How much instructional advice have you heard over the years? How often when you talk about an instructional issue are you given advice, whether you ask for it or not? Let’s say you’re a new teacher or you’re teaching a class you haven’t taught before or something unexpected happens in your class; if you’d like some advice, all you need to do is ask. Anybody who’s spent any time in the classroom seemingly has the right to offer advice. And if you’d rather read advice, there’s still plenty offered in the pedagogical literature, to say nothing of blogs and other social media sources.
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While college and university faculty are paid to teach, we are often hired because of our scholarship. We are evaluated in the hiring process by the strength of our publications and conference presentations. Therefore, it makes sense that most of us in academia allow scholarship to drive our teaching. Yet the need to focus on scholarship also results in a common complaint that teaching interferes with our time for research. I believe that if we creatively reconsider the relationship between teaching and scholarship we can improve both. I argue that teaching is an undervalued resource that can directly enhance our scholarship—and not just the scholarship of teaching and learning.
I’ve been especially appreciative of my colleagues this week and there are lots of reasons why.
- My colleagues teach me. As might be suspected, I mostly collaborate with folks who are interested in teaching and learning. They’re good teachers and good teaching advocates who think about teaching in intellectually robust ways. They have ideas that are new to me and will often send me things they think I should read. I learn from their experience, their insights, and what they believe about teaching and learning.
I have been an online educator for almost 10 years and feelings of isolation and complacency were familiar companions on my teaching journey. Many virtual work environments lacked channels for educators like myself to connect and maintain meaningful conversations and I longed to build a sense of community with my colleagues in the field. The constant dripping of policy changes from the top made for limited self-reflection and minimal opportunities for collaboration. Departmental attempts at transformative shifts in work culture were captured in ephemeral professional development methods that operated on low frequency when it came to encouraging personal growth and knowledge creation.
Dana Schutz has a visually cacophonous, 13-foot-long painting titled Building the Boat While Sailing. In reviewing the work for the New Yorker, Andrea Scott referred to it as, “an allegory for the process of making a painting.” We think this painting might also serve as an allegory for teaching, which is very much its own creative process. Even in courses with clearly stated objectives and fastidious alignment, the learning environment changes shape frequently as a given term unfolds.
Technology has enabled a boom in online education. No longer does location dictate where students can take classes and/or where instructors can teach. While this increased flexibility is appealing to many, it can also lead to feelings of disconnect and isolation (Dolan, 2011). As educational leaders, we want to be able to connect with the instructors who are teaching in our programs. As faculty, we want to be included in professional development opportunities and conversations about curriculum with our peers. But how can this be accomplished when people are not available at the same time or located in the same place? Well, by using technology.
I reread Nancy Chick’s “Teaching in Times of Crisis” with depressing regularity. It’s about what to do when the horrors of the world—the mass shootings, the hurricanes, the hate marches—walk our students to class. I recommend reading the full article, which discusses practical and specific techniques in detail, but Chick also boils down her research to “acknowledge the crisis.” After neo-Nazis plastered our campus with racist recruitment posters this semester, my students echoed this take-away. As one student put it, “tell us you’re there for us, that you’re a listening ear.”
Many postsecondary institutions have started to explore what it means to develop and demonstrate teaching expertise, recognizing not only the complexities of teaching and of documenting the experiences of teaching, but also that teaching expertise is developed through a learning process that continues over time (Hendry & Dean, 2002; Kreber, 2002). Our framework (see below graphic) for this growth of teaching expertise draws from the scholarly literature related to postsecondary teaching and learning to demonstrate that teaching expertise involves multiple facets, habits of mind (or ways of knowing and being), and possible developmental activities.
Are students taking their end-of-course evaluation responsibilities seriously? Many institutions ask them to evaluate every course and to do so at a time when they’re busy with final assignments and stressed about upcoming exams. Response rates have also fallen at many places that now have students provide their feedback online. And who hasn’t gotten one or two undeserved low ratings—say, on a question about instructor availability when the instructor regularly came early to class, never missed a class, and faithfully kept office hours? Are students even reading the questions?
Nothing works quite as well as a good question when it comes to getting the intellectual muscles moving. Given the daily demands of most academic positions, there’s not much time that can be devoted to reflection about teaching. But good questions are useful because they can be carried with us and thought about now and then, here and there. And they can be chatted about with colleagues, in person or online.