Thursday, December 23, 2010

Teacher Training Methodology - An Interview With Dr. Satish Nargundkar -

It is amazing that at the college level, almost none of the teachers are trained in teaching methods. Unlike school teachers who have to do a B.Ed., college lecturers the world over, it appears, do not have any course which tells them the basics of teaching. Now that was rather surprising for me when I heard it first. Most lecturers are only qualified in the subject they teach, with some basic degrees or work experience, few do their Ph.D's - and that is about all it takes to start teaching young college undergraduate and post graduate courses. The faculty, and more importantly the quality of their teaching methods, has no standardized methodology which enables them to understand the science of teaching to make their teaching more effective.
Prof. Satish Nargundkar

In this context I interviewed someone who has done significant work in 'Teaching Methods' in the USA for over ten years - Dr. Satish Nargundkar, who is currently working as Assistant Professor of Managerial Sciences at Georgia State University, Atlanta, USA. A Mechanical Engineer from Osmania University who passed out in 1985, Dr. Satish did his Ph.D. in Industrial Management from Clemson University, South Carolina, USA in 1990. After dabbling in various other interests and jobs, he realized that teaching was something he really enjoyed and joined GSU in 1998 where he has been teaching Data Mining, Business Modeling and Teaching Methods at its College of Business ever since. He has also consulted with Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, Axciom and others.

But it is was his expertise in Teaching Methods that interested me - and that is what this interview is about. GSU is one of the few Universities that has a course for PhD. students, a Seminar on University Teaching, which was piloted by Prof. Harvey Brightman, internationally known master teacher. Prof. Harvey developed the course when he identified the need for standardized understanding of effective teaching as long as over 25 years ago. Working with Prof. Harvey, an expert in teaching methods, until Prof. Harvey retired, Dr. Satish updated the basic model and included modern technology after taking over this highly important course of teaching Ph.D. students how to teach. For the last ten years Dr. Satish has taught this course at GSU and conducted several workshops in the USA and abroad, most significantly being invited to Cairo University to train their Ph.Ds and to Azerbaijan University, Azerbaijan, for a workshop in teaching methods. Let us find out what this course is about.

Q. What is the purpose of the 'Teaching Methods' course?
A. In the USA, Ph.D's were traditionally thrown into teaching without any training on teaching methods. Most discovered techniques of effective teaching by trial and error which is time consuming and expensive for everyone. This is unnecessary, especially when there is much experience already available to guide them. This course provides a framework that helps the teacher achieve excellence in teaching by following certain known principles and methods, and helps guide continuous improvement throughout their careers.

Q. Is this course only for Ph.D's or can anyone who is interested in teaching benefit from it?
A. Anyone who wants to teach at any level can benefit form this course. Ideally those who have some teaching experience benefit most as they relate the discussion to their experience. But even those who have no teaching experience can benefit from it. It can help beginning teachers avoid some common mistakes teachers make.

Q. What does the course, Workshop on Teaching Methods include?
A. Firstly it sets the basic parameters in place. Teaching is about three factors - the instructor, the student and the course. It is within these parameters that the process must be improved, bettered. One must be aware of one's own teaching philosophy, the ability of the students and the level and scope of the course.

Then we introduce the framework of the basic elements of teaching. These include 1) Course planning 2) Delivery 3) Evaluation (testing and grading) and 4) Feedback.

The workshop is a highly interactive set of sessions that explores ways to do the above most effectively.

Q. Can we go into these subjects in a little more detail?
A. Course planning is about mapping out the key concepts that the course must convey to the students, and knowing how the course fits in with the overall curriculum. The first step is to outline the broad goals of the course and write clear objectives. Most teachers write course objectives from their point of view - a classical mistake. Objectives must always be from the point of view of what the student can 'do' after the course and should be measurable.Writing clear objectives also requires awareness of the various levels of learning. Unless clear expectations are communicated, students merely memorize material, with little or no deeper understanding. Higher levels of comprehension or critical thinking ability can be achieved if the instructor is first clear about what that means.

