One of the qualities of a good teacher is the ability to stimulate and connect with students in a way that makes their learning dynamic and a pleasurable experience. And this is one valuable skill that Dr Nokuthula Khanyile has developed and mastered making her popular with her students.
Based at the University of Mpumalanga, Dr Khanyile teaches chemistry in a distinctively fun, innovative and interactive manner enabling her students to develop comprehensive and fundamental principles of theoretical and applied chemistry. She says her approach is aimed at allowing students to “develop scientific inquiry, think critically, and improve mathematical and quantitative reasoning skills”.
So unique and engaging is her teaching approach that it earned her ‘Best Faculty Emerging Teacher’ in 2021. She says before she teaches she first plans and organises the padlet. This is followed by a thorough preparation of lecture slides which she shares with the students on Moodle before the lesson starts. Dr Khanyile says she enjoys moving around the classroom during her lessons as this makes her students to feel her presence and also makes her easily accessible to them. “Furthermore, I give them time to engage me and one another on the content. I also give them tasks that align with the learning outcomes,” she says.
Bringing energy into the classroom
To generate enthusiasm and energise her lectures Dr. Khanyile always strives to incorporate competitive quizzes on Kahoot and Mentimeter. Both provide valuable platforms that combine interactive meetings and presentations as well as games which enhance the level of participation from her students. Explaining her teaching approach further, Dr Khanyile says she groups the students into teams of 10. Students organise the meeting time, record the meeting and write minutes on what they discussed, she adds. She always reminds her students that chemistry does not belong in the laboratory or the auditorium but that it is part of their daily existence.
Making chemistry accessible
“Chemistry is part of our everyday life. From each of my lessons, I strive to make my students realise this fact as I explain chemistry concepts using examples of things they see in their environment. In addition to this, students will get a real feel as they complete relevant laboratory exercises while learning basic laboratory skills,” says Dr Khanyile.
She also ensures that learning continues outside of the classroom. For instance, at the end of each chapter, they write a graded quiz that provides a reliable diagnostic exercise to her. “This gives me an idea of what they managed to understand, and the topic to focus on when I plan an extra tutorial. Instead of wishing that students enrolled in my module have certain competencies before admission, I always try different teaching methods to determine the ones that work better for them. I sometimes flip my classroom by giving students pre-class or laboratory exercises to complete. I give them narrated lessons or assign a lab simulation on Labster Simulations,” adds Dr Khanyile.
She adapted this approach from the Haaga-Helia vocational teacher programme. Through this programme, students learn critical skills, including but not limited to:
- organisational skills
- time management
- listening and
Integrating technology in teaching
Dr Khanyile says since she adopted this teaching method, she has seen dramatic and noticeable increase in the pass rate for all three programmes after she started integrating technology in my teaching. “In 2017, the average pass rate for CHEM101 was 75% and in 2021 was at 95%. The students that get distinctions in my module tend to do well in succeeding years of their study and are likely to proceed to MSc and PhD,” she adds.
“The main aim behind my evolving teaching practices was not to win an award. I was just on a quest to find ways to improve the experience my students have with chemistry, as well as the pass rate. I guess it is true, hard work pays! says Dr Khanyile.