Monday, March 29, 2021

Learning To Teach To Learn

A blog post by Eugene Wallingford  (TEACHING YOURSELF THE MATERIAL) reminded me of some things. As he says, “A common complaint from students is that the professor makes them teach themselves the material.” During a graduate course I took in distributed Operating systems the professor assigned each student a topic to research and then teach to the class. I had a couple of peers who complained (privately) that it was his job to teach not theirs. I took it as an opportunity to dig deep in my topic and came away thinking it was a great learning experience.

As a teacher myself, I assigned topics to students to research and teach to the class on several occasions. I’m not sure if students complained behind my back but they were pretty good in my hearing. I found that this was beneficial to the students as well as to myself. In several cases students found features or uses that I had not considered. Students seem to lesson to peers more closely than to their teacher.

I also asked each students to write a couple of quiz questions (with answers) for me to use in a quiz for the whole class.The quality of the questions was mixed as one might expect but they also gave me insights into what students saw as the important part of their topic.

One thing I should have done is to have more rounds of this sort of thing. Students need to practice how to present material. One would like to think that they have enough examples of how to present from sitting through presentations day after day but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Students definitely need some more formal training in presentations than most of them get.

Do you assign students to research and teach topics? How does it work for you?


Anonymous said...

Hi Alfred, Replying from a point of view of a Asian student studying in Asia when we were asked to present a topic in class.

We were divided into groups and each group is assigned a topic and a date to present. I believe that we were not given a particular structure to present. We were free to choose. Each member of the group has to present ie can’t elect one person to do the whole presentation. The groups were graded on their presentation. The material is new or technical, or not that “common” from the point of view of the student.

Learning the material is ok. It was learnable. Presenting to classmates is also a good way to practice communication and presentation.

What I found challenging is the psychological aspect of being graded on the presentation. Questions such as ... did we cover enough material (ie will my classmates learn the important bits as the teacher has delegated the “teaching” of the topic), did we understand the topic correctly (if we didn’t then other classmates won’t learn from our presentation and they have to self study the material), were we creative enough with the presentation, were we able to emphasize what is actually important on the subject (ie did we cover the stuff that will show in the exam), etc

From the receiving end of a presentation, I also wonder the same thing from other students’ presentation. We were all new to the topic. I appreciate the group work but and I would also like to learn from the teacher themselves; to get their insights and side topics or stories about the main topic. I assume what the teacher teaches is more correct than what the students will present. I know this is not always true.

I think the presentations are definitely a good learning opportunity and make mistakes in a safe place, to learn the material ourselves and test our understanding based on the feedback on the presentation.

However, when there is grading component. It feels hard psychologically. It feels like to get a good grade. We can’t make a mistake and wonder what does the teacher want us to say instead of showing what we learned.

Also, there was some feedback on the presentation but there is no opportunity to apply the learning on the feedback.

I know that the learning is more important than the grade but the educational system does not work this way unfortunately.

Garth said...

I have shifted my style from being a teacher at the front of the room to the guy that helps students learn. I try not to present, I try to guide. Seems to stay in kids brains better when they do the work of learning.