Education

Don’t ‘experiment,’ implement (evidence-based teaching practices)

I am beyond pleased that the participants in the study Light and Jegla share in the article “Experimenting with Teaching to Improve Student Learning: Part I” point to a growing emphasis on teaching as the biggest change in their university’s culture over the past 10 years. But, while this type of action research is a worthwhile pursuit, there are two areas of significant concern.

First: that effective teaching practices are unknown and somehow need to be “discovered.” In fact, there is a comprehensive body of effective, equity-promoting teaching approaches. These published pedagogies are backed by research and codified in field-accepted statements of teaching practice like ACUE’s Effective Practice Framework. 

Second: that better teaching is solely a personal, professional responsibility with instructors on islands unto themselves left alone to figure out teaching through in-class “experimentation.” Rather, the leading thinking from policy makers at places like the Education Commission of the States and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences call for a holistic and institution-wide response. Doing so makes it possible to create a culture – complete with professional and employment incentives – that prizes great teaching and expects faculty to hone their craft. Places as diverse as the University of Southern Mississippi, the City University of New YorkBroward College and public HBCUs nationwide are leading the way through this approach and achieving real results, among them: stronger student achievement, higher retention, and closed equity gaps

Without question, great teaching takes a career to master and requires learning new approaches, trial and error through implementation, reflection and refinement. Undoubtedly, some experimentation has its place. While I’m glad the 17 professors canvased see a “heavier emphasis on strengthening teaching,” let’s do it in the most impactful way: with comprehensive and job-embedded preparation, in proven foundational practices, and through a strategic, institutional approach. Our nearly 20 million students and their faculty in colleges and universities nationwide deserve no less.

–Penny MacCormack
Chief Academic Officer
Association of College and University Educators 

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