“Efficiency, Productivity, and Quality in Texas Higher Education State Policy”: a Presentation by Dr. Lee Holcombe, 10/11/12

I think this will be an important discussion for us as we try to understand  higher education policy in this state. Please make every effort to attend.

Thanks, DM


VIA the Teagle Foundation: “What Works and What Matters in Student Learning”

The Teagle Foundation, a group devoted to improving American undergraduate education, held a convening this June on the question of “What works and what matters in student learning?” The page linked here will take you to the President’s opening address, along with summaries of discussion by Ashley Finley, Senior Director of Assessment & Research at the Association of American Colleges & Universities, and Laura Rosenthal, Professor of English at the University of Maryland.

Lots of interesting stuff here, but I’d like to point readers to the three major strategies, or “promising practices,” included in Finley’s essay, linked here: What-works-for-student-learning-Finley:

1. Develop an Organizational Culture that Makes Student Learning a Priority and Emphasizes Community Building in Support of that Commitment.

2. Enable Learning-Centered Environments that Foster Student Learning

3. Develop Better and more Meaningful Assessments to Understand Student Learning

The report discusses each of these points in more detail, but the takeaway for improved student learning is better community-building, learning environments, and assessments.  Take a look.


VIA Chron of Higher Ed: James Lang’s Teaching and Human Memory, pt. I

Some of the material from Jim Lang’s recent plenary talk has just appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, as the first installment of a two-part series regarding cognitive theory and teaching practice.

Lang is wrestling with a problem that we in the CTE have been thinking about ever since our inception: how to align college faculty-members’  teaching experience with the long-term results of research into teaching and learning?  Lang writes:

Miller’s article in College Teaching [which is the subject of Lang’s post] opens with an explanation of why so few of us may count ourselves as even amateur enthusiasts for cognitive theory: The field remains a relatively young one and has evolved rapidly over the past several decades. If you did happen to pick up some ideas 10 or 15 years ago about learning and cognition in a how-to-teach seminar in graduate school, what you learned there might have been superseded or even overturned since then by new information and theories.

Part of the problem is the fact that faculty need well-placed mediators capable of translating these results into insights that could help generate better practice.  This is the kind of role that Lang excels at, and that multi-disciplinary CTEs like ours could perform as well.

Lang is in fact elaborating upon an important article by Michelle Miller published in College Teaching, but I’ll let you review Lang’s discussion as well as Miller’s original research findings.  In the meantime, I wonder if there are important differences in the role of the short- and long-term memory are for teaching in various disciplines?  It’s been a long time, for example, since most literature classes demanded oral recitation of memorized poems, though this was once a staple of literature instruction years ago.  And, as the commenters noted in the Chronicle, I think the immediate access to information via the internet (e.g., this post and its links), must be changing the dynamic, as well.


via American RadioWorks: Has the Lecture Outlived its Usefulness?

Dr. Tamara Fish, the CLASS TA supervisor in charge of the Core Teaching Fellows project, has passed along a link to a very interesting public radio documentary about recent efforts to rethink the lecture format taken for granted in so many college classrooms.  Well worth checking out.  Let us know: are you ready to give up lecturing?  What are the alternatives that you’d like to see more widely used?


Does teaching help TAs develop their research skills?

Welcome back, everyone.  Hope you had a relaxing yet productive summer.

For the first post of the semester, I’m linking to a Chronicle of Higher Ed piece on the importance of teaching to research for graduate TAs.

For me, this is the most important passage in the whole piece:

Mr. Feldon cites two reasons that teaching seems to improve research skills. The first is that a graduate student who teaches, for example, 20 undergraduates how to develop a laboratory study ends up practicing those same skills him or herself. “It’s a straight practice effect,” he says. “You’re getting more opportunities in more situations.”

The second reason is that people who have to explain to someone else how to carry out a task are quicker to develop their own abilities to do that same task.

Teaching’s benefit to research depends on a certain kind of educational experience, Mr. Feldon continues. The educational experience for both instructor and student must involve what he calls “active inquiry,” the investigation of open-ended questions, in which students must figure out which areas deserve exploration and what data to collect.

So teaching has the potential to refine and consolidate one’s research skills, but the effect seems to be greatest where the teaching itself involves open-ended inquiry.  This means centering the class on the generation and pursuit of authentic questions, rather than just transmitting a predefined “content.”

To get the full intellectual and professional benefit from your teaching, however, you must also think about how to make your own teaching more open to your students’ questions, and more responsive to their needs.  Listening to your students in this should help you learn many more ways to solve the “same” problems, while forcing you to really master the material as you address their specific concerns.

The whole piece is worth reading, and the comments are valuable too.



via Schoenfeld and Burkhardt: Improving Educational Research

Since one of the questions that came up at Friday’s R&D workshop was how various disciplines outside of education could draw upon existing educational research, I thought I would offer up this interesting essay by Hugh Burkhardt and Alan Schoenfeld.  These writers present a number of different models of how educational research might be translated into practice, before settling on their own recommended “engineering” approach.

The CTE needs to be agnostic at this point about these models, though I think we are very conscious of the need for teaching faculty to draw upon at least the findings and “best practices” found in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.  Nonetheless, these authors do provide a useful overview of the three main traditions of educational research: humanities, science, and engineering.  Here are brief excerpted definitions of each:

The humanities approach to research is the oldest tradition in
education.It may be described as “original investigations undertaken
in order to gain knowledge and understandings; scholarship;
the invention and generation of ideas . .. where these lead
to new or substantially improved insights”(Higher Education
Research Funding Council, 1999, p. 4). There is no requirement
that the assertions made be tested empirically. The test of quality
is critical appraisal concerning plausibility, internal consistency
and fit to prevailing wisdom. The key product of this
approach is critical commentary (5)

The science approach to research is also focused on the development
of better insight; of improved knowledge and understanding of  “how the world works,” through the analysis of
phenomena; and the building of models that explain them. However,
this approach imposes in addition a further essential requirement-
that assertions be subjected to empirical testing.
The key outcomes are again assertions-but now with both arguments in support and responses to key questions that are built
on empirical evidence.The common products are research journal
papers, books, and conference talks. Such research provides
insights, identifies problems and suggests possibilities. However,
it does not itself generate practical solutions, even on a small
scale; for that, it needs to be linked to the engineering approach.

The engineering approach to research is directly concerned
with practical impact-understanding how the world works and
helping it “to work better” by designing and systematically developing
high-quality solutions to practical problems. It builds
on insights from other research, insofar as they are available, but
goes beyond them. It can be described as “the use of existing
knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products, and processes,
including design and construction”(Higher Education Research
Funding Council, 1999, p. 4). It combines imaginative design
and empirical testing of the products and processes during development and in evaluation. Key products are tools and/or
processes that work well for their intended uses and users, with
evidence-based evaluation.

After hearing our discussions at Friday’s workshop, I think that the CTE could support faculty in each of these traditions, which to my mind include both those who simply need to draw upon existing scholarship of teaching and learning to improve their own teaching, and those who are helping to produce such research and scholarship for others, including those on those campus, to draw upon.