Delivery is what one actually does in the classroom. Research shows that the standard mode of delivery, the 'lecture' mode where the teacher talks and the student listens, is the least effective. An interactive lecture gets much better results.  Research also shows that active learning works best for higher levels of learning. Active learning is the engagement of all the senses of the student in the learning process. The techniques include case studies, role play, video analysis, group discussion, debates, games etc. and these can be used in combination. All delivery modes must be in tune with the level of learning specified in the objectives.

The workshop helps teachers practice various strategies to engage students better. It also helps teachers understand different personality types and learning styles, and use techniques that speak to the various learning preferences of students.

Evaluation of student learning is normally through exams which include multiple choice, short answer and essay questions. Other forms of evaluation include oral exams, group projects and written reports. Each of these can be made more effective, both to test students as well as to provide constructive feedback.

Feedback is the final stage, where the students evaluate the instruction on various dimensions to help the teacher improve.  Teachers can seek evaluation from peers as well, and even get experts to give feedback on teaching methods. This completes the loop.

Q. How does the workshop help the teacher?
A.It enables the teacher to focus on what is most important in helping students learn. This is what it is all about really. It helps him understand how the instructor can manage the process effectively and continue to improve over time.

Q. What are the factors that impede good teaching?
A. Normally teachers tend to focus on what they themselves do in the class room. Their entire language and approach is about what 'I will do..'. Ideally it should be from the students' point of view. Once the teacher gets over trying to impress students with his knowledge, he gets better. Having knowledge of the subject or the ability to make impressive presentations are not sufficient to make one a good teacher. People skills are extremely important in dealing with students. Knowing what motivates them and making the course relevant to their lives is critical to making sure that they walk away having learnt something.

Q. What is the duration of this workshop?
A. It begins with 8-12 hours of instruction on course planning and delivering an interactive lecture. This is followed by a session where participants demonstrate what they have learnt through short presentations (15-20 minutes), and get feedback from their peers. Finally, we spend another 8-12 hours on other forms of active learning, testing and grading. In total about 20 hours of instruction and 4 hours of participant presentations. This can be done over 3 or 6 days depending on scheduling constraints.

Q. How has the feedback been for this workshop?
A. Extremely positive. Teachers are usually skeptical to begin with, but are convinced by the end of the workshop that they got something valuable they can use for the rest of their lives.

Q. What factors are important for someone to be a good teacher?
A. Develop competence in your field, show enthusiasm and interest for your subject. Understand how people learn, and practice the art. Aim for continuous improvement.

Q. How do teachers with no practical experience cope?
A. Guest  lectures. You don't have to know everything. You cannot. Call in experts in areas you don't know, They help immensely. Also where students have more experience than the teacher in certain areas, get them to talk. This way even the teacher's understanding improves.

Q.How has teaching helped you?
A. I am an idealist. There is a great deal of intrinsic motivation. It comes from seeing that I have improved somebody else's life in some way. When students tell me that they understood something that they previously found difficult, it is a great feeling!

Q. How has teaching changed you as a person?
a. It keeps me young. I am constantly in touch with new ideas and young people. This itself aids my growth process. Since I am always looking for ways to enhance their learning, I automatically learn.

Q. Your words of advise to young teachers?
A. In the US, professors are more focused on research since there are greater explicit rewards for doing that. For many, the whole attitude towards teaching is that of an 'interruption of their work'. It is not. It is part of your work. Research and teaching should be balanced.

To the Indian teacher, I would suggest greater focus on practical application of the subject. There is generally too much theory and too little practical application. For every concept you teach, ask yourselves what the students would be able to do with this knowledge. Then find a way to actually have them do that in class.

Finally, it helps a lot if teachers are more empathetic to the student, understand their difficulties with the course material and find ways to help them.

Q. Would you be interested in teaching this workshop/seminar in India?
A. Certainly. I would love to! I visit my family in Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad almost yearly on vacation and if I get an opportunity I would love to share what I have learnt with teachers in India.

Thank you Dr. Satish for sharing something that any teacher could use and benefit immensely. In fact it is the same set of rules that I use for effective public speaking - good planning, organization of thought, having clear objectives, speaking from the audiences point of view and not trying to impress them, adding value by the end of it which they can apply in their life. In fact I think it holds good to succeed in anything. For any queries regarding teaching methodology one can write to Dr. Satish directly as One can also visit the link to get an overview of the 'teaching methods' course.

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