Being approachable as a lecturer: how do you do that?

If students dare to ask you something quickly, this contributes to a safe learning environment. It stimulates the students’ motivation to participate in the lectures. Therefore, the course evaluations by students check, amongst other things, how approachable you are as a lecturer. But how do you make yourself approachable as a lecturer? These educational tips provide guidelines. 

Create an open atmosphere 

According to research, positive reinforcement works better than penalties. Penalties can lead to a negative atmosphere that is detrimental to the learning climate. So avoid an environment in which students are scared to ask or answer questions: 

  • When a student asks an irrelevant question or gives an incorrect answer, respond in a supportive way and interpret the answer positively. 
  • Try to find the thinking behind an incorrect answer. 
  • Don’t just emphasise the incorrect but also the correct aspects of the answer. 
  • Acknowledge that the reason for an error or irrelevant answer may be due to the way you asked the question or lack of clarity in your explanation. 

Enforce mutual respect 

  • Make concrete agreements about what you expect from the students and assume that they will comply. Do not doubt the intelligence or maturity of the students: if you treat them as children, you will you provoke childish behaviour. Make it clear that the ultimate responsibility for learning lies with them and that you can only guide them.  
  • Give students the chance to shape part of the lectures on their own initiative. For example, they can suggest a guest speaker or propose a theme. Indicate that you also want to learn from them and that you are open to suggestions. 

Keep eye contact 

  • Keep eye contact with students at various places in the room. That way, you will give a less distant and formal impression. Look carefully at the students and deduce from their reactions whether they can follow your explanation or not. 
  • If necessary, address them: "It seems that my explanation is causing some confusion. What is the problem?" This way you immediately indicate that you are willing to respond to lack of clarity. 

Use first names 

In large groups, it is challenging to address students by their first name, but if possible, it may pay to memorise first names. It narrows the distance between you and the student and relaxes the interaction. Making an effort to remember names is proof of your positive involvement. 

Be available 

  • Students often have a question right after the lecture. Give them a chance to speak to you by, for example, quietly taking the time to collect your stuff. 
  • Initiate a conversation with students who linger after the lecture. Ask for their feedback about your lecture. By adopting an open attitude, you lower the threshold for students to ask questions. 
  • At the beginning of the semester, make it clear that you can be contacted outside the lectures. Of course, that does not mean that you are available 24/7. Specify how the students can best contact you: 
    • via email, 
    • via fortnightly meetings on the Ufora 'meeting planner' tool, 
    • in person after the lectures 
    • ... 

Organise your own satisfaction survey 

Ask the students to write one sentence on a piece of paper what they found of your lecture and ask them to fold and submit them. That is a low-threshold way to ask for feedback and show that you appreciate the students’ opinion. 

UGent Practices

Last modified Jan. 13, 2021, 10:36 a.m.