics is taught over three years, I tried to choose the content by gradually increasing the complexity of the methods covered. This approach is somehow imposed by the subject itself; given that discipline as mathematics or statistics have a hierarchical structure, where learning needs to be planned very carefully. Therefore, in the first year, students are exposed to the very basic experimental design and exploratory data methods required in the lab when running and assessing biological experiments. In level 2, the students get to revise all these basic concepts to ensure they all have the same statistical knowledge and then are introduced to the hypothesis testing, a fundamental procedure in statistical inference. This procedure is further practiced within the context of the t-tests and the chi-square statistical tests. Finally, in level 3, students get to practice the hypothesis testing procedure based on more advanced statistical models including ANOVA and regression models as well as the appropriate design of experiments for these particular models, which are intensively used in bio-medical field.
Teaching and assessment methods: The different teaching methods that I used to deliver the indicative content were based on the constructivist alignment proposed by Biggs (2003). According to this approach, in order to promote deep learning the teacher needs to consider a motivational context, an active learning method through interaction and a well-structure knowledge base (Butcher, et al., 2006). In addition to that, the methods I adopted were shaped according to the methods of assessment that were aligned with the learning outcomes. Therefore, I'll start by presenting first the assessment methods which varied, from one level to the next one, following a hierarchical constructive structure.
Level 1: In order to measure the learning outcomes the assessment consists of an on-line class test set via the Blackboard (WebCT) comprising a number of questions either in the form of a short response or multiple choice. The questions are randomly picked by the computer from a larger set of questions introduced priory by the tutor in a database together with the correct answers, student performance being scored automatically by the computer. I found this type of assessment very appropriate to test the basic statistical skills that students were supposed to acquire after completing this component so I tried to shape my method of delivery accordingly.
The first year when I taught statistics, the content was set up to be delivered as a series of lectures presented in a large theatre room. After the first year, I felt that the students were not very happy with this formal way of delivering a numerate discipline, so the following year I designed a more interactive two hour lectorial/tutorial sessions based on small groups, which I adopted since. The lecture is delivered based on a constructivist approach that is meant to encourage independent learning. Students are invited to come up with examples from different applied disciplines, where statistics are useful and discuss different scenarios within these particular fields. Then, the different statistical concepts, most of which are new to students, are introduced using a problem based approach, with relevant examples and quick exercises to reinforce the theory. In addition to that, each tutorial session is followed by a non-compulsory practical session where students are exposed to online Web based assignments consisting of a series of questions set up by the tutor to practice the content covered in the lectorial/tutorial session and to help them prepare for the class test.
Level 2: For this level, the assessment is set up as a two hour open note (traditional) class test, where students are asked to answer a set of complex questions to assess their level of appreciation for the importance of statistical methods covered during the course. Towards this, teaching is organized as an one hour interactive lecture, using a constructive approach based on examples relevant to their field, followed by an one hour practical, where students are supposed to work independently or in groups of two or three, on a set of problems and questions to help them practice the methods covered during the lecture. The last session is dedicated to a revision of the whole content covered during the course, where students are given a series of questions and exercises to solve. During this session students are encouraged to interact among them and with the tutor in order to reinforce and practice learning, and prepare for the test. They are also encouraged to read additional resources provided at the beginning at the course and build schematics diagrams to help them summarize and link the different concepts and theories covered.
Level 3: When I first taught this module, the assessment of the statistics component for level 3 was similar to the one for levels 2, i.e. based on an open note class test, the only difference consisting of the fact that this time, the questions were related to more advanced topics. I found this way of assessment inappropriate for two reasons: firstly, it was not aligned to the specified learning outcomes and secondly, by using this repetitive method of assessment, students learning experience was not challenged enough and broaden according to their level of study. Therefore, the following year I redesign the assessment component and replaced the class test by a case study based project, where students were supposed to understand the different constraints associated to the study and chose the appropriate statistical approach. At the end students were asked to submit a statistical report that would respond to a series of questions raised in the project outline. The statistical methods covered by this module are introduced based on a two hour lectorial/practical sessions. Again the content is delivered using on a student-centred based approach, where examples and questions are carefully chosen to get students to engage in helpful discussions and construct their own learning. As writing a statistical report is new to most of the students, the last session is planned as a support session where the appropriate statistical methods and the report structure are discussed. For the report preparation students are also encouraged to read relevant external materials to carry a literature review in order to assist the statistical approach they have chosen.
