Thursday, June 20, 2013

Learn to Teach

Some of the people are born as teachers but to teach is a skill that you have to go through intensive training and accumulate experience to excel. To teach is not only to stand in front of the stage and to give a talk. It is much more than that, and of course depending on which type of course or thing that you are teaching, theoretical or practical.

I have registered for this course "Learn to Teach" which is offered by the Learning Center of ETH Zurich and University of Zurich. And I am glad that I have attended this course. It was a 3-day course targeted at PhD and PostDoc who has teaching assignment now or plan to do so in the future, and only limited to 10 people.

On the first day, I was informed through the email to bring a thing that is related to your life or that could explain what kind of person you are. I brought my Japanese electronic dictionary which was with me most of the time when I was in Japan. Others have brought things like book, spoon, crystal and pencil, and each has an interesting story linked to the life of its owner. Then came the fun part; everyone has to give a 3 minutes presentation explaining their research works and they will be recorded! It was the first time I had such thing and I found looking at myself in the video very funny. Maybe I should have tried it before as I could see many of my habits, quite a few of bad ones, and also how my voice and accent were during the presentation.

After the presentations, we were taught about the important points when giving a presentation, especially the short one. Those are like understanding the level of your audience, speaking with confidence, engaging audience, etc. Also we have learnt about how to give feedbacks to our colleagues. While there is no strict rules, usually they are grouped into head, hand, heart and other observations. At the end, we reviewed all the videos taken and gave feedbacks one by one in details to everybody. I won't tell the details here but there was a lot of "aha" moments for me, and I will keep all of them in mind when preparing for my next presentation.

Second day started with the introduction to teaching portfolio, which is kind of similar to a documentation of your teaching, but including also your teaching style and what kind of teacher you aim to be in the future. This is particularly important when you are applying for a job with teaching assignment, and I believe this is also important for non-teaching positions because this shows that you have the experience of teaching and also communicating with the other people, unless your teaching is one-way-traffic. There was also a section about how to plan a lesson and it was very useful for my teaching duties in the advanced student laboratory of institute for particle physics.

The final session of the day was about "Use of media" and it was really interesting to find out the pros and cons of every available media nowadays, such as blackboard and whiteboard, flip chart, Overhead Projector (OHP), and the digital version of it (like a camera). We were being told to tell a story about using the media, and some of the groups did it really well and creatively. I was working with two others on the blackboard, and we have shown that blackboard is really good for teaching subjects like mathematics and physics where equation derivations are heavily involved. However, it is not so nice to use when you are teaching subjects like biology because it takes time to draw the cell, etc and a bad drawing often confuses the students. Also, as I have experienced it before, it is really bad for the students in the front row as they have to inhale a lot of chalk dusts.

On the final day, we were given some tips on how to deal with stress during teaching, and I am eager to try them out during my next presentation. Then I will tell you if it works or not. :) Finally, 10 of us were asked (a day before) to present something based on the topics discussed (Use of media, teaching portfolio, presentation, lesson plan, etc).
I spent my whole night preparing a teaching plan for my student lab and I received very helpful comments and also compliments from the others. Hopefully I can make my lab appear more interesting to the students and they learn more effectively with some guide from the plan as well.

The course ended with a final feedback session among the teacher and the students. I have complimented her for the well prepared course and also her concentration ability to absorb the content of the presentation and at the same time observing the "head, heart and hand" of the presenter. To me it was very difficult, as I could only focus on either one. Overall, this course was very successful as I can everybody was very happy with it, and I hope that everyone will continue to improve their teachings and to make this world more wonderful with their researches!

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