19 December 2018

How a lesson poorly taught turned into someone's drive for better teaching

Anyone studying at postgraduate level would have to do courses on research methodology. I did mine in my masters studies 19 years ago. The lessons were so poorly taught that I still remember them today.

The programme I did was structured around three intensive summer schools conducted once a year. Research methodology was part of Years 2 and 3, taught by a lecturer from the department of research. The sessions he taught contained everything that could go wrong:

1. Basically, the vast majority of the class did not understand what the lecturer was talking about because they had never come across research before. The only one who understood was already an active researcher herself. Clearly the lecturer had no idea of how to teach research, leaving the novice in total confusion and the trained bewildered by how poorly ideas were explained.

2. The materials the lecturer prepared contained nothing specific to drama practice, yet we were a class with drama education major. No consideration was given to making the topics relevant to the target learners.

3. In Year 2, the lecturer taught a session. The next year he came again, with the same set of materials, delivering the same lesson all over again!!! When we pointed out to him that we had had exactly the same lesson the year before, he said, “Oh I didn’t know you are the same students!” Okay, you might not know us, but clearly the sessions for Year 2 and Year 3 students should be different, right?

Many years later, when I looked back at this experience, I realised that this lecturer probably didn’t believe in research himself. And I had come across a handful of other teachers like him. The attitude of “I couldn’t care less” just came across through their class preparation (or the lack of it) and the way they teach. Teachers like them kill students’ curiosity and make students think that research is irrelevant to them.

Finally, when I started teaching at postgraduate level, I told myself: I must find ways to make research relevant to my students and help them understand how it is beneficial to their practice and to the development of our field.

In the first masters programme I taught, we had a separate research methods course like what everybody did. It didn’t work very well for us, so we subsequently changed to an integrated approach. The students did four research projects in a year, each adopting a specific methodology. As such, I had been teaching research for over a decade since then but it was not obvious. Even my husband said to me that he only realised lately that I teach research methodologies as well as drama!

This year, I started a new job which required me to teach a stand-alone research methodology course again. I rewrote the course and experimented with a teaching approach to address the needs of arts practitioners who are new researchers. The first iteration of the course has just completed and the outcomes seem promising. (I will write more about my teaching approach and the outcomes later.) I learned from all those who had taught research courses poorly and avoided making their mistakes. Perhaps I should be thankful to them after all!?