Making Teaching Fun Again

 

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A University of Auckland business school prof wins awards for his blended learning techniques

In fall 2016, Dr. Michael Rehm of the University of Auckland Business School, and his wife Dr. Olga Filippova, who also teaches in the department, won a coveted University Teaching Excellence Award for their innovative approach to blended learning. The university’s recognition was the result of three years of refining online and in-person lecturing using Top Hat’s student engagement system.

Dr. Rehm has been teaching real estate at the Business School since 2005, and for the first six years he followed the traditional lecture-with-PowerPoint-slide pedagogical model. By 2012, he noticed that attendance was dropping rather drastically. “And it wasn’t just me,” says Dr. Rehm. “I sat on undergraduate committees where we look broadly at all kinds of courses and it was a common trend. The school had already been providing lecture recordings, so students didn’t have to bother showing up. That was part of it.” But decreasing engagement was a bigger factor. “When I first started teaching, I’d get students coming up to me at the beginning or end of class, or during office hours, to ask questions or discuss the class,” says Dr. Rehm. “As time went on this changed. I don’t think I got scarier or less approachable. Rather, the students’ digital-native approach meant they didn’t communicate that way anymore. They engage remotely and/or online now.” Dr. Rehm would look out at his students and not only see the numbers dwindling, but that the ones in attendance were distracted by their phones or laptops.

 

“I get higher attendance for the weekly Top Hat–led classes than the average lecturers get in their courses“

—MICHAEL REHM Senior Lecturer, Department of Property, University of Auckland Business School
 

In 2013, he decided to introduce online lectures in his Building Construction course. He provided students with bite-sized, interactive video lectures that they watched on their own time during the week, and added questions inside the videos to get a sense of what lessons weren’t sticking. Dr. Rehm believed it was still important to get in front of students, so once a week, he hosted an in-person tutorial session to review the material. He asked questions using Top Hat’s engagement system to give students the opportunity to revisit tricky material, or to ask for more help. At the end of each session he’d host a quiz tournament on Top Hat, which the students loved. “The tournament was purely about participation, to encourage students to show up and try. It wasn’t about getting the right answers. That’s what tests were for. What was on the table wasn’t grades or points, it was literally individually-wrapped chocolates, but the students took it super seriously and were extremely competitive.”

Today, Dr. Rehm continues with that model, and now live-streams the weekly in-person sessions. “I have students at home or at work with their mobile phone loaded with the Top Hat app and they can participate in the review session,” he says. “Yet I still get higher attendance for those weekly classes, over 60 percent, which far exceeds what the average lecturers get in their courses. I think it’s because the students like the vibe. And for me, it makes teaching fun again.”

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