students doing lab experiment March 9

Active Learning: In Need of Deeper Exploration


Most of us think we know what active learning is. The word engagement quickly comes to mind. Or, we describe what it isn’t: passive learning. Definitions also abound. The one proposed by Bonwell and Eison in an early (and now classic) active learning monograph is widely referenced: involving “students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.” (p. 2)

in class group work March 2

Clear Criteria: A Good Way to Improve Participation


I continue to be impressed by the need for teachers to clarify common aspects of instruction instead of assuming that students’ understanding of what they entail are the same as ours. Participation is a good example. How often is it defined in the course syllabus? How often is it characterized beyond the basics when it’s discussed at the beginning of the course or at different times throughout the semester? We do probably agree on the essentials—questions, answers, and comments—but much more than that is needed if classroom interaction is to realize its potential as a student engagement strategy. Here’s an example of the degree of clarification I think we should be after:

professor in lecture hall February 17

Weighing the Evidence of New Instructional Policies, Practices, and Behaviors


During a conversation about evidence-based teaching, a faculty member piped up with some enthusiasm and just a bit of pride, “I’m using an evidence-based strategy.” He described a rather unique testing structure and concluded, “There’s a study that found it significantly raised exam scores.” He shared the reference with me afterward and it’s a solid study—not exceptional, but good.

professor writing on board February 3

Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?


Some thoughts about change—not so much what to change, as the process of change, offered in light of its slow occurrence.

Yes, lecture is a good example. In a recent survey, 275 econ faculty who teach principles courses reported they lectured 70 percent of the class time, led discussion 20 percent of the time, and had students doing activities for 10 percent of the time. The article cites studies in that field from the mid-’90s reporting similar percentages. Maybe some other fields have changed more, but evidence supports a continuing reliance on lecture in many fields.

faculty meeting January 20

Broadening Pedagogical Knowledge by Learning from Other Disciplines


The bulk of scholarship on teaching and learning continues to be embedded in our disciplines. It ends up there because that’s where it counts (if it does) and because there’s a long-standing and still fairly widely held belief that the teaching needed for a particular kind of content is unique. Unless you know the content, you can’t know how to teach it.

reading glasses January 13

Becoming a Better Teacher: Articles for New and Not-So-New Faculty


A couple of months ago a colleague asked me to recommend a book for his new faculty reading group. I rattled off the names of several, but then wondered if a packet of articles might not be a better option. When I started to identify articles, it came to me that the what-to-read dilemma for new and not-so-new faculty goes beyond the articles themselves. It is more about the categories of work on teaching and learning rather than individual pieces.