This week:

  • I describe why the scholarship on teaching doesn’t have as much impact as it could.
  • I remind you of our new series of virtual forums designed to help you with your teaching concerns and to connect you to others.
  • I point you to articles about teaching you may have missed.

Complicated Science

I’ve spent the past few months reporting on the many reasons higher education doesn’t value teaching as much as it should. Yes, most colleges claim to offer excellent instruction, touting it as a reason for students to enroll. But talk to faculty members, as Beckie and I regularly do, and you quickly learn that professional development focused on becoming a better teacher, from graduate school onward, is rarely built into the job. Nor is it necessarily rewarded, come promotion time. For those on the tenure track, the message is often: Focus on your research first.

Why is that? For one, there is the damaging myth of the natural teacher, which I wrote about in October. Academe continues to hold onto the idea that good teaching is a talent, not a skill that can be honed. In this myth, good teaching rests on a foundation of disciplinary knowledge and characteristics like charisma or compassion. Yet research shows that good teaching can be defined by a set of practices and approaches that can be learned and improved upon.

In my latest story, I ask why the science of teaching is often ignored. Despite decades of research, and hundreds of books and articles exploring what works, not much makes its way into the classroom. Partly that’s due to the same systems and structures that limit professional development: Faculty members aren’t encouraged to explore or apply the research in any meaningful way. But there are other barriers. For one, many studies on teaching interventions are very small, which can make it hard to extrapolate larger lessons. Academics also disagree on what is valid scholarship on teaching. Should we focus on how students remember what they learn? Maybe it’s better to look at the influence of emotion and feelings of connection. And what about discipline-based education research? Chemistry professors, for example, have a different set of challenges than English professors do.

Discipline-based education researchers and experts at teaching and learning centers are often the best local guides to help steer faculty members through those questions and interpret the research. But as we know, they are in short supply on many campuses.

There are no easy answers to these challenges. Are there better ways to apply the scholarship of teaching and learning to the classroom? And what can colleges do differently to promote more effective teaching? We would be interested in hearing about possible solutions. I mentioned a few in my stories, like changing teaching evaluations to reward the behind-the-scenes work of developing good teaching strategies. What are some others? And have you come across any initiatives that could be scaled up? Write to me, at beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com, and your ideas may appear in a future newsletter.

Talking About Teaching

Last week Beckie told you about our new four-part virtual-event series, Talking About Teaching, which begins on January 28. It’s different from other forums we have hosted. For one, we are working with the same panel of teaching experts throughout the series, all of whom have handled a wide range of teaching challenges and have appeared in our pages to offer advice and guidance.

The series is also unusual in that it is designed to deepen and expand the community we hope you find in this newsletter every week. In the forums, for example, you’ll be able to ask questions of the experts and chat virtually with one another. Curious? You can find more details here, including how to sign up.

ICYMI

  • The strain of living under Covid can make most everything feel meaningless, writes Deborah M. Sims in this Chronicleadvice piece. So engage with your students and ask: Why are you here?
  • “Whether or not you have read, or even heard of, bell hooks, you’ve likely sat in a classroom that has been shaped by her ideas,” writes Danica Savonick in this Chronicleessay on the late Black feminist scholar’s influence.
  • Proctoring software has long been controversial. Now there’s one more thing to worry about: vulnerability to cyberattacks. Our colleague Taylor Swaak explains.

Thanks for reading Teaching. If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us, at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com or beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com.

—Beth

Learn more about our Teaching newsletter, including how to contact us, at the Teaching newsletter archive page.