(CHE) Research Universities Need to Improve Their Teaching. But More Money Won’t Help, a Philosopher Says

Q. So what’s wrong with the teaching happening in universities like the one where you work?

A. I have a hunch, which is that professors are considerably less good at teaching than they think they are. And the hunch is based on the fact that we don’t train teaching assistants to teach, that we select and hire professors without any regard to their ability or potential as teachers, and that we don’t then give them further training or professional development.

And the incentives in the system are all focused on research, and not improvement of one’s teaching.

The final part of it is, I think teaching is really difficult. It’s a very difficult, complex skill that needs to be learned.

Q. What would fix it?

A. There are three huge interventions that would help. First is careful, ongoing training of TAs. Ongoing training during their first two years of teaching, in which they are systematically observed by faculty who have been trained in observation protocols. Also that they observe each other, and they regularly are prompted to convene and discuss problems of practice.

The second thing is to work with very early assistant professors. What we typically do is someone goes into your classroom once a semester, maybe. Much better would be, again, for them to be given training, for them to be convened and given incentives to participate in other kinds of professional development.

The third thing would be to simply — this is quite hard to do, so I’m not saying it’s not difficult, I just don’t think it’s very expensive — incentivize departments to regularly and systematically meet as groups discussing problems of practice. My department does that now. We have a monthly brown-bag, bringing in experts or discussing, for instance, how do you make a productive discussion happen in a lecture class? What type of feedback do you give students on their papers? Problems of that kind.

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Posted in Education, Philosophy, Young Adults