People - 16.03.2016 - 00:00 

Improving teaching at universities

How do lecturers perceive their role as teacher, and how can they continue to develop their teaching skills? Marion Lehner explores these issues in her doctoral thesis.

17 March 2016. During her time as a student, Marion Lehner experienced inspiring seminars containing interactive elements, such as stimulating discussions with other students from various fields. But she also had to suffer through long-winded, monologue-like lectures and "bulimic learning", where students cram in as much material as possible right before an exam. She therefore opted for a doctoral thesis on "Designing teaching concepts through faculty development", in which she aimed to discover ways in which lecturers can continue to broadly develop their teaching skills.

Challenging roles

As part of her thesis, Marion Lehner co-designed a CAS (certificate of advanced studies) programme for teachers at universities. Some 40 participants involved in the university-level didactic teaching programme at the University of St.Gallen examined their role as teachers, as well as their attitudes towards students. "It was fascinating to find out, for example, that teaching experience is not the defining factor in a teacher's attitude, but rather the extent to which they have already considered their role or their attitude to students", says Lehner.

Teaching is a complex matter

In the course of preparing her doctoral thesis, Marion Lehner recognised that is not the environment that determines whether projects – be they a class or research work – are successful. What is important is the perspective on factors that affect people’s actions. For example, how individual teachers perceive the organisational framework or their own teaching competency. Lecturers may find it helpful to adopt a relative view on teaching. "In some teaching situations, a lecture may actually be more useful than a group discussion", says Lehner. "It's important to acknowledge and have a good command of the wider spectrum of teaching so that you are able to take the right action to suit the situation."

Perfecting the methodology

Marion Lehner plans to continue her faculty development work in future. However, she will be relocating from the University of St.Gallen to ETH Zurich. Yet the HSG will also benefit from Lehner's doctoral thesis: workshops held as part of the CAS programme on teaching and learning in higher education will still apply the methodology developed by Lehner. "Hopefully, this method for visualising long-held mind-sets will have a sustainable impact, for example by embedding stable attitudes towards various teaching topics as well as securing high-quality teaching at the HSG in the long term", says Lehner.

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