Many a time I have witnessed the anguish of colleagues as they recount how some student has dressed them down in their “own class”. In most universities, a sizeable number of good students often progress directly to masters. Others are returning to higher education after several years of practice in industry. Such students have learnt to be independent thinkers and learners. They have developed a thirst for knowledge, and have acquired the important ability to read and study independently. These students view lectures as opportunities for discussion, and their inquisitive minds have been primed to question and challenge each facet of knowledge presented to them. Such students thrive best in an environment where they are allowed to discuss material amongst themselves, and where they are challenged to apply the knowledge that they have gained to realistic problems. The lecture materials that you give them are only one amongst several sources of knowledge they are familiar with.
You will not last long if you stick to the traditional lecture method. Instead, make it be known to your class that you expect them to do preparatory reading before coming to class. You can help them to do so by turning your lecture outcomes into questions that the students have to find answers to. They can get these answers from your lecture material and from any other resources available to them. Let the lecture become a venue for students to share the learning they have acquired prior to the lecture. In the modern day this form of teaching is called the “flipped lecture method”, but believe you me, over the years it has been the staple for good master level teaching.
Some enterprising lecturers have even moved on from lectures to seminar-style teaching. For each topic under discussion, they invite fellow colleagues and PhD students to participate in the lecture. These individuals sit with the students, and share their own experiences. This works particularly well if you pose research-based problems. Students work together, and with the invited subject experts, to find solutions to current research problems. In most universities, PhD students are often required to attend master level courses that are relevant to their research. Hence, whilst their presence helps to motivate your master level students, in turn, they benefit by attending your lectures and grappling with problems that they are facing in their own research. By adopting this approach, you reinforce to your master level students that learning doesn’t only take place in the lecture room, and that learning is not an individual activity, but an activity best done in collaboration with others, including people who are not necessarily part of their class. In addition, your master level students will quickly realise the futility of not reading ahead and preparing for lectures. And critically, from a pedagogic perspective, adopting an inclusive collaborative approach in your teaching quickly immerses your master level students into the research community within your department.