Recently our Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Chris Phillips, organised a leadership forum session on transformational teaching. As we move inexorably towards a free-market in student education, our offering in learning and teaching will increasingly determine how successful we are at student recruitment. It’s clear from that workshop that we need to move from transactional teaching towards transformational teaching.
Transactional teaching concerns the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student. An example would be an ‘old fashioned’ lecture. Students are expected to assimilate and analyse the new knowledge themselves. Transformational teaching on the other hand, concerns inquiry, critical thinking and higher order learning and communication skills. When we speak to potential employers, they tell us that they value both the ability to solve problems together with excellent communication skills. Hence the transformational approach would appear to offer our graduates a much better skill-set for the future.
I remember being seated amongst linear rows of fellow students during my undergraduate days and being subjected to transactional teaching – the lecturer would typically drone on about matters that, at the time, seemed not particularly related to the printed syllabus. And there were no learning objectives by the way. I was however lucky enough to have weekly one-to-one tutorials with my personal tutor – a much more effective means of teaching, but I suspect no more to all intents and purposes due to the burgeoning numbers of students that are now in the higher education system. Don’t get me wrong – I welcome an inclusive education system rather than one set up for the elite – but we need to ask whether traditional teaching methods are still fit for purpose.
One of the most inspirational moments in my life was the opportunity to attend a short course at a US University. I was in a class of about 80, but what was most significant about the course was its interactive nature. Firstly, the lecture theatre was not organised in linear rows but had an ‘amphitheatre’ format. This served the dual purpose of creating a more convivial learning environment, but also, importantly, ensured that everyone could see each other. The lecturer stood in the middle of the amphitheatre, and after a few minutes’ by way of brief introduction (using a chalk-board – no powerpoint!), proceeded to grill the audience (apparently) randomly with searching questions – but no-one escaped being challenged! Again, the amphitheatre format allowed her/him to engage directly eye-to-eye, which would have been impossible in a conventional linear format, and the rest of the audience could watch the proceedings and feel directly involved.
As we begin to build at Science Central or indeed on the main campus, I think we need to consider what the next innovative step in teaching and learning is likely to be. Whether it is for example a variant on ‘flip teaching’ or the Moore method, we need to ensure that we have the correct infrastructure in place. This will likely not be a linear lecture format, nor perhaps will it be an amphitheatre. Given the rapid developments in IT, perhaps it will be centred around social space – a group of leather sofas with teaching material on tablets (or whatever will replace them in 3 years’ time). Or perhaps we need space that can be easily reconfigured between a conventional raked auditorium to flat open-plan configuration. Please share your thoughts as we start the plan the first University building at Science Central.