stepping outside comfort zone March 22

Learning Outside Your Comfort Zone


When we learn something outside the comfort zone, we attempt to acquire knowledge or skills in an area where we’re lacking. Part of the discomfort derives from learning something we anticipate will be difficult. We have no idea how to do it, or we think it requires abilities we don’t have or have in meager amounts. Moreover, poor performance or outright failure lurk as likely possibilities. In other words, it’s going to be hard and require concentration, and what we’re struggling to do, others can accomplish beautifully, seemingly without effort. Their skills, and our obvious lack of them, raise questions about our merits as a learner and maybe even our worth as a person.

Professor with small group of students. March 15

Mid-Career Faculty: 5 Great Things About Those Long Years in the Middle


I’ve been thinking here lately about that long mid-career stretch where there is no clearly defined beginning or ending. You’re no longer a new faculty member, but aren’t yet an old one. From a pedagogical perspective, what makes that time window unique? In a recent post on tired teaching I identified what I think is the major challenge of those years—keeping your teaching fresh and keeping yourself engaged, enthusiastic, and instructionally moving forward. On the other hand, some special opportunities are afforded by that long stretch in the middle. The question is whether we’re taking full advantage of them.

male professor reviews course evaluations March 8

What Can We Learn from End-of-Course Evaluations?


No matter how much we debate the issue, end-of-course evaluations count. How much they count is a matter of perspective. They matter if you care about teaching. They frustrate you when you try to figure out what they mean. They haven’t changed; they are regularly administered at odds with research-recommended practices. And faculty aren’t happy with the feedback they provide. A survey (Brickman et al., 2016) of biology faculty members found that 41% of them (from a wide range of institutions) were not satisfied with the current official end-of-course student evaluations at their institutions, and another 46% were only satisfied “in some ways.”

tired teacher March 1

Waking up to Tired Teaching


I have been wanting to do a blog post on tired teaching for some time now. Concerns about burnout are what’s motivating me. Teachers can reach a place where teaching does nothing for them or their students. They don’t just wake up one morning and find themselves burned out; they’ve moved there gradually, and it’s a journey that often starts with tired teaching.

adult students in classroom February 22

When the Teacher Becomes the Student


As a follow-up to last week’s post, here’s a final bit from my rummaging around old favorites in my personal library of teaching and learning resources.

The insights come from Roy Starling’s great piece in which he recounts his experiences of being released from his teaching responsibilities to take a full load of courses with a small group of undergraduates. It radically changed his teaching, as it did Marshall Gregory’s when he enrolled in an undergraduate acting class, and as it did mine when I took a non-major’s chemistry course with 20 first-semester students. Most faculty do not have time to take courses or they’re at institutions without programs that support these experiences. However, even short visits to a colleague’s class and experiencing it as a student (not a peer reviewer) yields insights about teaching and motivates change.

peer learning January 25

The Benefits of Peer Learning


Three articles in the February issue of the Teaching Professor newsletter deal with peer learning—a large category that includes activities through which students learn from and with each other. Peer learning gets troublesome for many faculty due to the idea that students are teaching each other. Isn’t that our job? Students aren’t paying all those tuition dollars to learn from other students and they aren’t shy about saying as much. Students are paying to be taught by experts. If we’re not the ones teaching, we sometimes feel guilty.

students in lecture hall January 18

Interleaving: An Evidence-Based Study Strategy


Interleaving is not a well-known term among those who teach, and it’s not a moniker whose meaning can be surmised, but it’s a well-researched study strategy with positive effects on learning. Interleaving involves incorporating material from multiple class presentations, assigned readings, or problems in a single study session. It’s related to distributed practice—studying more often for shorter intervals (i.e., not cramming). But it is not the same thing. Typically, when students study and when teachers review, they go over what was most recently covered, or they deal with one kind of problem at a time.