Improve student's learning

Have you ever ask yourself whether your students learn something from your course material? Have you ever ask your students whether they think the materials you taught in class is relevant to them? Have you ever feel that there is a mismatch between what you teach and what your students want to learn? The fact is students would pay more attention to your class if they think they are relevant to their interests. But the fact is professors often think what students need to know based on their own knowledge and belief and that is why mismatch happens.

Professors can improve student interest in learning by understand their needs, modify the course materials to make it more relevant, and using teaching methods that encourage students’ participation. When lecturing you need to modify your materials to resonate with students to make sure that they understand and interest in listening. That means professors must know what students' interests are, what they want to learn, and what lessons they will keep with them when complete the course. The best way is to ask them so I often start my course on the first day by asking students to list what they already know, what they want to know, and what they think they will learn after leaving my course. Based on these data, I will adjust the content of the course to ensure that I will meet the needs of students. At the end of each lecture, I ask them how the materials are related to their interests, whether they understand them well or still confuse and need more clarification.

One reason why classroom materials can seem irrelevant to students is that many theories and materials are often far removed from actual tasks performed in software companies. To solve this problem, I often use real case examples to clarify some concepts during class discussions. For example: “You are given requirements for a software project by customers. During the detailed design phase, customers would like to change the requirements. What should you do? Why this situation happens? What can you do about it? This teaching method makes materials more real for students by placing them in a real situation. Problem-based learning presents students with real cases and follow-up questions to guide their learning. Students are encouraged to work in small teams to solve problem together and they will learn more by discuss with others rather than just listening to lecture. I always select examples that connect to real problems so that students must solve them the same way they will likely to do when working in the industry. For example: In manufacturing operation, a quality issue can back up an entire assembly lines and cause a chain reaction along the supplier network. Failure to produce quality products on time often results in higher costs, and dissatisfied customers. What can you do to prevent this from happening? Why do you need quality assurance people? What should be their job description?

When professors understand students’ interests, their learning goals, they can better design their courses to meet students’ needs. This process will lead to much deeper learning because students will see the connection between what they learn and what they will do when they go to work. In other word, professors improve the relevance of course material by providing students opportunities to learn and to apply what they have learned to master the course materials. This teaching method using real examples also create relevant approach to teaching and learning. Careful monitoring class discussions and problem solving will allow professors to learn who your students are, what they have mastered, and what the areas of greatest interest are. These observations will guide professors to select topics that they can emphasize in their class. When they keep an open mind and listening to students’ input, they will make their class more exciting, more dynamic and more vibrant than before and making learning a meaningful experience.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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