50 Examples of the Need to Improve College Teaching

Three years ago when I started to look for a faculty position I began paying closer attention to research on college teaching. The picture is not so good. I kept a folder filled mostly with negative examples of college teaching and learning. Below is what I have in roughly chronological order, starting with the negative examples (some aren’t specifically about college) and followed by some examples of approaches aimed at improving college teaching. This is an expansion of a previous post about the state of college teaching.

Some illustrations of the problem:

  1. Minds of Our Own and the A Private Universe video below are great demonstrations of the nature of how students learn and how difficult teaching for understanding is, but also it was a shocking commentary on the quality of college teaching and learning. When a Harvard engineering grad given a bulb, battery and wire cannot make the bulb light (opening example), it makes you rethink how we are teaching our students. Many recommend that every teacher and college instructor watch this video – especially the first 5-10 minutes.
  2. A Private Universe – older video from the same folks who made the one above
  3. Despite a Doctorate and Top Students, Unqualified to Teach – NY Times article
  4. Top Ten No Sympathy Lines – student ‘excuses’ from a college instructor’s point of view
  5. Five Minute University – video by Father Guido Sarducci, who explains how he can teach in 5 minutes what you remember 5 years after you graduate from college. Supply & demand, como esta, etc.
  6. Change Blindness – even when you see something right in front of your eyes you may not perceive it. And novices just don’t notice the same fine grained details experts do.
  7. The Math Wars – 1 (pdf), 2, 3 – more a K-12 issue than higher education one, but still relevant
  8. Heroic Computer Dies To Save World From Master’s Thesis – The Onion
  9. Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk – a PBS documentary
  10. Why Johnny librarian can’t read code – “the worst-taught courses are the so-called “core” courses”
  11. Just Scoring Points – (Chronicle article no longer available online) “Professors and students are laboring under very different metaphors for education, and neither group is particularly conscious of that fact.”
  12. My Students Think I’m a Teacher…The Fools – “This is so wrong it makes you want to laugh and cry. College professors receive no training whatsoever in teaching. We are given no idea at all about the interior workings of our students minds and what would be the best way to present material. We are given poverty wages in graduate school and assigned as teaching assistants to professors who also have no background in teaching.”
  13. Transforming Course Management Systems into Effective Learning Environments – a 2002 EDUCAUSE article that I don’t think has borne out
  14. Empowering Engineering College Staff to Adopt Active Learning Methods – “Despite research-based evidence of the success of these methods, they are often met by the resistance of the academic staff.”
  15. Talking to ourselves – “This absence of curiosity about other points of view is the essence of anti-intellectualism and represents a major departure from the nation’s best cultural traditions.”
  16. On the reluctance to visualize in mathematics – Great article – unfortunately not publicly accessible
  17. Sustaining educational reforms in introductory physics – “faculty involved in, or informed by physics education research, consistently post higher student learning gains than less-informed faculty”
  18. For Most People, College Is a Waste of Time – This is an article from a conservative think tank, be forewarned
  19. Teaching Engineering: Problems & Possibilities (pdf) “College teaching may be the only skilled profession for which systematic training is neither required nor provided–pizza delivery jobs come with more instruction.”
  20. Optimizing Science Education And The Myth Of A Necessary ‘Super Teacher’ – “Just as there is little or no attention to training faculty for teaching – because there has long been the implicit, though now thoroughly discredited, assumption that if one masters the content, one can teach it effectively – a similar assumption has been made about teaching assistants.”
  21. 6 Researchers Take On Science Education – “when college students abandon science as a major, 90 percent of them do so because of what they perceive as poor teaching; and, among those who remain in the sciences, 74 percent lament the poor quality of teaching”
  22. A framework for understanding physics instruction in secondary and college courses – “The continued downward spiral of enrolment in physical sciences in the USA and Europe has science educators concerned on both sides of the Atlantic. Physics has been particularly hard-hit, with the percentage of students choosing to major in the subject at the lowest level in decades. University physics has a reputation as a difficult, abstract subject with little application to the real world and introductory physics has little impact on students’ conception of the discipline.”
  23. Student Course Evaluations: Research, Models and Trends (pdf) – “there are a variety of issues that persist around the use of student evaluation and prevent their more effective use: myths and misconception about results; unclear definitions of quality teaching; poor user education; poor presentation of results; and inconsistent policies for use”
  24. Improving Educational Research (pdf) – “the U.S. spends approximately $300 billion a year on education and less than $30 million, 0.01 percent of the overall education budget, on education research . . . This minuscule investment suggests a feeble longterm commitment to improving our educational system” & “Just about everybody, having gone to school, thinks he or she is an expert on education”
  25. Ice Machines, Steamboats and Technology in Education – and other writings by Bob Tinker, who directed the Concord Consortium
  26. Education Outrage – column by Roger Schank
  27. Research is Teaching, Learning is Theory – “we put so much emphasis on publishing scholarship as the road to tenure, that junior faculty are often shocked to find that teaching counts”
  28. The Objective of Education Is Learning, Not Teaching – “Traditional education focuses on teaching, not learning. It incorrectly assumes that for every ounce of teaching there is an ounce of learning by those who are taught.”
  29. Spreading great ideas in teaching: How does change happen? – “changes adopted by an individual spread more rapidly than those that require an entire institution to sign on”
  30. Charles Henderson has done quite a bit of work on the relationship between physics faculty and educational researchers. “the majority of physics teaching is not consistent with many results supported by educational research, such as the use of instruction that promotes active learning.” & “we believe that they are all related to a single underlying issue: the typical dissemination model is to disseminate curricular innovations and have faculty adopt them with minimal changes, while faculty expect researchers to work with them to incorporate research-based knowledge and materials into their unique instructional situations.”
  31. La plus ca change: It’s the goals not the data – “None of the teachers I have heard from are saying that our studies are wrong. Media Computation, across multiple schools, does lead to improved success rates and broader participation in computing — women and members of under-represented groups succeed as well as white or Asian males. These teachers are simply deciding that success rates and broadening participation is not their most important priority. “

