There are undoubtedly natural talents out there who address a full auditorium and entertainingly and effectively convey their knowledge to the audience. However, not everyone has this gift. And even if they do, in the long term the entertainment factor alone does not constitute good teaching, emphasised Annekatrin Mordhorst, head of the Continuing Professional Development Centre at Kiel University: "It also takes a variety of methods, for example, otherwise even the best performances will eventually become boring for students."
Stephanie von Below shares this opinion. She has specialised as a coach, trainer and career advisor in the scientific field, and worked together with Kiel University for many years. "For scientific university staff, teaching is not the core competence," she says, and refers to the three main roles for this profession: research, knowledge management and teaching.
This is also where training or coaching can help. According to Stephanie von Below, the initial priority is to awaken "role sensitivity", so that it is clear which area competence is required for at a certain time. The qualified psychologist and theologian knows that once this has really been internalised, many things become easier: "How good knowledge transfer works is actually a very well-researched field. We have a lot of tools, which just need to be used properly."
In detail, and depending on the discipline, these tools sometimes differ considerably. In philosophy for example, debate plays an important role in scientific discourse. "There, teachers must convey to the students that debate or disagreement in this context should not be taken personally," explains Dana Zentgraf, who is jointly responsible for continuing education for the scientific university staff. On the other hand, things look very different in the laboratory, where you need to communicate the work of small teams to the entire group.
Despite, and to some extent also because of such differences, those responsible at Kiel University are convinced that holding seminars for didactic training with participants from many disciplines has proven effective. "We are all amongst peers enough in everyday life," says Annekatrin Mordhorst, who has learned that looking at the big picture can also be enriching for teaching-related issues.
Accordingly, there is an interesting mix, especially in the case of basic university didactic courses. Since 2008, all lecturers paid from state funds must attend such a seminar, which typically lasts one and a half days. At the end, almost all participants acknowledge that these courses actually are beneficial. "Because most of them want to deliver good teaching competently, confidently and with a reasonable time investment, and that's exactly what we want to enable," reports Stephanie von Below.
The specific areas of interest of the teachers change over the course of time. Currently, according to Annekatrin Mordhorst, the use of smartphones in teaching is a popular topic. Also, the question of how lectures or seminars can adequately address the diversity of students present, without it being contrived or prescribed, is arousing growing interest.
Meanwhile, personal coaching sessions are tailored to individual requirements, which are also available to everyone. Young teachers, who for example are conducting doctoral research and at the same time are involved in teaching, often have difficulties initially with internalising their role in the lecture hall or seminar room. "On the one hand, they are very close to the students in age and emotionally, but on the other hand, they must conduct examinations and earn respect for themselves," says Dana Zentgraf to describe the problem. But this problem is not a major hurdle, emphasised her colleague Mordhorst: "Simply exuding competence, which is undoubtedly present, is already a good start. And then they should also make it clear that as a young person, it’s completely okay to grow into the role of teacher. It doesn’t all have to be perfect immediately."
Author: Martin Geist