Engaged students learn a subject more quickly and in greater depth, according to senior lecturer Anne Farewell, who uses a process known as active learning in the classroom.
“Using a wide variety of teaching techniques means that the students are more interested and more engaged in the subject, and they also learn more.”
Microbiologist Anne Farewell knows what she’s talking about. She has recently been named the University of Gothenburg’s first Excellent Teacher, a title that only teaching staff with excellent pedagogical skills can earn. But she first came to the university primarily as a researcher, with no thoughts about teaching. It was only when she started to teach that her pedagogical interest was awakened.
“I started reading pedagogical literature, and discovered an entire field that I knew nothing about. As scientists, we are often experts in our own subject areas, but we sometimes lack knowledge about how to teach.”
Since then, she has studied pedagogical courses and has developed her teaching methods in various ways. On particular method involves listening to her students. Today, her students do not simply sit in lectures – instead, they participate actively in discussions on the subject in order to gain a greater subject understanding.
“More is not more, less is more. By giving students less but deeper knowledge, they become better at analysing and thinking scientifically.”
Active learning is used as a teaching method around the world, and there is growing interest in the concept. According to an article published in Nature, a study carried out in 2014 at the University of Washington in Seattle showed that using active learning reduced the number of course failures by about a third. In the same article, Clarissa Dirks – a microbiologist and co-chair of the US National Academies Scientific Teaching Alliance – maintains that “it is unethical to teach any other way”.
Anne is originally from the US, and spent a semester last year at Williams College in Massachusetts as part of an international exchange. She believes that the US is, perhaps, slightly ahead of Sweden when it comes to developing university teaching and encouraging good teachers, but that Sweden is on the right path. The University of Gothenburg’s Excellent Teacher initiative is a step in the right direction, as is the creation of a Pedagogical Academy at the university.
“We have many talented members of teaching staff, and I know that many of them are doing some really cool things at the university. I hope that we can come together within pedagogical academia to develop teaching together and to inspire each other.”
About the Excellent Teacher initiative
The University of Gothenburg has introduced the title Excellent Teacher to recognise teaching staff with excellent pedagogical proficiency, in accordance with Vision 2020. The following seven assessment criteria are used:
- Pedagogical experience
- Teaching skills
- Professional development
- Pedagogical leadership
- Pedagogical reflection
- Development of knowledge about teaching and learning in higher education
At the same time, a Pedagogical Academy has been established. The Pedagogical Academy is an active collegial network for pedagogical development at the University of Gothenburg.
More about Active Learning:
Read the article in Nature, 16 July 2015