Grappling with the art of teaching

27 July 2015
Students in a lecture room.
Students in a lecture room.

"We must accept that knowing a subject is different from teaching it. There are some fundamentals of teaching and classroom management that we, as experts in our fields, do not know. Teaching is a career on its own, and we must make the effort to learn about it for it to be effective and enjoyable."

These words by Dr Samson Chimphango, a lecturer in UCT's Department of Biological Sciences, explain the importance of the Short Course on Teaching (TSCOT) offered by the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching. Chimphango, a 2013 participant, found the course well-organised, a place for "mature discussion in a friendly environment".

"We were able to share our challenges and views freely, and at all times. It was a worthy investment of my time and boosted my confidence as a lecturer."

TSCOT runs over a semester and uses a mix of weekly meetings, one-on-one consultations, and peer and teaching observations to address teaching challenges. It aims to create a robust space for critical discussions on the dynamics of teaching in a transforming and diverse higher education classroom.

Dr Shane Murray, a lecturer in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and a former course participant, found advice on maximising student learning and how to solicit student feedback particularly useful. "I advise all new lecturers at UCT to do the course as soon as possible," she says.

Since taking the course, Chimphango employs a lesson plan in developing lectures, and approaches the topic with his audience, the students, firmly in view. "For each topic and sometimes lecture, I do a critical analysis of my strengths and weaknesses that informs my teaching strategy and the supplementary material I use," he explains.

Assoc Prof Sa'diyya Shaikh teaches courses on religion, gender and sexuality, and the psychology of religion, at the Department of Religious Studies. She found her participation last year in TSCOT "helpful pedagogically".

"It was great to be able to share teaching challenges and methods with colleagues. The careful reflection and conversation on teaching methods and classroom engagement were invaluable, and very educational." Her advice to course participants is to make enough time for reading the course material, and for reflection.

Story by Abigail Calata.

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