In the BiP program, we are not trying to mirror the experience that our students have when taking courses in the core curriculum. We hired you for your professional experience and expertise. The goal is to create a learning environment that closely tracks how learning takes place in a professional work environment. Be yourself and teach from your personal experience. The goal is to assist your students in learning more than just the specific course material. Soft skill acquisition is an important secondary goal for each BiP course.
You are Not Passing Out Information - You are Creating a Controlled Learning Environment
All of our BiP courses are built on a foundation that incorporates active learning. We want the students to do something in each and every class. Your students do not want, and we do not want them to be passive listeners. Students do best when they are actively engaged with the course material. Your mission is to create an engaged and active learning environment where you serve as a guide or coach rather than as a subject area expert delivering information.
Humanize Yourself to Your Students
Many students have limited contact with working professionals. Many are looking for guidance. All could benefit from having a professional mentor. While you cannot realistically serve as a mentor to all of your students, you can to a more limited sense serve as a guide for the students in your course. By sharing bits and pieces of your life and allowing them to get a glimpse of you as a person, they are more likely to take direction and you will have a bigger impact. Being a transformational force in someone else’s life is what makes all of the hard work associated with teaching worthwhile.
Share Professional Experiences
We encourage you to share your professional experiences with your students. Not only from your current employment, but other stages of your professional journey as well. Students are hungry to learn how others navigated the complexities of life as they attempt to overcome many obstacles in their own lives. Do not be afraid to share your failures as well as your success. It is important for our students to understand that success requires hard work and fortitude in overcoming the challenges associated with taking a risk.
Allow Your Passion to Come Out
Enthusiasm is contagious! Many students have yet to identify a passion and sense of purpose. While you most certainly will not have the answer for most of them, for many, their own journey is often sparked by seeing others who have found their passion. Students respond best to an instructor who can convey excitement about the subject of the course and will perform their best work if some of your enthusiasm rubs off onto them.
No one likes a phony and, in this technology, mediated world, most strive for authenticity. Often that is the only way to navigate all of the noise in order to discover what is real. How you present yourself to your students will affect how they respond to what you have to say and ultimately how much they learn. It is not about you. It is about them. If you are real and offer something of real value, you will earn their respect and willingness to learn.
Be Clear in What You Say
You may feel very comfortable with a piece of knowledge that you use every day or have known for a long time. However, knowing something is one thing, being able to explain it is something entirely different. You will find there are times when you get tongue tied trying to explain something that is second nature to you. Take your time. If you cannot get it done the first time around, move on and think about it between classes. Often, with some thought and practice, you will be able to explain it the next time you are in front of your students.
Tell a Good Story
Everyone likes to hear a good story. More importantly, story is a useful teaching device. We read to our children at a young age, the quickly progress to watching movies and tv shows – all that communicate through the use of story. Throughout history, story has been an important mechanism for teaching young and old alike.
When the Content is Complex - Break it Down into Simple Concepts
Remember, what may be easier for you may not be the case for someone without your experience or background. Try and take complex ideas and break them down into simple concepts. Students often do not understand where ideas come from or how to think through a challenging concept. We want our students to learn how to become learners and helping them see how a series of simple ideas can form something more complex is a skill that will help them in your course and beyond.
Repetition is a Good Thing
Many students fail to get something the first time. Repeating good ideas is a useful for technique for ensuring that knowledge is both gained and retained. Remind them what you told them and do not hesitate to tell them and then remind them why a particular concept is important. Teaching base with them in class or reminding them about last week’s material prior to the start of the current week is helpful as long as you are brief and to the point.
Be a Good Listener
As you know, often the key to success is to be a good listener. What is second nature to you may be something that is extremely difficult for your students. It might be the entire concept or just one small detail that prevents a more complete understanding. By listening to your students carefully, you can identify what needs additional explanation and how quickly you can move on to the next item in your course plan. It is easy to forget what it was like when you were twenty years old. Being a good listener will help you bridge that gap.
If You Don't Know Something - Tell Them You Don't Know
No one knows everything. You included. You will make mistakes. Everyone does. Just be honest in what you know and what you do not. If you do not know something, just let them know that you will get back to them with the answer. Alternatively, that might make a great topic for a class exercise. What is important is to teach them how to take responsibility for their own education and how to figure things out – even when the answer is not obvious.
Best Practices in the Classroom
Set Clear Expectations
The difference between creating an exceptional experience and a disaster is the extent to which you create a clear set of expectations. Do you expect students to come to all classes prepared to learn? If so, then you have to clearly explain what that means, what you expect them to do and what happens if they do not meet those expectations. If you expect them to complete a series of assignments, then you need to clearly establish deadlines and how their performance will be assessed in terms of the assignments.
How Much Lecturing Should I Do?
You should keep the amount of time lecturing to a minimum. Students have real short attention spans, and they find it challenging to focus for extended periods of time. Keep your lecturing down to 15 minutes at a chunk if you can. Think it terms of recording some of the content and having your students watch it prior to the start of class. That way you can focus class time more on an activity, group work, discussion, guest speakers, or just answering questions.
