My approach and philosophy to teaching

Posted in: Teaching

I had to write a small piece on my approach and philosophy to teaching here it is:

Engaged learning through impediment free and active teaching

Peter A. Sloan FHEA PhD MChemPhys

I have taught at Bath for just over 5 years across all years of Physics programmes: lecture courses, laboratories, tutorials and research projects. And have been an active member of the Department SSLC for the past two years. My objective is to get my students actively engaged with their learning. My role is to be a catalyst for student learning, primarily by acting as a facilitator who provides a well-defined, encouraging and challenging environment for them to work in. I achieve this through impediment free teaching and active teaching strategies.

Impediment free teaching

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Too often I have heard my tutees complain about the complexity of a lecture course in relation to the presentation rather than the content - too many pdf files, too many handouts, overall not a consistent presentation. Although low-level, this annoyance prevents engagement with the course material. To prevent such impediments, I use in all my lectured units a single complete handout (paper and pdf) containing: all the important text, equation and diagrams “blanked out”; detailed table of contents for each section so students can see where we are going [and can read ahead if they wish]; and problems at the end of each section.

  • My lectures are fill-in-the-blanks sessions which are akin to “chalk-‘n’-talk” lectures. This “all-in-one” approach receives constant high praise from the students on SAMIS:
  • The lecture notes were given to us were absolutely brilliant!!! It demonstrates clearly that Sloan fully understands and appreciates the need of the students.
  • Format of lecture notes is far superior to any other lecturer’s notes.
  • The course booklet was fantastic … having all my notes and problems in one place was really useful and it would be great to see these used across the physics programs.
  • One of the few lecturers that provides easy access information.

What if a student is ill, or missed a crucial detail in the lecture? By capturing the lectures on Panopto video format I have a resource which allows students to catch-up or revisit a lecture. The lack of presentation distraction, both for the students and myself, allows me to focus on the physical concepts during the lecture sessions.

  • In no other module have I gone away from lectures with such a good level of understanding.
  • I am amazed at the amount of understanding I have gained.
  • Dr Sloan always seems to go the extra step to ensure that his students have an interesting and efficient learning experience.
  • The content is delivered in such a way that means the whole lecture room is listening intently during the whole lecture.

SAMIS Scores (outof 5)  “The lecturer communicated the subject clearly and enthusiastically during lectures” for past years

  • PH10004:  4.98, 4.68, 4.83
  • PH20013:  4.92, 4.78
  • PH30087:  4.45, 4.81, 4.78

SAMIS Scores “Please rate the quality of the teaching” for past years

  • PH10004:  4.63, 4.61, 4.7
  • PH20013:  4.83, 4.72
  • PH30087:  4.36, 4.63, 4.56

Active teaching

The second strategy to produce engaged learning is to create unit specific activities that are complementary to the lecture material. In my 1st year course on Relativity I use moodle based quizzes. In my 3rd year course on Fluid Dynamics, I use hands-on demonstrations (such as hurricane tubes) and youtube clips (for example, how to smoke a pipe to demonstrate the Bernoulli’s principle). This reminds the students that they are learning about the world in which we live and not just a set of equations.

The most mature and evolved active teaching activity is for my 2nd year course Quantum and Atomic Physics. This course relies on complicated mathematics; a subject not appropriate for an exam. To allow the students to tackle such questions I introduced formative coursework in 2014.  At the press of a key, my Matlab-LaTeX program produces for each student a bespoke question sheet, mark sheet and solution sheet.  Each student get different wavefunctions (starting points) so they can work in teams to discuss the physics but can’t copy line-by-line answers. I have several short Panopto films to aid students with their mathematics and last year each was watched a few hundred times.

  • Coursework is great.
  • Clear understanding of the taught material is quickly obtained.
  • Feedback was given in the space of 2 days … Dr Sloan is a superhuman.
  • it made me think a lot about the course content in a way I wouldn't have if I was learning it to pass and exam.
  • Really gave me a concept boost.

I have showcased this work at a recent Faculty eLearning event and have also written several blog posts about this coursework. Over two years and approximately 400 students, I have found that the effect of engaging with the coursework is an 8 ± 2 % boost in performance in their final exam compared to the students’ average mark across all their units. This clearly demonstrates that engaged students make better students.

Finally, I aim to encourage engagement by the undergraduate students with the broader research work within the Department. I initiated and run the highly successful annual “Physics Xmas Lecture” series, which is now in its 5th year, and the “Staff+Posters+Pizza” event that is about to run for the third time where members of staff present their research.




Posted in: Teaching


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