What we know: Teaching for learning: The best teachers (as rated by students) are enthusiastic about what they teach, respect their students, and are effective in helping the latter find connections with the former.

The ‘What we know’ theories are going to be published here as a series of blog posts over the coming weeks but are also available now collected as a free eBook from the OCSLD shop, where there are now four titles available. Our new book, Assessment Literacy: The Foundation for Improving Student Learning is available in paperback and kindle formats

The best teachers (as rated by students) are enthusiastic about what they teach, respect their students, and are effective in helping the latter find connections with the former.

What do we know?

Quite a lot of studies, mainly from the US, although they may use slightly different terminology, come to this same conclusion.  While students may forgive a lot when it comes to teaching skills, or even (lack of) knowledge of the subject, they are far less likely to forgive lack of enthusiasm, and teachers who they consider treat them with indifference or hostility.  And this is not just about what students like or prefer – the conclusions from the literature are that these differences in teacher behaviour have an impact – for good or ill – on the students, and ultimately that is likely to affect their learning.

Implications for improving student learning

The message is clear – be enthusiastic about what you are teaching (however boring you may find it, or however many times you may have taught it before) and show that you care about your students and their learning – the latter includes finding ways to connect the students with the subject matter.  What will make it interesting for them?  Why would they want to learn it? (see motivation above).

Further reading

Carson, B. H. (1999) Bad news in the service of good teaching: Students remember ineffective professors, Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 10 (1), 91-105.


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About the author

Chris Rust

Emeritus Professor of Higher Education, Oxford Brookes University. Before retiring in September, 2014, after over 25 years at Brookes, Chris had been Associate Dean (Academic Policy). Previously, for ten years, he was Head of the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD), and Deputy Director of the Human Resource Directorate. Between 2005 – 2010 he was also a Deputy Director for two Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning – ASKe (Assessment Standards Knowledge Exchange) and the Reinvention Centre for undergraduate research (led by Warwick University).

In OCSLD, with thirteen colleagues, he helped to provide both staff and educational development support to the University’s academic Faculties and support Directorates for 23 years. For six years he was Course Leader for the University’s initial training course for new teaching staff.

He achieved a PhD by publication in 2003 and became a professor in March, 2010.

He has researched and published on a range of issues including:

  • the experiences of new teachers in HE
  • the positive effects of supplemental instruction
  • ways of diversifying assessment
  • improving student performance through engagement in the marking process
  • the effectiveness of workshops as a method of staff development.

Mostly he has focused on researching and writing about assessment, including:  improving student learning through active engagement with assessment feedback, and the significance of both explicit articulation and socialisation processes in improving students’ understanding of assessment requirements and assessment feedback.

He is also interested in the design, development and use of social learning space in universities, as well as the development of research-based learning in the undergraduate curriculum, including its potential effect on university organization.

In the 90s he contributed to the design and delivery of a national programme of staff development in higher education on the issue of teaching more students and over the years has run numerous workshops around the country and internationally on a range of issues including teaching large classes, developing assessment strategies, and engaging students with assessment and feedback.

Most recently he has been involved in a research project into the effectiveness of the external examiner system and how it might be improved

He has been a Fellow of the RSA, a Senior Fellow of SEDA (Staff and Educational Development Association) and was one of the first fourteen Senior Fellows of the UK Higher Education Academy, for whom he was also an accreditor.

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