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Teaching Tips from a Teacher                                          Donald J. Liu     Prepared for the American Agricult...
Teaching Tips from a Teacher                                          Donald J. Liu   Prepared for the AAEA Organized Symp...
Engaging StudentsTo engage students, teachers must transcend the traditional role of lecturing; they must alsolisten to st...
times, a team may be called upon to come to the front to explicitly solve the problem and explainthe answer to the class. ...
my practice to address each of my students by his first and last names by the end of the secondweek of the semester. This ...
To this end, I have engaged a fellowship project with the Digital Media Center at theUniversity of Minnesota, with the obj...
Maximizing the TheaterIt was pointed out by Gail Godwin that “good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths th...
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Teaching tips donald liu

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  1. 1. Teaching Tips from a Teacher Donald J. Liu Prepared for the American Agricultural Economics Association Organized Symposium, “Teaching Tips from Top Teachers: 2006 AAEA Award Recipients,” July 30, 2007, Conventional Center, Portland, Oregon.It is the nurturing of the mind, the empowering of the young and the challenge of trying to be abetter teacher each day that makes teaching such a fulfilling and pleasurable activity. Truly, it isthe joy of teaching that drives a teacher to constantly strive for excellence.Overcoming Limitations No one is perfect, but we can always improve by transforming weaknesses into strength.Engaging Students Teaching without the active participation of the learner is like practicing democracy without the genuine involvement of the citizen.Building Rapport Over the course of my teaching career, I have learned that building rapport with my students and creating an open and respectful classroom requires both words and deeds.Seeking out the Frontier To explore strange new pedagogy, to seek out new teaching methods, to boldly transform your classroom like no one has done before!Maximizing the Theater Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater. Gail Godwin (1937 - )
  2. 2. Teaching Tips from a Teacher Donald J. Liu Prepared for the AAEA Organized Symposium, “Teaching Tips from Top Teachers: 2006 AAEA Award Recipients,” July 30, 2007, Conventional Center, Portland, Oregon.I would like to share with you five things that I have identified as the essential elements to goodteaching: overcoming limitations, engaging students, building rapport, seeking out the frontier,and maximizing the theater.Overcoming LimitationsNo one is perfect, but we can always improve by transforming weaknesses into strength. As a teacher, I have come a long way. Being a non-native speaker of English, Iimmediately recognized one of my many challenges the first day I walked into my classroomsome fifteen years ago. This realization of deficiency was fortunate as it brought home theimportance of “compensation.” Ever since that day, I have been actively seeking out goodteaching strategies, methods, tools and technologies to compensate for my limitations. Throughsuch efforts as organizing my lecture materials in a sensible way to enhance comprehension,embracing flexible teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles, adopting newclassroom technologies to facilitate active learning, providing easy access to students toencourage them to seek help, establishing good rapport with students to bridge gaps and improvecommunication, and conducting myself in and outside the classroom in a professional andcompassionate manner that engenders respect for all, not only have I been able to do more thanjust compensate for my limitations as a teacher, I have also succeeded in drawing my studentsinto the learning process. 1
  3. 3. Engaging StudentsTo engage students, teachers must transcend the traditional role of lecturing; they must alsolisten to students, understand different learning styles, encourage critical thinking and challengeeach student to do his best. I used to think that my paramount responsibility as a teacher was to expose my studentsto as many important topics in the field as possible, and that as long as I conveyed theinformation effectively, my students would, in turn, learn it. I used to be very reluctant to giveup precious lecture time for activities that facilitated cooperative and active learning. Over time,however, I started to realize that teaching without the active participation of the learner is likepracticing democracy without the genuine involvement of the citizen. This insight helped merecognize the importance of transforming my teaching methodology from a passive,predominantly lecture-based system to one that encourages active student participation andteamwork as an integral part of the learning process. To bring about this transformation, I developed a new pedagogical paradigm into which anew classroom technology and the conventional learning cycle teaching practice coalesce. Eachclass session is divided into three to four learning cycles comprised of lecturing, problemsolving/cooperative learning, discussion/critiquing, and summarization. Upon the completion ofeach lecture topic (every ten minutes or so) a question is posed. Using the Personal ResponseSystem (PRS), equipped with a wireless transmitter, each student has the opportunity to enter hisanswer into the computer system within a specified timeframe (usually two minutes). In figuringout the answer, students are encouraged to pair up and work as a team. At the end of thequestion session, a student is selected to articulate to the class the reason underlying his answer.Other students may be invited to either support or refute the answer given by the first student. At 2