Each of the teaching sessions presented above involves preparation of power point slides and teaching notes (with gaps) that are distributed to students at the beginning of the session. In return, students are supposed to engage with the lecture (practical) and fill in the gaps by formulating their own answers/views based on the discussions in the class.
Evaluation of learning, assessment criteria: Student learning is evaluated based on the different types of assessment presented above. To ensure that the assessment is appropriate and it is aligned with the learning outcomes, each piece of assessment gets moderated by a peer colleague, prior to being handed to students. The university grading scheme with grades from A (outstanding) to LA (little evidence) is used to measure the attainment of student learning outcomes as defined in the module descriptor, which is reflected by their performance during the assessment exercise.
For level 1, given the simple nature of the test questions the performance during the on-line test is marked automatically by the computer, the tutor only checking at the end all the marks to ensure that no error has occurred during the automated marking process.
Regarding level 2 and level 3 assessments, for each component of the test questions or project outline I allocate a certain number of points. Consequently, for the class tests, the overall grade is decided based on the number of points the students has managed to accumulate from each correct answer, as for the report, the grade is based on a composite evaluation of the correctness of the statistical methods and results presented, the overall presentation of these results and also the student critical appraisal of the study, which are to be incorporated in the introduction and the discussion sections of the report.
3. Evaluate a range of teaching activities in own and others domains, utilising appropriate techniques such as peer observation.
A very important component of a curriculum is the evaluation of the teaching activity, by gathering and analysing information and judgements, which can be further used in decision making to improve practice. Consequently the evaluation of teaching can be considered an objective process that can operate at two different levels. At individual level, the evaluation can be used as a continuous professional development, allowing individuals to measure the effectiveness of their teaching and take actions for quality enhancement purposes. At institutional level the evaluation process is useful to determine whether the aims and outcomes of a particular course have been achieved and to identify areas of the course that need to be reviewed.
Depending on the stage of the course when the evaluation is taking place, it can have a formative or a summative role. An evaluation that takes places at the beginning or half way through a course will have a formative role for the actual cohort, as it enables to asses the current state of their knowledge, their skills and attitudes towards the discipline. This can be further used to adjust the content and the method of delivery as well as to determine weather the learning outcomes are being met. An evaluation that is taking place at the end of the course will have a summative role to determine how effective the student learning has been, to indicate the quality of the teaching and to support the planning of the course next time it is delivered.
In any of the above situations, the evaluation is based on gathering evidence about the quality of teaching activity. Usually, after each teaching session, the deliverer gets a feeling whether it worked well or not. However, if this kind of evaluation is not carefully planned in advance, the deliverer "feeling" can be a useless subjective impression that needs to be aligned to the students' views. There are different techniques that are used in education to collect such planned evidence, including collecting evidence yourself, collecting evidence from students and collecting evidence from peers or mentors. These techniques will be briefly discussed below.
