By Taye Johnson
Have you ever wondered if, in an ideal world, you were able to pick your classes based on a specific teaching style? Well, I have.
In a previous semester, I took a statistics course that was decent enough to inspire me to take a higher-level math course. My professor was that good. As someone who wasn’t keen on mathematics at that time, that is the greatest compliment I can give any math professor. My experience in that class made me wonder why I enjoyed it so much despite my reservations about the subject. Was it my professor’s personality? Or was it because of the way they taught the class?
I think the latter contributed to how I felt. There are many different teaching styles that educators in their classes, with some being formal or informal. Educators who follow the formal authority teaching style focus on what the content is about. This teaching style is considered teacher-centered. Some may argue that this method is not about getting to know students and communicating with them in a way that helps build trust and professional relationships among their peers.
As I reflect on my experiences throughout university, some professors followed this approach. It felt like they wanted to be heard and seen as a knowledgeable resource. On the other hand, informal teaching is more of a laid-back approach. This teaching style does not mean that educators who choose to use it in their classrooms are lazy. In fact, informal teaching is student-centered. The curriculum implements opportunities for students to contribute through group discussions, questionnaires and real-time feedback on weekly lessons. Informal teaching is more than just having students feel like their voices are heard — it is also about the types of activities.
Online web tools have become popular in education. This is attributed to gamification, the process of applying game-like mechanics, engagement techniques and motivational design elements to any kind of non-gaming environment. The days of only using pen and paper to administer a quiz are becoming obsolete. Informal teaching gives educators different ways to be creative with the instructional design of their curriculums. Since there are online education tools that have different interfaces to support customization, this can play into how the structure of the course is created. There is also the option to use these tools to revamp weekly assignments and to create collaborative student projects.
My statistics professor was the type of person who was knowledgeable but knew when to take a step back and listen. They observed more than they spoke. The concept of people-watching was something they did well. The impression that I got was they made me realize that being in a classroom wasn’t about what was being taught, it was about feeling like I was a part of the process of learning. That type of learning experience was not something that I had experienced before that semester. When I moved along throughout my studies, that experience left a positive impression of how a professor’s teaching style can influence how I learn the material.
If a professor can make you feel like they care about what they are teaching and make it relevant to your life outside of class, then they are doing a good job. In my opinion, that is what makes the learning experience unique and memorable.