What does it mean. Questions about research. December 3

The Questions to Ask about Research on Teaching and Learning

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Faculty have access to more information about college teaching than ever before. Researchers have studied a host of instructional approaches and published results in myriad journals. Educators have shared summaries of and links to such studies informally on websites and through Twitter feeds. This is good news for those of us who want to learn more about a particular instructional method or technique before we try it in our own courses.

Not all of us are educational researchers, however, and that brings some challenges for making sense of these studies. The research questions and methods may not be as familiar to us as those in our home disciplines. Unfamiliar research approaches can make it challenging to determine how much stock to place in study findings. This challenge increases when different studies report mixed or contradictory results.

How can we assess the research quality? How can we determine whether a given instructional method is something worth trying in our courses? What follows is a set of questions that you can use when evaluating individual studies and collections of them. The goal of these questions is to help you glean information from research to consider whether or how to implement a pedagogical approach.

Is the research question one you want to know the answer to? Education researchers ask and answer questions that may or may not have practical application for our teaching. For example, although hundreds of researchers have asked whether active learning is superior to lecture, some of us are not particularly interested the answer. We don’t see lecture and active learning as an either/or proposition and instead believe that we can use both approaches together. What we might want to know instead are the combinations or particular features of lectures or active learning methods that make them more or less effective.

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pile of books and notebook April 18

Principles for the Professional Growth of Teaching: A Collection of Resources

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New Approaches, Instruments and Emphases

Eddy, S. L., Converse, M., and Wenderoth, M. P., (2015).  PORTAAL:  A classroom observation tool assessing evidence-base teaching practice for active learning in large science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes.  Cell Biology Education, 14 (Summer), 1-16.
Identifies best practices in active learning and designs an observational tool that can be used to document the extent to which instructors incorporate these practices in their classrooms.

Hoon, A., Oliver, E., Szpakowska, K., and Newton, P., (2015).  Use of the Stop, Start, Continue method is associated with the production of constructive qualitative feedback by students in higher education.  Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40 (5), 755-767.
A simple feedback mechanism improved the quality of student provided feedback.

Smith, M. K., Jones, F. H. M., Gilbert. S. L., and Weiman, C. E. (2013).  The classroom observation protocol for undergraduate STEM (COPUS):  A new instrument to characterize university STEM classroom practices.  Cell Biology Education, 12, (Winter), 618-625.
Focuses on what students are doing and what the instructor is doing at 2 minute intervals during a class.  Does not offer judgments but identifies behaviors.  At 1.5 hours of training, observations are reliable. Can be used in individual faculty, departments and/or institutions.

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Teaching Professor newsletter turns 30 March 6

The Teaching Professor Newsletter Celebrates 30 Years

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Where were you 30 years ago? Maryellen Weimer, PhD, was writing the very first issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter, and she hasn’t stopped since.

In March 1987, Magna Publications published volume 1, number 1 of The Teaching Professor. The opening article read, in part:
“With all the enthusiasm of a new beginning, Magna begins publication of a newsletter for college professors about college teaching. … Can instruction be improved by reading material about teaching and learning? Yes. Reading about teaching forces reflection. It creates instructional awareness by causing faculty to wonder: Do I do that? Should I do that? Infusing teaching with a steady supply of new ideas keeps it fresh and invigorated.”

That philosophy of reflection and instructional awareness has remained a constant theme throughout the decades. As has the importance of keeping teaching fresh, regardless of teaching experience or discipline.


reading glasses January 13, 2016

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

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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.


female college student smiling July 8, 2015

Research Highlights How Easily and Readily Students Fabricate Excuses

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Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the article An examination of factors and attitudes that influence reporting fraudulent claims in an academic environment, Active Learning in Higher Education, 15 (2), 173-185. The Teaching Professor Blog named it to its list of top pedagogical articles late last year.

“My grandmother fell down on her patio and I had to go stay with her for a few days and she does not have internet or a computer and all of my research was in my dorm room …”





September 9, 2013

Six Steps for Turning Your Teaching into Scholarship

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In 1997 Ernest Boyer identified the concept of the Scholarship of Teaching. This was the first time that TEACHING had been identified as legitimate scholarship. Over time this idea has evolved into the movement called “SoTL” or the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Many of us are scholarly teachers; we read the literature, plan, assess, reflect, and revise. But what makes our teaching scholarship is very different. Lee Shulman (1999) clearly delineated the difference. To be scholarship, teaching must become public, be an object of critical review and evaluation by members of one’s community, and it must be built upon and developed.


July 25, 2012

An Exemplar of Pedagogical Scholarship Takes on Student Reading

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I read lots of articles on teaching and learning. Most are solid pieces of pedagogical scholarship; a few are exceptional and I found one of those here lately. I prepared a long and detailed summary of it for the August/September issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. For this post I’d like to identify several features that make this such an outstanding exemplar of pedagogical scholarship.