The art of teaching… another inconvenient truth

Dr Merryn Ruwoldt

The reality that quality higher education teaching is not equivalent to delivering good lectures is a potentially confronting, and for the most part inconvenient, truth. As undergraduate and post graduate students most of us sat through hundreds, if not thousands of lectures. We have many models from which to select our own lecturing style. How tiresome then, that research into adult learning consistently demonstrates that content transmission of this nature is ineffective when compared to other methods of facilitating student learning. Unfortunately too many of the neurons firing in a lecture belong to the teacher, and not enough to the students.

The first cohort of the Graduate Certificate in Theological Education, who gathered at Trinity College in February, were challenged with the confronting task of reversing this trend in their classes. Class time is most effective when students are burning new neural pathways because they are actively involved in the learning process, not just passive observers of it. Facilitating this is the art of teaching. It’s an art that takes time, attention to detail and courage to master. At the workshop we involved ourselves in different techniques, we reflected on them, we pondered how we might use them in our own teaching. We were creative, collaborative and analytical, and we went back to our own classes charged with the responsibility of attempting and evaluating something we haven’t tried before.

Teaching theology brings its own set of nuances. We will ponder the flavours of these as we move deeper into the course and work to locate ourselves, our institutions and our stakeholders within the grand narrative of theological education through the ages. Today, as a consequence of advances in brain research in the last two decades, we are privileged to know more about what prompts effective learning than any other theological educators in history. This suggests the next chapter of the narrative is imminent, and it’s both our right and our collective responsibility to write it. Inconveniently, the chapter is perhaps set to be one where the emphasis is on the learning in ‘learning theology’ rather than the theology, where we are undoubtedly already accomplished authors. The aim of the GCTE is to work in this space and enhance the quality of teaching throughout the university while doing so.

Dr Merryn Ruwoldt is the Head of School of Educational Theology at Australian Lutheran College

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