Some solution-oriented approaches:

  1. National Center for Academic Transformation – techniques for improving the effectiveness of large enrollment courses, by Carol Twigg and others. “Successful course redesign that improves student learning while reducing instructional costs is heavily dependent upon high-quality, interactive learning materials.” Therein lies the rub, how to develop all those interactive learning materials, which is why NCAT workshops focus primarily on the core classes where there already is some pre-made software available.
  2. Utilizing Instructional Consultations to Enhance the Teaching Performance of Engineering Faculty – recommended. See also the book below they recommend for training instructional consultants (who work in a real Center for Teaching & Learning and have PhDs in the area they are consulting).
  3. Face to Face: A Source Book of Individual Consultation Techniques for Faculty Instructional Developers
  4. A Way to Enhance Teaching – Instructional consultants can help, especially if they elicit student feedback. – another article on same instructional consultants project
  5. Instructional Consulting Overview
  6. Resources on Instructional Consultation – journal article, not publicly accessible
  7. Using Instructional Consultations in Academic Staff Development (pdf slides)
  8. Task force proposes ‘compact’ for excellent teaching
  9. Harvard Task Force Calls for New Focus on Teaching and Not Just Research – same as above
  10. A Transactional Model of College Teaching (pdf)
  11. Peer Instruction: Engaging Students One-on-One, All at Once – Eric Mazur and others
  12. The Student-Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Programs (SCALE-UP) Project
  13. Using Midterm Evaluations and Other Sources of Student Feedback on Teaching
  14. Taking Teaching Seriously: Meeting the Challenge of Instructional Improvement
  15. Project Promote – an online mentoring program to new faculty and links to many resources in research, teaching and other academic interests
  16. A Plan to Develop and Spread Better College Teaching Practices
  17. One Class Increases the Odds of College Graduation for Struggling StudentsBruce Tuckman uses a very tightly structured technique with hundreds of micro-activities for students to complete at their own pace. See his AERA 2009 paper (.doc).
  18. Center on Continuous Instructional Improvement – summarize educational research findings
Posted in edtech, education, learning sciences, research, teaching
2 comments on “50 Examples of the Need to Improve College Teaching
  1. Doug Holton says:

    David Williams: mentioned this in Why College Students Leave the Engineering Track
    Actually another study of science students asked the students why they were transferring or dropping out of science majors, and the number one r…. via plus.google.com

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