  4. 4. times, a team may be called upon to come to the front to explicitly solve the problem and explainthe answer to the class. Before moving to the next lecture topic, I use the projection system toshow a histogram summarizing class performance, then offer final remarks. This system hasproven to be very effective in helping students stay reflective and focused, and it has encouragedthe formation and strengthening of a learning community as the semester progresses. While the PRS technology is certainly conducive for engaging students, it is by no meansthe panacea, for there are at least three other critical elements contributing to the success of thispedagogical approach. First, it is important that the instructor create questions that areaccessible, yet challenging enough to maintain the students’ interest and encourage teamwork.Second, it is important that the instructor be conversant with classroom dynamics and use it toadvantage, ensuring that discussions are facilitated rather than hampered. Third, it is importantthat the instructor develop a good rapport with the students and create an atmosphere thatwelcomes discussion. By encouraging open inquiry, the instructor is able to draw the studentsinto the intellectual process.Building RapportOver the course of my teaching career, I have learned that building rapport with my students andcreating an open and respectful classroom require both words and deeds. I have always made sure at the outset that my students understand that I care about themas individuals, and that I am interested in their academic success. I want the energy I bring to theclassroom to be contagious, making my students become more enthusiastic in their learning.Regardless of the size of my class, I have always exerted the utmost effort to know each studentas an individual, a fact they quickly notice and greatly appreciate. As part of this effort, I make it 3
  5. 5. my practice to address each of my students by his first and last names by the end of the secondweek of the semester. This past semester, for example, I had more than 200 students in my classand I knew each of them. The ability for an instructor to call on students by name establishes a personal bondbetween the teacher and the students. This bond instills in them a sense of mutual respect. Tosustain this positive energy in the long haul throughout the ups and downs of the semester, it isessential that the instructor conduct himself in and outside the classroom in a professional,compassionate and fair manner that engenders respect for all.Seeking out the FrontierWhen I first moved to this country many years ago, I was taught by my host that: “if it ain’tbroke, don’t fix it!” While there is a lot of merit in this wisdom, when it comes to the learning ofmy students, I would like to offer a friendly amendment by rephrasing it to: “if it ain’t perfect,fix it!” While all the outside observers had remarked on how well I had managed to engage mystudents in the learning process, I knew deep inside my heart that there is always room forimprovement. For instance, I wanted to further transform my microeconomics theory class intoone in which experiential learning has a significant role. In particular, it is my vision that I canhelp my students make the leap from the abstract economic models of the classroom to thecomplex reality of the world if I engage them in judiciously designed classroom economicsexperiments, allowing them to observe and analyze their own economic behaviors under variousmarket conditions. 4
  6. 6. To this end, I have engaged a fellowship project with the Digital Media Center at theUniversity of Minnesota, with the objective of devising a new protocol of conducting classroomeconomics experiments that takes advantage of the PRS technology I have already adopted formy class. The use of PRS technology to facilitate classroom economics experiments is a noviceidea and has advantages over both the traditional labor-intensive approach of pencil-and-paperand the capital-intensive route of relying on networked and on-line computer labs. Unlike thepencil-and-paper approach, the PRS-facilitated procedure I devised permits real-time datacollection and immediate feedback on the economics experiment at hand. Unlike the onlineroute, my method allows face-to-face student interaction, providing both cognitive and affectiveengagement. Finally, using the PRS to facilitate active learning of engaging students ineconomics experiments makes smaller demands on capital resources than the networkedcomputer lab approach. Our survey results indicate that the experiments have been conducive inhelping students bridge the gaps between theory and reality. In addition to my involvement with the Digital Media Center, I have been working overthe past three years with the staff in the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University ofMinnesota as a Resource Teacher in their Early Career Teaching Enhancement Program, sharingmy experience and ideas with various groups of junior faculty interested in improving theirteaching skills. The interactions with teachers from different disciplines and with staff membersfrom the Center for Teaching and Learning have provided me with a wonderful opportunity tofurther sharpen my own teaching skills and to broaden my stock of pedagogical knowledge as aneducator. Seek out the frontier. Share your experience with others and learn from them. And,boldly transform your classroom like no one has done before. 5
  7. 7. Maximizing the TheaterIt was pointed out by Gail Godwin that “good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.” While perhaps an overstatement, Author Godwin had it right that since life is a theateritself, teaching should be no exception. In theater, through the employment of a variety ofdramatic techniques, an actor’s job is to attract, engage, and intrigue his audience. By regardinghis classroom as a theater and by recognizing the utility of fascination, a teacher can graduallygain insights into how to most effectively attract, engage, and intrigue his audience – thestudents.Concluding RemarksIt is the nurturing of the mind, the empowering of the young and the challenge of trying to be abetter teacher each day that makes teaching such a fulfilling and pleasurable activity. Truly, it isthe joy of teaching that drives a teacher to constantly strive for excellence. Yes, it is that wonderful, joyful and celebratory feeling inside you that is required of goodteaching. 6

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