Tuesday, 2 October 2012

College and University Teaching - Dr. P. S. Lorin, Principal, Tetso College


We have read a lot about the plight of graduate teachers and post-graduate teachers, protests, strikes and even a court case. To anyone unfamiliar with our state’s employment issues, one might assume teaching to be a highly sought after career option in Nagaland. Well, as public opinion sways back and forth and society tries to decide who its educators are going to be, this week, we would like to share a piece which educators might find useful. The original article was actually written in the 1990’s. Have things changed that much after twenty years or are we still saying the same things?  Nagaland is far behind in the Higher Education arena, our colleges still lack PG programs and we seem to be repeating things stated twenty years ago (as this article will show) however, there are certain fundamental things we are doing correctly, or should,
if we have not yet already.


College and university teaching (hereafter referred to as college teaching) is no longer considered a one way method of indoctrination, as was the case in the early ages of learning. It has become a complex profession, particularly in this rapidly developing world. What was considered a good teaching method or style at one time is no more treated as the effective teaching method today. Effective teaching is not static but situational. Good teaching at the college level differs from one setting to another and from discipline to discipline. A method which may be rated high by the students in one course may openly be challenged in another.
Over the years, college teaching has tremendously developed and transformed. From mere lecturers and recitations of text book, it has moved on to lecturer-cum-discussions, presentation – cum – audiovisual, laboratory method of instruction and self or individualized instruction. Yet there still lies ample scope of improving college teaching.

Teaching and learning go together. Without the objective of learning, there is no purpose of teaching. A sense of good teaching is established when that objective of learning is achieved. Conceptually, college teaching operates within the frame work and climate of higher educational institutions. It may be creative, imaginative, stimulating, exciting, entertaining, friendly, lively and supportive. It may also be offensive, conservative, egocentric, restrictive, dull, moody, unfriendly and aloof. Generally, therefore, to a certain extent, we can assume that an individual teacher will choose either of these approaches and play either a good and progressive role or a dull and defensive role. The former roles are those that can be attributed to the direction of improving college/teaching and the latter roles are those that represent stagnant or unproductive methods of college teaching. My ideas centre around the former roles that have been treated for improving college teaching. In a nutshell, I have identified certain aspects, crucial areas or tools for improving college teaching.

Personality Factor
While competence and enthusiasm of the teacher are important, characteristics such as kindness, affection, smartness, politeness and physical appearance are extremely essential to make an impact on a class. Competence in ones’ own field and having passion in one’s profession are, needless to say, indispensable to good teaching. But they alone are worthless unless supported by the supportive element such as the human touch of kindness, affection, disposition, etc. The supportive elements in turn require manipulative tools such as dress, behavior, and speech. Let me clarify that it is not necessary to dress in expensive or colorful clothes, but one should dress professionally, according to the time and occasion.  Individuals should aspire to cultivate sociable and pleasing behavior. An eloquent person is the most successful teacher. Decent dress, pleasing behavior and eloquence - all of these should be in conformity with socially acceptable norms. Above all, communication skill is vital for good teaching. It is key to the human mind. No matter how knowledgeable and educated a teacher is, if he/she does not know how to communicate then, teaching is futile. Since personality is a trait that can be manipulated and improved, it should be cultivated and developed to the advantage of both the faculty as well as the students. 

Materials
Educative materials (teaching materials) are numerous and are abundantly available particularly in this technological age. Reading materials from text books and publications to visual and experimental methods of instruction are utilized by many faculty members. The question is which material should college teaching emphasize ? While text books will always be important, experimental and laboratory method of instruction may be emphasized for physical sciences. Likewise, visual aids such as overhead projectors, videos, posters, and maps may be emphasized for social science and humanities studies. Although, teaching methods and the use of materials may depend upon individual discipline, individual faculty, and topic to topic, it is fair to employ a balance of text book printed materials and visual-laboratory; equipments can be utilized and may still be considered superior to the individualized method. In short, a combination of everything (balanced method) along with imaginative method may be invoked for a better teaching method.

Seminars and Reports
Seminars and reports help to impart not only book knowledge but also experiential knowledge of an expert. Periodical seminars on various fields and topics by experts should be encouraged. Also students should be encouraged to present papers.  Writing a report on the seminar after the session should be encouraged as well. This will inculcate student’s writing and thinking skill. Since these sessions involve discussion, interaction, and participation of the entire audience, exposure to different forms of participation serves as a useful learning tool.. This kind of participation must be iterated in the classroom as well.  Conducting seminars and writing reports must be made an integral part of the class room activities and should be treated as a supporting tool of college teaching.

Faculty Feedback and Evaluation
Feedback and evaluation have been powerful tools for improving college faculty performance. They are useful only when they are offered constructively. For example, feedback from colleagues would necessitate a faculty to improve teaching. Likewise, feedback in the form of evaluation from the students will also give a teacher a chance of reassessing their teaching style (evaluative forms may be developed or are available commercially). Also, feedback in the form of recording self lecturing and creating videos will greatly help a faculty to improve overall performance of teaching.

From the above, it may be concluded that faculty is limited to the goals of a respective educational institution. They invariably function within the scope and framework of the institution’s respective mission statement. Within this limited framework, however, there is ample opportunity to improve teaching method.

Faculty should realize that they have a special responsibility to adjust themselves to the changing needs of the society. They have a special responsibility to organize their classes according to the interest and learning goals of the students. Faculty should be flexible enough to organize their teaching methodology with a variety of settings such as class rooms, laboratory, small discussion groups, technological assistance etc. As pointed out earlier, there is no single method and no end to improvement in college teaching. However, a faculty’s performance will depend heavily on manipulation of various factors described above. As we improve our environment, we need to look forward to improving teaching and learning techniques.
NOTE: Article has been abridged for media publication.

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