Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Reflections upon teaching improvement: Why?

At the annual POD (Professional and Organizational Development) conference this past weekend, Peter Seldin shared some research results that the number one most frequent practice designed to improve teaching and reported by educational developers is faculty self-reflection on teaching performance. In 1990, reflection was only the eighth most frequent practice reported by educational developers. Why did reflection move from being a relatively unimportant practice (ranked in 1990 as less frequently practiced than "informal assessment by colleagues" and "senior faculty working closely with new instructors") to the one that is now the most frequently practiced (reported as more frequent, now, than "systematic ratings by students" and "workshops that help faculty use technology in their teaching")?

The answer, John Zubizarreta suggest, is in the power of the "why" question. Reflection is much more than a description of activities; when prompted by "why" questions, reflection can lead us to deep investigations and (re)assessments of our teaching practices. The result is often real, meaningful, change.

From my own teaching, here are some "why" questions that might serve as entrées into productive reflection:

  • Why do I wait until 2 weeks before deadlines to distribute essay prompts to my students? (This is an actual "why" question that I asked myself about a year ago and that directly resulted in a change of practice).
  • Why don't I use PowerPoint?
  • Why is my attendance policy as lax as it is?
  • Why (in some classes) do I give quizzes?
  • Why do I write some names, dates, and terms on the board and not others?
  • Why do I use images and visuals as infrequently as I do?
The list could go on and on...

What are your "why" questions? The Center for Faculty Development is exploring offering an Academic Portfolio Workshop in May during which participants will engage in self-reflection, share results and ideas, and produce drafts of their portfolios. Generating "why" questions and then exploring answers to them will likely be part of the workshop. Stay tuned for details.

Source: Peter Seldin, Elizabeth Miller, and John Zubizarreta, "Improving College Teaching," workshop presented at the POD Annual Conference, Atlanta, GA, October 2011.