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Power of Teaching by Walking Around (TBWA)

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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In this short article we, a lecturer and a student, introduce the concept of Teaching by Walking Around (TBWA) and attempt to draw similarities with Management by Walking Around (MBWA). We also explore the strengths of TBWA against the current trend of on-line delivery of university courses and the opportunity to differentiate traditional teaching and learning from on-line delivery. 



The posting below looks at ways to connect more directly with your students particularly in large lecture classes.  It is by Shantha P Yahanpath and Shan Yahanpath and is reprinted with permission. Dr Shantha P. Yahanpath, Principal, Agape International and Lecturer, CQ University, Sydney. Shan P. Yahanpath, Area Detention Coordinator, Logistics (Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific), Hamburg S ü d Shipping Line, Sydney and Current Master of International Business Student, The Sydney Business School, University of Wollongong.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT:  Helping Faculty Members Sharpen Their Focus



Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Power of Teaching by Walking Around (TBWA)


In this short article we, a lecturer and a student, introduce the concept of Teaching by Walking Around (TBWA) and attempt to draw similarities with Management by Walking Around (MBWA). We also explore the strengths of TBWA against the current trend of on-line delivery of university courses and the opportunity to differentiate traditional teaching and learning from on-line delivery.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Lectures are the backbone of university curricular worldwide, and can make or break a learning experience. Often, lecturers are the main party                                                                                   responsible for the success of this learning experience. They are like the \"customer service staff\" of a university or college. Some lecturers deliver a lecture to satisfy the minimum requirements while the others will passionately try to impart knowledge to their students. Apathy created by the minimum requirements approach often has negative effects on students, who might have paid large amounts of money in the hope that a university degree will improve their career prospects, and perhaps assist them in achieving their dreams. The apathy is part of the grand \"emotional barrier\" (Bligh 1985) that exists between lecturer and student during a lecture. One of the characteristics of this emotional barrier is the physical distance between lecturer and student. Other characteristics could be differences in age, education and experience. The reduction of the physical distance in order to achieve better learning outcomes, including a more interactive class, an engaged audience and a better understanding of students' needs is critical to the survival of the traditional face- to-face learning.

Future of Face to Face Learning

In the midst of a proliferation of cost effective online courses, universities will have to differentiate in order to charge a higher fee for similar courses with face- to-face contact. This is the main challenge for differentiation in order to charge a premium price.

TBWA is the concept of the lecturer reducing both the physical and emotional distance between the lecturer or her and the students. As a result, they become more empathetic towards the students. This might be the distinct advantage of face-to-face teaching over online teaching that will command a premium price. The general concept is not new, as Management by Walking Around (MBWA) was a term coined by David Packard co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, in the 1940's and later formalized by Tom Peters (Peters 1985) as Management by Walking Around (MBWA). This was a concept of breaking down the rigid, hierarchical management structures that existed, to improve the effectiveness of organisations and develop empathy between management and junior staff. Likewise, TBWA breaks down the emotional barriers, thus forming empathy and improved effectiveness of the teaching and learning experience on both sides (lecturing staff and students).  

Teacher the relationship builder

Modern sales techniques place emphasis on the importance of relationship building. It goes as far as to say: build the relationships and sales will come in good time. Relationship-based sales are high-quality sales. The same applies to teaching. Relationships help communicate the message and develop an overall understanding of the students' needs. Overseas students in particular expect the teacher to play a strong role in building a relationship. This, when done properly, could not only benefit the student but also enrich the teaching experience for the teacher. It is essentially free flow of information where, with the help of a deep relationship, both the teacher and the student break down the barriers to achieve effective communication.

Recently, I was asked to take a class three weeks into the term. I took up the challenge and prepared for the fourth lecture, and to highlight the practical relevance of this Financial Planning class, I also took some copies of relevant articles. As usual I wanted to spend the first fifteen minutes linking lecture four to what they had done in the first three weeks and \"set the scene\" for the topic of the fourth lecture. So I asked the class \"What have you done so far?\" and the answer was \"nothing much, he just read the PowerPoint slides.\" Jokingly one student went as far as to say \"we finished the class very early though\". Students' frustration was quite evident from their comments.

Teacher the listener and helper

With TBWA the teacher gets the opportunity to assess particular needs of the students and assist them accordingly. Often students will not \"ask\" for help until the teacher builds empathy-driven relationships. TBWA gives the opportunity for the teacher to get closer to the student so that even the \"shy\" student feels comfortable to ask questions. Some students may not talk but just whisper. The disturbing reality is teachers seldom hear the students' whispers when they teach from the front; they are enjoying their own PowerPoint shows while feeding their egos (Felder 2005). Weaknesses of such lectures are well documented.

If a teacher is willing to help and treat teaching as a \"calling\" rather than just \"another job\", then there are real opportunities to make real differences in the lives of young people. Once a red-eyed student looked very tired and I asked him whether he had been studying till early hours of the morning. The student quietly replied \"No sir, it's the Facebook\".

