Since last fall I’ve attended a course in university teaching which is mandatory for me if I want to stand any chance to be promoted to senior lecturer. Despite the fact that I’m more or less forced to take the course, I do find it highly valuable as it provides plenty of opportunities to reflect on the nature of teaching and learning.
For the moment I’m reading some chapters in the book “Learning to teach in higher education” by Paul Ramsden. What I’ve found is encouraging: Ramsden discusses teaching in many different subjects, frequently referring to science and engineering education. The book does not adopt the simplistic view that I’ve met with some lecturers (even in this course) that traditional lectures are “old fashioned” and that seminars and other more supposedly “activating” ways of teaching are just better, period.
In reality, Ramsden says, neither way is intrinsically better; what way of teaching that works best is contextual and depends both on the content being taught and on the students’ capability to interpret and understand the content.
It is a relief for me to meet this undogmatic perspective in this classic and authoritative book, because it represents a more scholarly perspective on teaching than I’m used to meet. Instead of telling me that the predominant method of teaching in engineering is wrong, Ramsden integrates models of teaching and student learning into one whole and tells me that a proficient teacher is able to focus on the subject and at the same time reflect on how to adapt her teaching to promote student understanding.
I’ve also enjoyed reading about the general aims of higher education, realising that we give this high level perspective way to little thought in engineering education. I feel inspired — now all I need to do is turn all these great insights into practice…