Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Good Teaching Makes a Huge Difference

Freshmen tend to return to college for a second year in response to exposure to students from diverse backgrounds and good teaching, according to recently announced findings from a study conducted by two leading educational researchers.

Regarding the latter point, students responded positively to effective teaching skills in the classroom. These included instructor organization of material, use of class time, explanation of assignments and other materials, and review of subject matter. The good news, stated the researchers, is that faculty can learn these skills.

But by itself such potential won't amount to much. In my experience, the higher education system needs radical transformation to encourage, support, and reward the cultivation of such skills throughout undergraduate and graduate programs.

During thirteen years in higher education, I've participated in a mere handful of conversations about good teaching practices. And don't even get me started about the relative importance, or lack thereof, attached to high student evaluation scores in terms of hiring and promotion of faculty who actually know how to teach.

If teaching really makes a difference, let's acknowledge and support it in the very marrow of the bones of higher education. If sacred cows such as the system of tenure get slaughtered in the process, so be it. Short of such radical change, I fear that studies like this one will continue to garner much deserved attention and little else by way of a concrete response that makes a real difference for the lives of those who matter the most: our students.

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