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LTHE: Educational Autobiography reflection (1/6)

By Jan.11, 2017

My learning and teaching experience

The Blackboard we use today is very different to the blackboard in Einstein’s day. Technology is now an integral part of modern day teaching, yet when I went to university to read mathematics (1995-1998), the teaching wasn’t too far away from the above picture. The majority of my lectures were taught with the background noise of scraping chalk on blackboard.

Mathematics can be like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. Is there a grey area? Can a teacher persuade those who hate it to love it? Or once you hate it, has a wall been built that there is no getting over? Through personal experience of teaching statistics to Masters students over the last ten years, the answer is invariably yes to all three questions.

Dr Alan Slomson

Dr Alan Slomson

Having been taught with the smell of chalk dust lingering in the air, one lecturer stands out for his teaching methods. Dr Alan Slomson was enthusiastic about mathematics and loved imparting his knowledge; he was a very methodical and deliberate teacher – theory first, then examples to put the theory into practice. Halfway through each lecture, he used to put a picture of a famous mathematician on the overhead projector, and spend five minutes chatting about their achievements. He believed that a ‘break’ in the lecture refreshed attention spans and maintained student interest. I have tried to model some of my lectures on Dr Slomson’s style and understand that there are benefits to restarting the students’ ‘attention span clock’, by breaking up lectures into segments of different teaching styles, i.e. traditional, discussion, activity, group work (Gibbs, Habeshaw, & Habeshaw, 1992; MacManaway, 1970).

How do we learn?

“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time” ~ Tagore (1861-1941)

Since my own university experience, the student population is now much more diverse (Biggs & Tang, 2011); it is important as a teacher to acknowledge that students have a range of learning styles (UKPSF: V1). My initial teaching theory was influenced from what I had known at university, with a focus on what the student is (Level 1: Biggs & Tang, 2011, p.17). Over the years I have been more reflective about my teaching and have progressed to focussing on what the student does (Level 3: Biggs & Tang, 2011, p.20). Intuitively through experience, I have grown aware of the inextricable links between teaching and learning, without necessarily being aware of the underlying theories.

What do I want my students to learn – I believe that it is important to emphasise to students that they are ‘reading’ for a degree and that they are expected to expand on the knowledge base provided in class, to create their own autonomy where possible. How do we motivate and encourage continued learning? Learners often only memorise, surface learn…

(warning: the odd swear word follows)

…so how do we encourage them to have thoughts of their own, to deep learn (Toohey, 1999). As teachers, we are scaffolding knowledge, making connections with what our learners already know.

Learners learn well when they take responsibility for their learning

It is a good teacher who can motivate a learner to take responsibility for their own learning, encouraging them to do more. I love the following clip from ‘Scent of a Woman’, which I think illustrates what I am trying to say. A teacher doesn’t need to know (in this case see) the answer to every question, but guide and encourage. It takes two to tango!

Areas to develop further

I like the idea of designing lectures based on, ‘know, understand, do’ (Kumpost, 2009):

  • To develop teaching methods based on what students are expected to know, understand and be able to do, by segmenting lectures appropriately (Gibbs et al., 1992; MacManaway, 1970; UKPSF: A4, K2)
  • To consider the underlying theory and pedagogical basis of how and what I incorporate into my lectures, with the aim of enhancing student learning (UKPSF: A1, A5, K3, K6).
  • To continue to reflect, to improve on and inform future lectures (UKPSF: A1-A5).

UKPSF refers to The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education.  Each citation within this blog refers to a dimension (Areas of Activity; Core Knowledge; Professional Values) of the UKPSF (e.g. A1, K2, V3) (The Higher Education Academy, 2011).


Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university (4th edition). London: McGraw-Hill.

Gibbs, G., Habeshaw, S., & Habeshaw, T. (1992). 53 interesting things to do in your lectures. Bristol: Technical and Educational Services.

Kumpost, J. (2009). Understanding the “understands” in KUDs. Differentiation Central.

MacManaway, L. A. (1970). Teaching methods in higher education – innovation and research. Higher Education Quarterly, 24(3), 321–329.

The Higher Education Academy. (2011). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education. Retrieved from

Toohey, S. (1999). Designing courses for higher education. Buckingham & Philadelphia: SRHE & Open University Press.

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