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Equipped to develop teaching

Close links to your teaching practice, freedom to design the teaching how you want, and dialogue with the students are three vital elements for the teaching staff at Aarhus University when developing their teaching. All this must be supported in the University Pedagogical Programme, the course coordinators argue.

Photo: Lars Kruse, AU Foto

Reflecting on your teaching and developing it in the direction you want is often a process that requires commitment and – not least – time. How do you start reflecting on your teaching and finding potentials for development?

At Aarhus University, the teaching staff are prepared for that task through various competency-development programmes. For example, during their career, almost everyone becomes acquainted with AU’s University Pedagogical Programme.

“In our view, good teaching is not just about pedagogical techniques, but rather about knowing when and how to use them,” the course coordinator and associate professor Berit Lassesen say about the University Pedagogical Programme, which the Centre for Educational Development (CED) offers. She continues:

“We aim to create a learning space where educators, individually and together with one another, get a chance to consider and discuss how they understand teaching and learning, and how this is put into practice.”

Different teaching values across faculties

At the programme, educators bring their many experiences and ideas from practice. The role of the CED is to stimulate these reflections on teaching:

“We introduce our educators to activities that support them in developing their approach to teaching which not only takes into account the ways of thinking and learning that are related to their practice and subject area, but also specific aspects that concern their students,” Berit Lassesen points out.

Associate professor Klaus Koren is one of the many educators who have become acquainted with the University Pedagogical Programme. He teaches the course Bio-Entrepreneurship, which he has also developed at the Department of Biology.

“An important thing for me is to arrive in class with great energy. I believe the students are pleased with this. They respond positively and are often more motivated to contribute. I try to support their different interests in the various topics within our field,“ he says.

Klaus Koren points to both his coaching degree and the university’s pedagogical programme regarding what has shaped his way of teaching. It is important for him to create an environment where it is safe to ask questions and discuss.

“In general, we offer a lot of feedback in the courses I teach. At different levels, of course. Both in connection with written assignments and presentations,” he says.

If you are curious about how other educators have worked with feedback in their teaching, you can find some examples here:

Before, during, and after class

It is important to regard teaching as progress over a week, and the technologies AU makes available can create new opportunities for this. This is something assistant professor Minna Pakanen underlines. She teaches at the Department of Digital Design and Information Studies at the Faculty of Arts.

“In my course, it makes sense to give the students something they can think over before they arrive in the classroom. At the University Pedagogical Programme, it was useful that the course instructors made us reflect on the activities both before and after the teaching. It made me think about my own teaching in new ways, and it works very well,” she relates and continues:

“One of the things I have added to my own teaching is to provide the students with short introductory videos for each design theory with which we are working. I create 2 to 7 minutes long videos to give them an idea of what will happen in the classroom. They like that. I find that this makes it easier for them to understand the different elements of my teaching and remember it afterwards.“

Barriers to the development of teaching

Developing the teaching can be a demanding process for the educator, who must be prepared to invest time and be patient about when they will actually witness the results; Klaus Koren says:

“It can take some time to develop your teaching, but it can be a lot of fun. We have invested a lot of time in the new course that I teach.”

He has developed the course Bio-Entrepreneurship from scratch, where study groups create their own projects, which they choose and manage, with themes on everything from fish feed to medical products. For him, it is important to have the freedom to develop your teaching:

“I feel I have the freedom to develop. But the time-consuming processes are a challenge when you want to make changes. You have to be patient, and it can be demotivating for new educators who want to start new initiatives and development projects. It has taken quite some time to create a new course, go things over with the other educators, and establish. But I also think that something good comes out of it,” he says.

Practice-based development is the alpha and omega

The pedagogical programme for teaching staff across the faculties at AU is based mainly on the teaching practice in which many course participants are already heavily involved. According to course coordinator Berit Lassesen, working based on practice is in focus, and the interchange with colleagues about your practice is essential. 

“The educators take their own courses as the starting point and select issues or areas of development. They observe colleagues, evaluates, and give and receive feedback to gain insight into various forms of teaching.”

The course participants bring home widely different elements from the programme, depending on the teaching they are working with at their department.

“One of the basic ideas behind the pedagogical programme is that teaching is about the quality of the students’ learning. Therefore, we focus on factors related to the students’ study behaviour. What motivates them, and why do they react as they do? Among other things, participants on the programme are asked to interview their students and then discuss with their colleagues what factors affect their teaching and future choice of teaching activities,” says Berit Lassesen.

It is also essential for assistant professor Minna Pakanen that the students are involved in the development of her teaching:

“I have inherited a course that I have regularly updated. I dedicated the first lesson to introducing the course and aligning expectations with the students. It was important for me to explain which parts of the course I had developed and what I wanted to develop further. They were very pleased with this. I explained to them that I did my best and that I would try to find the best ways to teach,” she says and concludes:

“Through formative feedback, I think they also felt involved in the development of the course. They could see that I wanted to develop as an educator and that I appreciated them as participants in the process.”