My Approach to Facilitating Teaching Innovation

I was recently asked (by Stephanie Chasteen) to describe my approach to helping faculty innovate in their teaching. While I’ve been asked this question in various ways in the past, rarely have I been asked to respond in writing, as I was this time. I took a little time to compose my answer, and the act of putting my thoughts into words helped me clarify my philosophy a little. In case you find it interesting, here’s what I said:

What drives my approach to educational innovation? Great question. I guess I would say I’m fueled by a desire to take some of the core findings from educational research, particularly How People Learn (HPL) and research on student motivation, and help faculty members find practical ways to teach in alignment with those findings. For instance, when I give a talk on clickers, I’m really giving a talk on HPL in disguise, since I talk about the notions of learner-centered, assessment-centered, knowledge-centered, and community-centered instruction and the expert-novice continuum without really using that language. I try to translate those ideas into practical advice on teaching.

Another theme is that everyone’s teaching context is different, so it’s important for instructors to consider their options when designing learning experiences for their students. If I can help faculty think more intentionally about the effects their teaching choices are likely to have on student learning (often using tools and ideas drawn from HPL and related literature), then I’ve done my job. Sure, I could come in and say, “You must teach this way,” but that would turn people off and, well, be wrong. “Good teaching” is indeed very context dependent, so talking about silver bullets doesn’t make sense. Talking about frameworks for understanding cognition and motivation, however, is useful, because faculty can then use those frameworks to make good choices in their particular teaching contexts.

Image: “Framework” by Flickr user James Jordan, Creative Commons licensed.

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