Four classroom sessions and 3 assignments later, the big day finally arrived, 10 minutes of pure terror! Behold, microteaching is out to get ya! Oh well, on second thoughts it wasn’t so bad, but many of us including yours truly here, had blown it way out of proportion brooding about the gazillion ways you could fail the damn thing. My session was scheduled in the afternoon, I gathered my stuff and made my way to the learning studio. I was quite well prepared, at least that’s what I thought when I walked into the room brimming with ill-deserved confidence. So there were about 30 of us in there, the facilitators arrived and started calling out names, 6 per group. My group consisted of 4 guys and a girl, I only knew the girl, who had attended the previous sessions in the same cohort as me. We were ushered into a tutorial room by our facilitator, Mr. Murray Bourne an Australian gentleman (I only found out his name later). He then asked us all to gather at one of the tables for the preliminary instructions. It was at this point that I noticed none of us were actually speaking or even smiling for the matter. In my case, I was quite nervous about the time limit of 10 mins, I am the type who can get quite carried away when explaining stuff to people, and was well aware that finishing on time would be quite the problem.
Our facilitator was quite friendly, he asked us to take a few deep breaths, even cracked a couple of jokes to put us all at ease. The instructions were mainly about feedback we would be giving each other during the course of the session, and on a variety of aspects which you’ll learn about during the classroom sessions. Some of the important ones included time management, meeting learning outcomes, quality of slides and clarity of speech. There would be one ring of a bell at 9 mins, two rings at 10, three at 11 and he also gave us the impression that if we didn’t stop by then, there would be no more rings, but the bell flying “whoosh” onto us along the lines of a missile STRIKE! Well, I’ve had many things thrown at me during my little life, and I certainly didn’t want a bell to make that list. He then asked us who wanted to go first, and a couple of seconds later I thought I saw my hand go up. I’d wanted to get this thing out of the way so badly for the last couple of weeks and there you go, “tada!”, I was the opening batsman. In hindsight, I would recommend going second or third, as some obvious mistakes could be avoided such as positioning yourself at the right spot etc., All of us were then asked to sit at different tables covering the entire room to simulate a class full of students.
My topic was a simple one, I’d planned to teach heat transfer and its management for industrial applications. The plan was to start off with a quick recall activity, a couple of questions to gauge prior understanding next, slide show, a collaborative activity involving a case study and finally finish with a brief summary. I think I started off well, unfortunately I wasn’t carrying a pointer so I had to move to the computer each time I needed to change slides. I would highly recommend carrying one, as this enables you to move around the class freely. I got a couple of blank looks when I was explaining the convection bit, and this of course prompted me to spend some extra time there. I was nearly 6 minutes down, when I reached the activity bit and so was hard-pressed for time in discussing questions. I had to rush through my summary and overshot the time limit by about 15 seconds. Despite a practice session the previous evening, I thought I could still do with an extra minute, which I presume will be the case for many of us. We gathered at the central table again to receive our feedback as soon as our teaching was done. Our facilitator had informed us beforehand that we were only to receive comments and suggestions, and no retorts were to expected from us in our defence.
Most of my group mentioned that my teaching was clear and easy to follow, the recall activity also worked to some extent in helping them remember what they had learnt in school. They told me that I’d given them ample time to answer the questions posed, but then again was only able to partially achieve the third learning outcome. The feedback had to include one plus point and 2 suggestions from each of us, Mr. Murray jumped in whenever necessary to fine-tune the suggestions. The rest of the group followed suit, some of them started off quite well, but like me, ended up overshooting on the time. All of us made mistakes and this brings me to a few key suggestions which I believe could really help you during the session.
- Do NOT show your bum to the students when presenting, yours truly was one of the first culprits to be caught doing this.
- Carry a pointer, make eye contact with everyone, do not talk too fast especially when you are explaining the main concepts.
- Don’t dwell too much on the questions, and don’t say no outright even if the student gives the wrong answer.
- Pick a topic which is simple, but link this to a first year undergraduate course. One of us did Rayleigh scattering of light, which is a good topic to know about, but not exactly relevant for an engineer.
- Stick to a white background for your slides, and work on the contrast and fonts to make them visible from a distance.
- Give the students sufficient time to solve the activity before jumping in to help them, and spend more time on getting them to work together (splitting them into 2 groups is a good idea).
- Also be very careful when adding equations, as this could take up more time and is generally difficult to master in a few minutes.
- Keep the presentation to about 10 slides, and don’t fill them with too much detail.
- Finally as far as the learning outcomes are concerned, it would be better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way round. Also remember guys, that finishing on time is vital, you could use a stopwatch or something to keep track as you teach.
The whole session lasted about 3 hours, luckily there were no technical glitches and all of us got started as soon as our turns arrived. Our facilitator informed us that we would receive our results via email, it was only the next afternoon that I received one mentioning I’d passed. I heaved a big sigh of relief; although the whole thing was very informative and stuff, I really don’t think I’d want give it another go!