Collecting evidence yourself or self evaluation of teaching is an important component of reflective practice as part of the professional development (Schon, 1988; Cowan 1998), which is used to systematically review own teaching to help develop good practice. It is a common practice to retrospectively analyse a teaching session, in particular when you deal with a new course and you are not very confident about it. It is possible to know straight away at the end of a lesson if it went well or bad which is called a common sense reflection (Butcher et al, 2006). However, in order to fully appreciate own teaching experience a more systematic reflection is necessary which may include the use of a reflective log that should highlight the strengths and weaknesses related to your own teaching, the use of video or audio tapes of the teaching session, or a critical analysis of any incident that has happened during a teaching session
Collecting evidence from students can be achieved using an informal approach by getting instant feedbacks during the session in order to asses their interest, knowledge and understanding with respect to the course. Sometimes, out of class chats with students can be very helpful to get these types of responses. A more formal approach to collect evidence from students is by making use of electronic or paper-based questionnaire or during the staff-student committees. In general the staff-student committees take place at the middle of the course and are meant to have a formative role to ensure that students and staff are happy with the progress of course in terms of teaching and learning, while the questionnaires are usually distributed to students at the end of the course and have a summative role. In general these questions relates to the organisation of the teaching in terms of teaching materials and methods, the relevance of the content to student, tutor enthusiasm, the pace of the presentation etc., information that will be used by the tutor to improve the course for the next year.
Collecting evidence from peers can be either based on external examiners reports and exam boards or based on the peer observation of teaching. While the external examiner's report and the exam board provides the module coordinator with general feedback on overall performance of the teaching activity, the peer observation is a valuable approach providing guidance and feedback on a teaching session from a more experienced peer colleagues. In general, peer observation of teaching is done during a lecture in which case the observer will provide feedback to the observed lecturer on the appropriateness of objective formulation, clarity of the session structure and quality of delivery in terms of pace, audibility, visibility as well as the degree of interaction with students and students engagement in the learning process. A very important feature of the peer observation of teaching is that it enables to have an external objective opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of a particular teaching session.
In the next paragraphs I will list a few thoughts based on reflection on my own teaching or some other colleagues teaching approaches.
Reflection on own teaching:
The video recording of one of my lectures during my first year of teaching has been very relevant helping me to reflect upon my attitude in front of the students, the way I deliver the lecture in terms of audibility and visibility and students engagement in the learning process. All these aspects were discussed in more detail in the 1st module report
I found the peer observation of teaching exercise very useful helping me to understand the weaknesses and strengths of my lectures and use this to revise my teaching methods in the following years.
Another exercise that I found it very useful consists of identifying in advance the difficult parts of a lecture and planning to ask for student instant feedback to appreciate their level of understanding. It is very rewarding when students challenge me with questions and I manage to provide satisfactory answers or explanations.
Regarding questionnaire based student feedback, I find it very difficult to make use of it, in particular when the course is taken by a large cohort and there is a mixture of positive and negative feedbacks. It requires time to collate and analyse all the data and the responses obtained from students are not always very clear, so it can be sometime difficult be figure out why students are not happy with some aspects of the course, and how to improve that. This is generally the case of the standard questionnaires that are distributed by the school or the department to students at the end of each module. It is possible that a subject specific questionnaire, design by the deliverer, to be more useful, but I have not experienced this so far.
Reflection on other colleagues teaching. Observing some other colleagues teaching has been very relevant, helping me to revise and improve my own methods. Below I will list only a few aspects that I found them particularly useful
For a numerate discipline a very useful approach is to build the theory on a case based study relevant to the student background and interest. If the study chosen is complex enough then same study can be used to introduce and practice different theoretical methods. The advantage is that students will remember easily about it and it can help with the structural knowledge formation.
Also, for a numerate discipline it is recommended when delivering a lecture to combine new technologies such as power-point presentation with more traditional methods such as writing on the white board. The risk of using only power point presentation in a numerate discipline is that the deliverer can easily underestimate the amount of lecture content and overestimate student capacity of processing the information. For example, in most of the cases a formula requires a lot more time to assimilate than a sentence.
A very useful way to find out if students have understood the content covered during the lecture is by conducting instant survey making use of the new technology. Recently developed education software can be used to facilitate such surveys, which are generally based on multiple choice questions. Students enter their responses using a remote device and the lecturer can have instant access to all the responses and a summary of the class performance. The correct answer is then presented to the class together with the overall group performance. Although it requires a lot of preparation at the beginning, the approach has been found very stimulating for both teaching and learning. (www.netsupportschool.com).