Teaching skills event summary

On 7 December 2022, BISA PGN hosted Professor Ilan Zvi Baron, Professor of International Relations Theory at Durham University, UK, for an online workshop on teaching skills for PGRs and ECRs. Below is a summary of some suggestions for making classroom teaching more engaging as discussed during the workshop.

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Keep calm and carry on teaching mug

Making teaching more engaging

  • Set reasonable expectations for your class plans.
  • It is important for the instructor to be passionate about the topic. This is essential to convey interest to the students. Enthusiasm can be contagious!
  • Structure of the course really matters. It is up to the instructor to decide whether to keep easy readings right in the beginning and gradually move to relatively difficult readings or vice-versa. Go with whatever you think works best for your students, but always pay attention to their feedback.
  • It helps to break down the lecture into parts with short breaks in between to sustain students’ interest.
  • Keep the lesson plan simple. It is crucial for the instructor to have clarity of the concepts that they teach. Using heavy jargon isn’t always useful or required.
  • Using vignettes and other creative and interactive teaching tools can be useful.
  • You don’t have to cover everything. The more focused your lesson plan, the better the comprehension of the students.

Lecture plan

  • Avoid reading from the text for a pre-prepared lecture; use slides as signposts instead.
  • Figure out how to transform a speech into a conversation with the students.
  • It’s better if the students read less but understand fully the concepts taught in the course.
  • Always remember that a classroom is a space for both the instructor and the students to learn something new. Any kind of learning should put you out of your comfort zone. If that’s not the case, then you are doing something wrong.
  • Use the physical space inside the classroom effectively.
  • If you feel the students are shy, get them to talk about anything! Get the conversation going and let them feel comfortable with each other and with you. Asking open-ended questions is a great way to engage students.
  • One way to assess if the students have understood the most important parts of the lesson is by letting them explain the reading to you.
  • Try to use case studies as an example to explain the larger message of the reading.
  • Be supportive of your students, always.

How to deal with sensitive topics

  • Make your curriculum and your syllabus as diverse and inclusive as possible so as to expose your students to a wide spectrum of perspectives and opinions.
  • In case problematic views emerge in class regarding topics such as race, gender and so on, it is not always advisable to publicly call out the student concerned. Instead, consider having a separate conversation with the rest of the students and especially the ones who you think were most negatively affected or offended by such comments.

Diversifying your curriculum

  • Know your research area well and for extra readings, feel free to reach out to other faculty who you think might have a better clue about topics which don’t come under your expertise.
  • It is good practice to diversify your curriculum. However, in the process make sure not to fall into the trap of typecasting a said region, topic or authors. Avoid selecting a reading just because it is by a certain person. Make sure that the reading material is appropriate.
  • Formulate a reading list that can stand up on its own and can cover all the important aspects of the topic being discussed.
  • Students appreciate honesty in class. Lay out a plan and be transparent about what you intend to cover and the areas that you won’t be able to cover.

Bonus readings on how to navigate sensitive topics in a classroom

Prof Ilan Zvi Baron
Prof Baron

Photo by Seema Miah on Unsplash