Teaching as an International Teaching Assistant
As an international student enrolled in a teaching certificate program and teaching development courses, I was given exciting opportunities to teach both micro-teaching sessions and a unit within an undergraduate course. These programs introduced me to the scholarly literature on teaching and learning and how I can use this research to inform my teaching practices. I also gained extensive feedback from my peers and instructors to improve my teaching. This experience helped me realize how classrooms in Canadian universities are different in structure and functioning compared to university classrooms in my home country, India, and how crucial is student engagement and the use of learning-centred approaches to teaching. I will discuss some techniques I used in my teaching to foster student engagement and learning.
Use of a Student Response System: I represent a large demographic of early-career teachers who set high expectations for themselves, making it challenging to design a lesson. However, the basic principles of 1. using effective techniques which fit my learning objectives and 2. the alignment between the lesson and assessments went a long way. I focused on class participation because I rely on cues from my students to inform my teaching on the spot. For this reason, I used Mentimeter to help students participate, and I was mesmerized to see that almost 50% of the class participated in the lecture by answering and posting their doubts. Student feedback indicated that students like the option to ask questions privately. Mentimeteris a digital platform that has various capabilities to support active learning and student engagement such as creating quizzes, feedback forms and presentations. Students can respond to questions on Mentimeter anonymously.
Use of Humour and Analogies: The next crucial strategy I used to increase student engagement was humour. Students already have enough stress that using a monotonous lecture won’t help alleviate their stress. So, I used humour in the flow, it is a little hard to do, but practice and watching stand-up comedy helped me a lot. Humour I would consider is central to my conversations in daily life, besides I think humour is rejuvenating, refreshing and lightens the mood. Being a student, I used to get a little upset in classes with more workload. And I observed the stress generally peaks during the lecture time and found professors who diverted a bit from the topic by using humorous anecdotes or examples helped me relax a bit. I used humourbecause I wanted to be my true self in the classroom, and if you think humour is not your cup oftea, then do not use it. However, based on my previous experience and some research  humour is something that students will love, as I can make out from a student’s comment, “he found great analogies & examples, his way of giving a lecture is amazing, great sense of humour.” The next thing seen from the above comment was my use of analogies and real-world examples. I am a huge proponent of constructivism and deployed it using analogies and contrasting concepts with real-world activities and examples.
Use of Frequent Breaks: I’ve found many students have shorter attention spans, thanks to social media and digital technology. Along with that, my class was scheduled for late evening. So I took a 10-minute break after every 45 minutes. I played music during the breaks, and this was one of the new things that my faculty mentor observed and would be something for her to try as she felt that the music was very calming. The personal reason behind multiple breaks was that I generally fall asleep during evening 3-hour lectures, for that matter any 3-hour lecture. Students were also able to take bio breaks without missing any part of the lecture and were able to ask questions during the break time, thereby not keeping themselves from asking questions at the end of lecture, when they have to rush home.
Use of Post-Assessment: I used a quiz as a post-assessment and gave out treats to the top performers. This way, students stayed until the end of the class. I included a post-assessment also to understand what effect the strategies did I used throughout my lecture had on students’ learning. I firmly believe that teaching has to be very dynamic; teachers should adopt different strategies based on situational factors and the feedback they gain directly from the students on the previously used strategies. However, reading this feedback can be challenging because not every student can give constructive feedback, and some can be heartbreaking. For instance, despite many students liking the breaks, and all the aspects that I included in the lecture to make it engaging and interactive, one of the students’ feedback items reads “It was too long”. But at this point, my passion towards teaching keeps me going, and also hearing the take of the people who helped me in making the lesson plan.
Initially as an international teaching assistant guest lecturing a university classroom for the first time, I was very anxious. However, with the amazing support I received from educational developers at my university, and a lot of practice, I think I was able to ace it given the student comments. Some of the students comments include “this class normally doesn’t participate, so don’t be discouraged other classes will be better. Very fun and engaging, kept lecture interesting and used good examples + demonstrations”, “he found great analogies & examples, his way of giving a lecture is amazing, great sense of humour”. discovered or rather re-discovered my passion for teaching and my students. This experience has motivated me to continue exploring teaching courses and programs and doing research on teaching and learning. As I wish to pursue a career in teaching, I always seek out opportunities to teach as a means to understand whether I have a real passion towards teaching and to improve my teaching skills. One more nuance I will keep in mind moving forward in my teaching career would be that failure, for the lack of a better word, is essential to improving ones teaching effectiveness. Couple of students’ feedback mentioned about issues they had listening to me during the lecture: “Using a hanger microphone I couldn’t hear clearly”, “Not loud enough”. This means I need to play with the technology before the class begins and ensure that all of my students are able to listen to me clearly.
1. Masek, A., Hashim, S., & Ismail, A. (2019). Integration of the humour approach with student’s engagement in teaching and learning sessions. Journal of Education for Teaching, 45(2), 228-233.
Ehsan Ur Rahman Mohammed
Ehsan Ur Rahman Mohammed (he/him) is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at Western University. His research focuses on Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligence. Apart from research in his domain, he is extremely passionate about the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, especially on the impacts of AI technology on education, international students, and the Indigenization of higher education. He is a keen reader and loves volunteering. Recently, he led the UWill Discover Sustainable Futures, the largest student research conference at the University of Windsor.