1. Get to know your students.
By knowing the extent of your students' current knowledge of the subject, you can more effectively present what they need to know in ways they will understand. A pre-test can give you excellent information about the students' knowledge base. Encourage the students to come talk to you during office hours. Meet with the students in small groups at the beginning of the semester to get to know them and talk about your expectations of them and their expectations for the class.
2. Encourage interaction and participation in class.
Understanding scientific principles is not an easy task. Students need practice solving problems or doing mini-experiments in class to help them understand how the principles relate to the real world. Spend some class time posing questions that makes students think and encourages questions from them.
3. Get feedback from the students about their learning.
Don't just have a mid-term and a final. The more frequently students get to demonstrate their knowledge of the topic, the better they will learn it. Weekly quizzes, homework, and at least three exams throughout the semester are ways to encourage the students to keep up with the material and attend class. Get feedback daily or weekly about how things are going. Using Classroom Assessment Techniques by T. Angelo & K. Cross (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993) can help encourage communication between the faculty member and students. Be willing to make modifications in what you are doing in response to student concerns.
4. Return graded homework, exams and quizzes within one week.
Students need to know what they don't know well so they can study more effectively for the next test or exam. Feedback is necessary for effective learning. Also, if you've never written an exam before, consult someone about how to write effective tests. One good resource is Developing and Using Tests Effectively by L. Jacobs and C. Chase (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1992).
--Karron G. Lewis, associate director, Center for Teaching
Effectiveness, University of Texas, Austin
Original appeared in: The Scientist, vol.
18, issue 5, 49, Mar. 15, 2004