What are makes an effective teacher?

This particular list of teaching characteristics appears in an excellent book that is all but unknown in the states, Learning to Teach in Higher Education, by noted scholar Paul Ramsden. In the case of what makes teaching effective, he writes, “…a great deal is known about the characteristics of effective university teaching. It is undoubtedly a complicated matter; there is no indication of one ‘best way,’ but our understanding of its essential nature is both broad and deep.” (p. 88-89). He organizes that essential knowledge into these six principles, unique for the way he relates them to students’ experiences.

1: Interest and explanation – “When our interest is aroused in something, whether it is an academic subject or a hobby, we enjoy working hard at it. We come to feel that we can in some way own it and use it to make sense of the world around us.” (p. 98). Coupled with the need to establish the relevance of content, instructors need to craft explanations that enable students to understand the material. This involves knowing what students understand and then forging connections between what is known and what is new.

2: Concern and respect for students and student learning – Ramsden starts with the negative about which he is assertive and unequivocal. “Truly awful teaching in higher education is most often revealed by a sheer lack of interest in and compassion for students and student learning. It repeatedly displays the classic symptom of making a subject seem more demanding than it actually is. Some people may get pleasure from this kind of masquerade. They are teaching very badly if they do. Good teaching is nothing to do with making things hard. It is nothing to do with frightening students. It is everything to do with benevolence and humility; it always tries to help students feel that a subject can be mastered; it encourages them to try things out for themselves and succeed at something quickly.” (p. 98)

3: Appropriate assessment and feedback – This principle involves using a variety of assessment techniques and allowing students to demonstrate their mastery of the material in different ways. It avoids those assessment methods that encourage students to memorize and regurgitate. It recognizes the power of feedback to motivate more effort to learn.   … Read More