Innovative Teaching

I’m still percolating from a conversation about Teaching Excellence. What does Excellence in Teaching mean on your campus? How does your department or students judge this? I imagine that the questions will field different answers. But allow me to think (write) aloud here about the question. From this professor’s point of view Teaching Excellence means that the instructor is dedicated to teaching, and the learning outcomes for the students. This means that there is a focus on the learners’ success, but also the overall learning environment.This might sound odd, but the instructor does lots to influence the learning environment. Students sense when we phone it in–they just know when we are not really focused. Can you blame them? But, we know that it’s hard to hit one out of the ballpark every time at bat. (Sorry for the baseball example, but it works for me).

Instructors also influence the student experience by important thing–the syllabus, the course content, and then the way you interact with the material and the students. The students are concerned with their evaluation: assignments and marking styles or expectations. I have found that students are more patient about certain things, but do not mess with their learning environment. For instance, they do not like it when one or two students “hijack” the class with comments or side conversations and they expect the instructor to take care of that. We’ve seen the eye-rolling or pleading looks that say, “Hey, you’re in charge.”

How else do students judge Teaching Excellence? Well, I feel like I’m going off on a tangent and maybe this is a two-part post. Generally speaking many others have noted that instructors are apt to earn higher student evaluations if they like the instructor. Is this fair? I’m not sure it is. In my experience, some students are more likely to like or approve of an instructor who offers an “easier” course. I hear repeatedly, “Oh, I won’t take a class with Prof X–s/he is known as a GPA buster.” This makes me cringe, as Prof. X might offer a much needed learning experience or possible letter writer, yet the student is thinking obsessively about the GPA. Mind you–I get the need to keep a strong, competitive GPA, but to intentionally avoid a great class merely on reputation and not trying it out yourself for a week or two–frustrates me as a professor and mentor.

Giving dynamic lectures or facilitating good discussion seems like an obvious part of Teaching Excellence. Fair marking or assessment of student assignments also ranks as important. But, I’m sitting here wondering what do students think, when they hear the words: Teaching Excellence. And, what do you think constitutes Teaching Excellece?