International Teacher-Trainers: Good Teacher Is Good Communicator

Important | 2014-12-17

‘If a teacher wishes to help students to grow, he/she will find means to do that. If technology is necessary for that, the teacher will adopt them, if not, then their existence will not influence the teacher-student cooperation’, said teacher-trainer Daan Romein from ICLON (Leiden University, Netherlands) during the intensive training course for teachers at KTU Faculty of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities.

Daan Romein and Henk Frencken, experts of didactics who are training teachers all over the world are convinced that the term ‘good teacher’ does not depend on cultural differences or times, as good teaching is always connected to the ability to communicate.

In December Daan Romein and Henk Frencken held intensive training course, where the participants debated about the main problematic issues that arise in the institutions of higher education both in Lithuania and worldwide, looked for possible reasons and solutions of the problems. The training course was a part of the project ‘System of modern didactic competences at KTU’.

We are all aware of the fact that the so-called z-generation is entering our universities. They are smart, able to handle new technologies, they have a lot of information, yet they obviously tend to reject traditional educational canons. How does this tendency influence teaching didactics within our universities?

Daan: we must understand that changes cannot be stopped. Another question is how we can use them. To my mind, if technologies affect didactics in universities, the effect will only be positive. However, it will take time.

Henk: I would like to add that good teaching becomes better with technologies, whereas a bad one gets even worse. We should also be aware of some tendencies in the use of technologies. For instance, students use e-mail only for formal communication, i.e. to keep in touch with their teachers, while they tend to prefer social networks as the main platform for their personal communication. In other words, youth perceives social networks as their personal space and not all of them are willing to allow teachers invade it with their subject content. Teachers should take this into account before they try to transfer their lectures on, let’s say Facebook. On the other hand, the application of technologies in education is nothing new: highly debatable contemporary innovations will become an absolute norm after 20 years.

Daan: Every change is a challenge that requires much creative effort. Nevertheless, many changes occur without us even noticing them, for instance, the number of classrooms with the chairs arranged for a team work is increasing, the use of iPads or smart-boards during lectures is growing and so on and so forth.

Henk: Yes, indeed. I personally have a rather extreme opinion that people who stick to traditional norms are boring. I do not want to offend anyone, what I am saying is that you have to be a bit crazy in order to approach the system creatively. Such a person has chances to become an innovative teacher capable of holding a quality dialogue with the young generation.

Have the new tendencies affected didactic system at Leiden University?

Daan: The system of education always lags behind reality, even in Leiden – we have to admit that. Therefore, teachers’ expectations rarely meet students’ capabilities. Young people do not learn in the way the older generation used to do. Nowadays, accessibility of information has increased many times in comparison with the situation 10 years ago. But it should be stressed here that information is not equal to knowledge – young people find it difficult to realize this truth sometimes. For this reason, teachers must focus on the cultivation of analytical critical thinking of young people instead of trying to provide them with even more information during their lectures. The latter method comes from the past age and does not fit contemporary life. The real added value of lectures is teaching how to manage information and not merely adopt it.

What concerns changes in our country, without any doubt, we can feel certain impact and reaction to new tendencies. For instance, in some universities in the Netherlands, students are forbidden to use their laptops during the lectures. Whether it is good or bad remains an open question. In my personal opinion, if a lecture is interesting and students can perceive its benefit, laptop will not be used for any other purpose but learning.

Henk: technologies also helped to regulate the number of students in overcrowded classrooms. Due to technologies we have a possibility to introduce more individual work, as in distance learning. However, we have also noticed that new threats have risen since it has become difficult to measure how much time a student must allot to complete certain tasks. That is, because of the decreased number of contact hours, a teacher must carefully design his/her course so that the workload for a student would be neither too hard nor too easy.

Lecturers of universities in Lithuania are not required to acquire and develop qualifications in teaching and didactics. It is usually assumed that scholars should be good teachers, but as we know, in many situations it is not the case. What is the situation in the Netherlands? Do you have any governmental policy concerning this issue?

Daan: Every new lecturer in the Netherlands has to complete a portfolio of his competences within 2 years since the beginning of his work. 4-5 criteria of the portfolio are common for all universities, but other requirements may vary across universities or even faculties. In Leiden, for instance, we offer special courses dedicated to help teaches to re-evaluate their own experience and make certain conclusions.