Teacher the counselor and motivator

Some undergraduate students in particular will benefit from the counselor role as much as from teaching. A young student from Mongolia highlighted this need. She was quiet (and perhaps fearful) and did not participate until I talked to her after the lecture. For the first time, she had left home and was totally fearful of the environment. Only after establishing a counselor-like relationship, did the student actively participate in class. Breaking the emotional barrier appears to be instrumental in enhancing the learning experience. The student not only did well in Financial Planning but also developed a positive attitude towards the rest of the undergraduate subjects she had to complete.

As Seligman (2002) puts it one could re-craft any job to a higher calling. Likewise, we can also re-craft teaching just for a paycheck to a higher calling - a vocation with passion. Those who teach mainly for their paycheck are undoubtedly keen to do a \"quick job\" and move on. This is especially true for the visiting and part-time staff.

Teacher the provocateur

To facilitate effective teaching, a lecturer should, to some extent, be selectively provocative in a non threatening manner. At the same time, the lecturer should be sensitive towards the students' learning style and needs. It is a delicate balance. Effective facilitation requires \"a degree of provocation\" to encourage the students to think and realize that without active learning, teaching alone will not deliver good results. To impart knowledge, there is no magic formula in the absence of learning (or willingness to learn). Some students may need continuous reminders to highlight the importance of learning. Here teachers may even have to step into their \"provocateur role\". When teachers depend on PowerPoint they become passive teachers and the students view lectures as a spectator sport. But, we all know that learning is no spectator sport.

However, provocation of students negatively could also confuse students. A lecturer teaching Applied Finance endorsed himself as a theorist at the outset. Indeed, the lecturer may have a theoretical bias in his research interests. But the students were taken back. They were confused as to why a lecturer who is not flexible enough to move away from his research area for the students' sake is teaching them.


Benefits of TBWA

Some of the benefits of TBWA are:

•        Students feel the presence of the teacher - the teacher is no distant object and not just a PowerPoint reader.

•        There is a free and open exchange of communication (ideas) - students will understand the importance of learning and active participation.

•        Students receive timely and high quality feedback - as the teacher walks around the students should be asked relevant questions.

•        Opportunity to develop mutual respect - as the teacher get closer to students there is an opportunity to develop mutual respect.

•        Enrichment of teacher's teaching and student's learning - mutual respect will also enrich the teaching and learning experience.

•        Opportunity to understand unspoken words (body language) - this will be one of the key benefits of TBWA.

•        Differentiation of face to face learning from freely available on-line learning - this is necessary to attract full fees.

•        Establishment of long-term relationship between teacher and student - mutual relationships in class may grow well beyond the classroom.

The above benefits could become the key drivers of differentiation in product delivery and, therefore, such differentiation could be absolutely necessary for the future survival of the face-to-face teaching and learning. Moreover, the real joy of teaching will flow when lecturers consider teaching as a \"calling\". Recently, a student summed it up \"The purpose of this email is just to say special thanks to you on being such a great teacher (lecturer). I enjoyed being your student a lot and on exam day I was jubilant to see the exam as it was the easiest in my life. My concepts in finance are crystal clear and this is because of your dedication and passion towards your profession.\"

Potential downside of TBWA

If the lecturer is not thorough with the material then leaving the podium and the PowerPoint pack would be a daunting task. TBWA requires the teacher to be at least familiar with the key messages to be delivered. Once a key message is on the board or on PowerPoint, then, the teacher can walk around. There is no need for the notes but the skill to elaborate on the key messages while walking around and prompting students. If a teacher is not comfortable in physically walking around at least the teacher's eyes could do the \"walking around\". This needs to be practiced.  

Economics of TBWA - opportunity for high value pricing

Against a wave of online learning initiatives even from elite universities, the traditional teaching and learning will have to add value in order to command a high-value or a premium price. Porter (1985) emphasized the importance of sustainable competitive advantage. How could universities derive sustainable advantage?  Already, some universities have made the decision to \"down size\" and let go of hundreds of, once valued, academics. Kotler (2003) developed nine pricing strategies that can reflect the pricing of university courses as well. Without overcharging or perceived overcharging, universities will have to differentiate the product in order to attract a \"high value\" or a \"premium\" price. The teacher will have to play a number of key roles as discussed above in order to differentiate face-to-face learning from online delivery. Just like Management by Walking Around (MBWA) took the manager out of the office Teaching By Walking Around (TBWA) will take the teacher out of the comfort zone of the podium and the PowerPoint slides.

Against this background we need to question whether the future of face-to-face teaching and learning is, in fact, in the past. That is, we may have to go back to small classes with personalized delivery supported by e-learning tools.


Bang, J, 2006, eLearning reconsidered. Have e-learning and virtual universities met theexpectations, e-Learning Europa 30 May 2006

Bligh, D, 1985, What's the Use of Lectures?, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 9:1, pp105-106.

Felder, R, 2005, Chemical Engineering Education, 39(1), 28-29 (2005).

Kotler, P, 2003, Marketing Management 11th Edition, p472, Prentice-Hall Publishers-Pearson Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

Peters, T and Austin, N, 1985 MBWA (Managing By Walking Around), California Management Review, Fall 1985 Vol 28 Iss 1 pp9-34.

Seligman, M, 2002, Authentic Happiness:using the new positive psychology to realise your potential for lasting fulfillment, Random House Australia, Australia.