Engaging Students Requires a Renewed Focus on Teaching

Promoting successful student learners requires faculty members to reflect on their own roles as teachers. But while tenured and tenure-track professors routinely share their research interests with one another, frank discussions about teaching remain rare.

Relevant and vibrant pedagogical discussions are well established in some fields, such as digital pedagogy and rhetoric and composition, since both are significantly engaged in undergraduate teaching. And because their assessment is heavily dependent on classroom success, adjunct instructors have a material interest in the quality of their teaching. While many colleagues do pay more attention to teaching today than in past decades, faculty-reward structures still frequently rank research over teaching. If we want to help more students succeed academically, colleges need to adopt more student-centered instructional practices, requiring a significant shift in academic culture.

Some of these shifts have played out in the transformation of the general-education program at Stanford University, where I am a faculty member. In the past, required freshman courses transmitted specific, traditionally canonic material. Today there is a much clearer recognition that first-year students require particular pedagogies to ease their transition into college. Instead of designing courses in terms of field coverage, faculty members are asked to develop lectures specifically for the learning needs of new students and provide scaffolding that enables growth in fundamental academic skills. Meanwhile, term lecturers who lead discussion sections in these courses are available to offer students individualized attention. <Read more.>

Via Russell A. Berman, The Chronicle of Higher Education.