What is the purpose of the portfolio? How is it evaluated?

Henk: it is a catalogue of competences whose purpose is to encourage lecturers to evaluate their qualification and quality of teaching methods. It provides guidelines for self-assessment and self-evaluation. The introduction of the portfolio is indicative of the changes within universities: we notice that the focus has been shifted from research unto the quality of teaching.

Daan: Definitely, criteria of the portfolio make teachers evaluate particular aspects of their work. There is also external evaluation of the portfolio constituted of the evaluation of documents that prove competences of a person and observation of his lectures. In other words, a teacher has a consultant who thoroughly examines the structure of a course, teacher’s competences, gives some feedback and remarks on possible improvements.

Henk: By the way, this evaluation helps the teachers to realize that despite their long-term experience in the field of teaching they can still learn and discover new things. This is very important since it is the straightest way to quality improvement.

Did teachers embrace new tendencies easily? Maybe you had to overcome strong resistance?

Daan: as we have already mentioned, innovation is always a challenge for both one who implements them and one who embraces them. I have been working as a teacher consultant for 7 years. The beginning was not easy, apathy and skepticism were frequent obstacles of my work. However, people felt the benefits of our work relatively quickly, now they come back to ask for more consultations, share their new experience with their colleagues who, in their turn, approach us by their own initiative. The need to revise one’s principles of work with regard to contemporary realities is growing and it is a promising perspective of our mission. Nevertheless, I cannot say that we feel any decrease in the demand of teacher consultants, which means that many things still have to be changed.

In your opinion, how should an ideal lecture of the 21st century look like?

Henk: do you want a vision? Then remember the best teacher that you had either at university or at school. Not the ideal one, but the best. Think, what features are the most important for a good teacher and you will have the answer to your questions. The essential requirements for a teacher who is capable of delivering an ideal lecture have not changed much in the course of time. The tools of communication between a teacher and a student have changed, indeed. I have worked in many countries in various continents: Europe, Asia, Africa. I can firmly claim that perception of what makes a good teacher does not vary cross-culturally. All people give almost the same list of characteristics for a good teacher and these characteristics are mostly related with the quality of communication– not quantity, but quality. If a teacher gives many questions but is not actually interested in the answers of his/her students, ignores them, neglects, shows no effort to develop a discussion, but only concentrates on establishing his/her own truth – I would not say this is quality communication.

Daan: As you may see, we cannot provide you with the description of an ideal lecture despite the fact that we receive this question quite often. While speaking about the ideals of the 21st century, people often plunge into some futuristic images highlighting the importance of technologies. They search for something absolutely new, innovative that might serve as panacea for all problems we face nowadays. Yet, the fundamentals of quality education remain the same: it is a relation between a teacher and a student both of whom understand and undertake their responsibilities, a teacher to share his/her experience; a student – to embrace that experience. The relation must be based on mutual respect and willingness to teach and to learn. Therefore, an ideal lecture of the 21st century, to my mind, is just the same as ideal lectures in the 18th or 20th centuries – it’s core is the cooperation and effort of both a teacher and a student.

All right, the futuristic vision has been destroyed. Nonetheless, you have already mentioned that there are certain changes in education that occurred due to technologies. Do you think technologies will change the role of a teacher?

Henk: Honestly, I don’t personally think that technologies make a crucial impact on the role of a teacher. Maintenance of a teacher-student relation is inscribed in the genes of a good teacher. Actually, education is communication which is typical of humanity, yet in this case communication has a very clear goal – to develop a cultivated mind of a young and, naturally, unexperienced person. Technologies may help to maintain this relation, but not affect it.

Daan: Yes, indeed, if a teacher wishes to help his/her students to grow, he/she will find means to do that. If technology appears necessary for that, the teacher will adopt them, if not, then their existence will not influence the teacher-student cooperation. We don’t want to deny the importance of technologies, we simply don’t think they are the crucial factor for quality education.

Lastly, could you, please, define what a teacher-student relation is?

It is team work based on mutual respect where all participants share the responsibility for the overall objective, i.e., mutual perfection.