Advocates of learning
LMU‘s Multiplier Program has sent out its first batch of graduates to act as advocates of learning in the Faculties. Their projects are designed to stimulate increased awareness of the importance of quality teaching.
When Professor Dieter Frey talks about his Multiplier Program it soon becomes clear what the program is all about: Frey is out to inspire his listeners with a love of teaching. As the program’s guiding spirit, and as someone who has taught students for over 30 years, Frey has developed a compelling teaching philosophy. “When I stand in front of a class, my goal is to communicate the fruits of my own research. If you want to be an effective teacher, you must be able to fire the enthusiasm of your young audience.” On the other hand, he insists that the program, which is coordinated by the Center for Leadership and People Management, is in no sense a missionary undertaking. “We have no wish to be patronizingly pedantic. That would be inappropriate and ineffective. We set out to inculcate the basics of good teaching, to stimulate people to think more deeply about the subject and encourage them to reflect on how they approach it.”
The first course got underway with 32 participants in early 2013. The program dealt with the basics of effective teaching, and with theories and techniques of education, and included workshops and seminars. The students were then given the opportunity to implement what they had learned in the context of several projects. – And the results were quite remarkable.
Workshops – learning the art of teaching
Half the members of that first class were professors, the rest consisted of academic staff and post-docs. Altogether 15 different faculties were represented. At the outset, Frey and his colleagues were somewhat skeptical as to whether the workshop format would be suitable for such a varied group. But it soon became apparent that their diverse participants shared a common set of concerns. Thus the seminars focused on topics such as leadership, motivation, reflection and communication, and looked at general models of the relationship between the teacher’s approach and the student’s learning performance in the light of the latest educational research. As Frey points out: “We are all acquainted with the telltale signs of poor teaching: It is unstructured and boring. But identifying the elements that define good teaching is far more difficult. The crucial thing is to immerse oneself in the subject and to think hard about how best to present it. To be a good teacher one must ponder the following questions: How can I grab the attention of my students and arouse their interest? By focusing on important questions or problems connected with the topic at hand? How do I let my students know what I expect of them, in terms of a beneficial give-and-take? How can I best promote communication and interaction between my students during the course? What sort of feedback would I like to have, and how do I get them to provide it?
The workshops also came up with lots of concrete tips on how to plan effective courses. Many of these emerged in discussions between the participants themselves, as Dr. Alexander Haas confirms. Dr. Haas is on the staff of the Faculty of Social Sciences, took part in the first Multiplier Program, and has already put some of these tips into practice in his own courses. For example, the feedback provided in the conventional end-of-term assessment can only be used in the design of the following semester’s course. So, to provide a continuous source of feedback, he selected two students to act as rapporteurs at the beginning of each lecture, and explained his responses to their suggestions at the start of the next. “This approach turned out to be very effective, because it gave me an opportunity to react directly to the wishes and proposals made by the class, and it served to clarify the normally unspoken expectations on both sides of the lectern.” Haas says he went into the Multiplier Project without any clear expectations of his own, but learned a lot from it in the end. “I found it very stimulating to see how courses in subjects other than my own were structured. The program as a whole was very professional, and I was impressed by the fact that we received very extensive support, but we were also given a great deal of freedom.”
Projects – from roundtable talks to e-learning
Some skepticism had actually been voiced before the program got going. And Haas had had his reservations too. “But as the course progressed, my colleagues became more and more interested. Overall, our evaluation project led to an increase in the level of communication concerning aspects of teaching in my faculty.” For, together with Professor Meyen, Haas carried out a quantitative and qualitative study of teaching within his own Faculty. “The study uncovered no fundamental problems with respect to the quality of teaching in the Faculty. But it did draw attention to some unmet needs and to the potential for further improvement – for instance a wish to receive more feedback from, and a desire for more involvement on the part of, the students. In response to these suggestions, the Institute for Communications Science is planning to set up a roundtable. Future editions of the Multiplier Program will pay more attention to the views of students – who have the greatest claim on the quality of teaching. “We will intensify our contacts with the students’ councils. After all, the students are our principal evaluators,” says Professor Frey.
With the assistance of the staff of the Center for Leadership and People Management, and aided by research assistants involved in the program, the new advocates of learning, working in pairs, proceeded to carry out their – extremely diverse – projects in their respective Faculties. Some projects were concerned with improving course content – for example, developing an e-learning program for the Faculty of Medicine with the aim of achieving better integration between the pre-clinical and clinical phases of medical education. Others were devoted to more general aspects of teaching, such as the training of tutors or the design of faculty-specific models for effective tuition. The multipliers themselves have compiled an overview of all current projects in a yearbook.
But the program is not over when the projects end and the certificates have been conferred. While all participants continue to stress the importance of teaching, some of the knowledge multipliers are engaged in more particular tasks. For instance, Meyen and Haas are now helping course participants from the Language Faculty to carry out a similar study of teaching evaluations. “This is where the multiplier effect of the program really becomes obvious,” says Professor Martin Wirsing, LMU Vice-President for Teaching and Studies, who initiated the program. “First-rate teaching is indispensable for a full-spectrum university like LMU, because we are charged with educating the knowledge multipliers of tomorrow. So I am particularly pleased with the process that the program has brought about. The Multiplier Program is an important element of LMU’s drive to further professionalize university teaching and ensure that we can really inspire our students.”
Call for Applications for the 3rd Multiplier Program
The first Multiplier Program started in the Winter Term 2012/13 as part of the Pact for Quality Teaching. The second edition is now underway. The third begins in May, and Interested lecturers can apply here. In addition to the Multiplier Program, the Center for Leadership and People Management also offers other opportunities to acquire basic teaching skills.