Building a culture where faculty share teaching tips is one of the goals of USF’s new Center for Teaching Excellence. (Why I would be invited to help build such a center is a source of amusement for my students, but let’s move on…) When asked to share a teaching technique that has worked for me, I had trouble thinking of one. I think that’s because any teaching success I’ve had is more due to ‘good defense’ (avoiding mistakes) than ‘great offense’ (using really effective teaching techniques).
What’s good teaching defense? For me, it’s ORE:
- Organization – stick to a posted schedule and syllabus; all materials and handouts easy to find online; tell people what they are supposed to do
- Responsiveness – respond to all student requests quickly; be willing to make appointments on short notice
- Enthusiasm – be genuinely passionate about the subject matter; care about the student’s success after the course is over
Organization and responsiveness are mostly under my control, so that helps. Enthusiasm comes naturally for some courses, but if it isn’t there I need to create it. That’s not always easy. Take my current course, an introduction to information systems and operations management. I had to find a way to make quality and process improvement interesting for me, or else it was going to be death for my students. Now I look forward to seeing them fix burrito assembly, and other vital business processes.
If these three ‘defensive’ pieces are in place, I feel like students are almost always willing to forgive any mistakes in my teaching.
As far as teaching ‘offense’ is concerned, I’m not sure yet whether my new approaches are working. I’m increasingly intolerant of learning activities that don’t directly contribute to useful deliverables (and no, exams don’t count as a useful deliverable for any business activity I’ve ever seen). I try never to ‘lecture’ for more than 15-20 minutes at a time (not always successfully), and while we use diagrams and websites I almost never read off of pre-canned slides anymore.
Since I’m working on a book to support an entirely new way of teaching business students about technology (by starting their own online business, as opposed to learning a bunch of information systems definitions), I obviously care about teaching. I’m just not always confident enough to say ‘this really works’.
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