Chunk the Time
Divide your class time into 15 – 20 minute blocks. This will match your student’s attention span while making it easier for you to plan what you will be doing in each class. It is often helpful to create an outline for the class session and share that with your students. You might think about starting each class with the outline and as you move from chunk to chunk, bring back that outline or something that can serve as a timeline so that your students can see where they have been and where they are going.
Interrupt the Routine
We tend to be creatures of habit and take comfort in the familiarity associated with routine. However, routine can eventually turn into a rut and once there, the excitement is gone as you and your students start to just go through the motions. To avoid falling into that trap, mix things up. Throw in something unexpected to keep things interesting.
Try and speak as much as possible from your own personal experience. Firsthand accounts can be more impactful. Often, the examples you use make a particular lesson more relatable and easier to remember. Everyone likes a good story and understanding how something was applied in a particular context and make for a powerful lesson. Make sure you generalize what you are sharing to demonstrate when something is fairly universal and when it is applicable to only a specific type of situation.
Everyone’s experience is limited. The judicious use of guest speakers can fill in gaps, reinforce important lessons, or open up new doors to thinking about a particular complex. Using guest speakers can also effectively break up a class routine and keep the learning process fresh. Encourage your speakers to be authentic and to speak from their own personal experience.
Allow Peer Instruction
Just because you are the course instructor does not mean that all of the instruction must come from you. Students often learn the best from each other. Finding ways for them to review each other’s work, work collaboratively on a project or have them present their ideas to the rest of the class are all effective strategies that enable your students to play a meaningful role in the learning process.
Intentional Community Building
Human beings are social by nature and students relish the time they spend together. Successful courses happen when instructors create a sense of community where students perceive that each voice is heard and respected. We celebrate different points of view and you want to create the equivalent of a “big tent” where individuals and their ideas are valued and heard. The more that you can get everyone moving in the same direction and feel that they are part of something that extends beyond them as an individual, the more likely you will achieve your objectives for the course.
Create Online Spaces
Online spaces can supplement the active learning that takes place in the classroom. There is no reason why all of the learning must take place in the classroom. A variety of technologies exist that can help you and your students share ideas, work collaboratively on a project, or store valuable information to be used at a later date.
Ultimately, whether or not you are successful will depend on pacing. Go too fast and you will lose all of your students. Too slow and they will grow bored and find something else to capture their attention. Given that each student has a different background and set of capabilities, perhaps the largest challenge you face is how to find the appropriate balance that keeps everyone moving together.
How Would You Do That at Your Company?
One of the soft skills that we value most is situational awareness – the ability to apprise a particular set of circumstances and figure out the best way to move forward. We ask that you bring a little bit of company culture and your past experience into the classroom to set an appropriate tone. That tone should help students recognize that each company potentially does things differently – but regardless, that your expectations are based on business experience and not your experiences from when you were a student. When in doubt, think about how matters are handled within your company. If it translates well to your course, then use that as the criteria for determining how to respond.
Putting Students in Teams
Most of our courses have students working in teams. Often a pre-class survey is circulated to learn more about individual students. That information is used to help place the students into teams. There is no one right way to place students in teams. You might look for students with similar interests or try to pick from different skills in order to fashion a balanced grouping.
One of the largest challenges our instructors face is getting students to talk in class. Try and remember what it was like when you were 20 and afraid to look stupid in front of your peers. This is often the reason (and not a lack of interest) for why no one is participating in class discussion. A long silence is often all it takes to eventually get someone to talk. Rest assured, over time, this will become less of a problem as the students feel more comfortable with you and the course material.
Reporting Out By Team
One strategy for overcoming silence (the reluctance on the part of your students to speak up) is to have smaller groups engage in a conversation and then have one person report out what was discussed. Since the student is not speaking for themself, but rather the group, they are more likely to speak up.
3 Hour vs. 1 and a Half Hour Classes
When you first started thinking about your course, you had the choice of teaching it over 7 or 14 weeks. Fourteen weeks provides for a longer gestation period while seven weeks for many is over before they realize it. The challenge with teaching a seven week course comes trying to keep the students engaged for an entire three hour class. Mix it up! Chunking up the time with each chunk covering a different topic and associated with a different mode of delivery (e.g. lecture, discussion, guest speaker, student presentation) is an effective strategy for keeping everyone engaged.
For longer classes, it is important to schedule one or two breaks. It gives everyone an opportunity to stand up and stretch. More importantly, it provides a time where students can engage with you one on one. During this time, you can clarify points, answer questions, and offer advice.
Flipping the Classroom
We know that students prefer to be active participants rather than passive listeners. When you preparing for class, stop and think about whether you will need to lecture about a particular subject in class, or you could instead, post a video or have them read something prior to the start of class. The advantage of such an approach is that class time can be used instead to have your students engage with you and each other while actually doing something. Just because you want your students to learn something, does not mean that learning must take place within a classroom.
If you have been around young people for very long, you know that they are in some sense addicted to their smart devices. They cannot go long without reading a post or checking out the latest about something or another. It can be distraction for everyone. You will need to think about which alternative most impedes learning: glancing at their device or thinking about checking out the latest notification they have received. Either creates problems for learning. It is up to you to decide how you want to manage the situation.