I am pleased to present the fifth edition of what began in 1987 as the NUS Handbook on Teaching. With the rapid pace of change, a new edition again seems timely, both to update as well as to incorporate the many valuable suggestions received.
NUS is today positioned to be a leading “global knowledge enterprise”. Within a knowledgedriven global economy, knowledge frontiers have further widened, research into and innovations in approaches to teaching and learning have increased, the student population has grown and changed in its composition, and leaps in technology have propelled changes and accelerated obsolescence. Hence the need for a paradigm shift, a shift to a model for teaching and learning that ensures that an NUS education equips for a lifetime. For lifelong capability, students have to be learning-enabled. They have to be taught in such a way that they learn not only a body of knowledge, but also the ability to learn independently and as a continuous, self-directed activity. The same can be said for teachers: for sustained viability, we need to go on learning to teach and teaching to learn. Indeed, rather than master-and-apprentice model, there has to be a collaborative learning community, one in which is for all, and for life.
With this mindset change, attention to encouraging reflection on the nature of good teaching and its translation into good practice has intensified. There are a number of initiatives at university, faculty and department levels. Hopefully, this handbook will contribute to the overall effort. It is by no means exhaustive, nor can it pretend to address all the issues in all their complexity. What it aims to do is bring together, in a user-friendly format, what is likely to be most useful, since “Art is long, and life is short” and academics have many demands on their time. The approach is functional, with the focus more on the practical than the theoretical. This is not to imply that the teaching-learning transaction is a mechanical operation or to deny that teaching is, to some extent, an art with its profound and incommunicable mysteries. Nor does it ignore the fact that good teaching involves knowledge, attitude and skill. Knowledge is assumed, changes in attitudes are to a large degree self-initiated, but acquiring and improving the skill in teaching is something that everyone can and should work on actively. Hence, the focus on addressing what can be communicated: the basic skills in preparation, presentation, questioning, assessment and so on, which can be developed with practice. While these cannot replace such fundamentals as knowledge of a subject and enthusiasm about teaching, they can contribute to maximising teaching effectiveness. The intention, however, is not prescriptive. Not only would it be inappropriate to tell highly educated and intelligent university teachers how to do their jobs, but prescriptions would probably prove inadequate, as would a monolithic definition of good teaching. Teaching is a dynamic activity involving demands and situations that are frequently changing, and which vary greatly from discipline to discipline. It also involves individual engagement with, and creative responses to, these demands and situations.
This volume, then, is offered in the spirit of sharing and reminding of good practices. Within are potentially usable ideas and techniques which you may find worthwhile to be introduced to or reminded of. Their viability will depend on individual preferences and experiences, as well as other functional conditions and possible constraints. Not all the tools and strategies will be useful or usable all the time, but some of them should be so at least some of the time. Having them in one’s repertoire increases one’s options and possibly enables one to do the job better but, ultimately, you will have to personalise the strategies and will no doubt wish to experiment with your own ideas.
Becoming and being a good teacher involves ‘hands-on’ experience and sustained critical reflection on one’s own performance. Research has indicated that there is not necessarily a correlation between the number of years a person has taught and his/her expertise. Someone who has taught for twenty years may only have one year’s experience unproductively repeated twenty times. Without continuous effort and readiness to innovate and evaluate one’s own teaching practices, stagnation—if not regression—in teaching performance may well occur. It is only by consistently being a reflective practitioner that one can maintain personal and professional growth, and in so doing, contribute to the NUS commitment to excellence.