I have been teaching for 20+ years across a spectrum of educationally and culturally diverse contexts. Over the past decade I have observed a drastic shift in how students learn; consequently, the role of the instructor must also change to one of a more facilitative nature. Through continuous reflection and development over the course of my career, I have evolved as an educator in relation to teaching and learning and the elements of each that are most effective in the classroom.
Although my teaching aims vary depending upon the course and content, the guiding principle in my teaching is to inspire and motivate my students while empowering them with the tools and techniques necessary for them to take control of their own learning. This provides students with more opportunities to grow intellectually while instilling confidence and courage.
This is particularly difficult when it comes to English language learners in Hong Kong. Most students must undertake compulsory English courses (at Lingnan University they must take 4), which pose numerous motivational issues for the instructor. Some students relish the opportunity to improve and develop their skills, while most do not.
Finding ways to interest these students has been my greatest challenge as an educator. My passion for technology has helped me find new and innovative ways to connect to my students whether it be something as simple as utilising Twitter to communicate, collaborative feedback programs such as e- presenter, producing creative and funny English instructional videos to entertain and teach, or creating integrated e-books designed for ease of access, mobility and independent learning.
I believe that successful learning occurs most effectively in an environment in which students are active and reflective. Such an environment is student-centered; that is, every student is engaged through use of curriculum material, interaction and collaboration, which all meld together to foster and learning and the construction of knowledge. In this environment students can discern how the material can be related to their own lives. At the same time, their learning attitudes change, insomuch that they become more independent, more inquisitive and find the motivation to expand the scope of their knowledge.
An Instructor as a Designer and a Facilitator
I see the role of the instructor as a designer of an effective learning environment and a facilitator of students’ learning. As a designer, it is important to create context for students’ activities, reflection and engagement. As a facilitator it is important to participate, stimulate and drive students’ learning interactions in order to make each class productive and engaging. Additionally, an instructor must be empathetic with students and their needs, and be approachable in order to be able to provide assistance and advice to individual students. Approachability is particularly important when working with students who are struggling through their learning.
Integration of Assessment and Learning
I place high importance on formative assessment of students’ learning. I believe that through the integration of learning and assessment, instructors are able to identify target areas of improvement in order to ensure that students’ learning is maximised and their differences are addressed appropriately. Through this understanding the instructor can provide additional materials and assist students according to their unique learning needs, which in turn also prompts an instructor to reflect on the learning process and improve his or her methods in the future.
Extending Learning Beyond the Classroom
In recent years, there have been on going and rapid developments in the transmission of information and knowledge, and there is thus a growing need for education to keep pace with these developments. We need to equip our students with non-traditional knowledge and skills (e.g., digital fluency, creativity, visual literacy, information literacy, multi-literacies). Emerging innovative applications of technology, globalisation, movements towards a knowledge-based economy, shifting expectations from industries, and countless other factors create challenges for us at the University and demand certain transformations in order to maintain our teaching as relevant. Simply put, our class time might no longer be sufficient to provide students with appropriate levels of exposure to useful knowledge and experiences.
In this context, I strongly believe that we, as individual instructors, must make the effort to expand our learning beyond our classroom walls and prescribed class time. One effective strategy serving this aim is to make use of information and communication technologies and to engage students in online environments that can be accessed any time and anywhere. Instructors must stimulate students’ desire for learning and facilitate their understanding of cyberspace as an environment for engagement outside the class. In addition, instructors must be flexible and responsive to emerging issues and allow learning to expand beyond the prescribed curriculum content.
I believe that an instructor must be experienced, knowledgeable and skilled in his or her specific discipline/profession. Only then will the instructor be able to provide students with fully effective support in project work, expert advice and professional role modelling. An instructor’s expertise should ensure that s/he is able to effectively deal with students’ misconceptions and gaps in knowledge. Additionally, s/he must ensure that his/her knowledge is relevant and up-to-date. This relevancy is particularly important in today’s dynamic society, where knowledge is constantly being generated and older areas of knowledge are rapidly becoming obsolete. Effective modern teaching practice should aim at providing students with the knowledge and skills they need to successfully navigate the present as well as the future.
Today’s instructors must be prepared to integrate educational technology into their teaching. Educational technology is not only providing important tools to make teaching more effective, but it is also an expectation of the students. Key skills include the ability to facilitate learning in cyberspace by being able to utilise digital repositories and web resources in preparing quality educational material that aids teaching. Over the years, I have developed the understanding that visuals have a unique power to support teaching and learning.
Presentations in the class are a key teaching aid, but they must be more than just lines of bulleted texts and statements. Technology allows us to communicate ideas in powerful ways that can help to maximise learning. Contemporary technologies allow almost everyone to create material in highly visual formats. The growing use of smart phones and tablets and emerging user-friendly applications empowers instructors to easily create and deliver visual content.
An instructor must continuously engage in lifelong learning activities, research and exploration of new technologies and methodologies in order to design current and relevant learning experiences and to prepare students for life after University. In order to achieve this, we must continue to explore innovative pedagogical models and develop skills in the use of information technology for teaching and learning. In addition, intentional reflection leads to continuous improvement in one’s teaching practice. It is important for instructors to self-reflect on their experiences with students and to consider feedback at the end of the semester. Instructors should also reflect on professional criticism from colleagues, whether it is offered casually or formally through formative or summative evaluations.
I would also like to emphasise that an instructor must be aware of global developments while remaining sensitive to local circumstances. Global issues develop rapidly, and instructors must be flexible in transforming their long-held ideas and accepting or adapting to what is successful elsewhere. Sensitivity to local circumstances is particularly important for expatriate instructors. Teaching in a foreign country requires us to be mindful of cultural issues and adapt our teaching to students whose culture, learning approaches, language background, attitude and work habits may differ from those with which we are most familiar. This local awareness must also extend to the culture and politics of the home institution.