Great research article on better undergrad teaching in bio

This article is about biology, but the principles within are applicable to all college teaching. Highly recommend.
Wood, Innovations in Teaching Undergraduate Biology (link to PDF)


Teaching students not to fear

Excellent read:

It may be that some people inside higher education think students aren’t ready for college because they don’t know what they should know. Or students don’t come with the abilities we think they should already have. Or they don’t know how to learn. Or they can’t think critically. Or they don’t know correct grammar. Or they don’t know how to manage their time. All that may be true, but I believe none of it is going to be repaired if we don’t help them learn how to stop fearing questions, themselves and others.

None of our concerns about student readiness for college are ever going to be resolved if we don’t help students learn how to stop fearing questions, themselves and others, writes Laurence Musgrove.

Source: The importance of teaching students not to fear (essay)

The most helpful concept I’ve discovered in her teachings is “bodhichitta,” the ongoing consciousness of those who have developed the fearlessness necessary to extend compassion to one’s self so that it might be extended to others.

Chodron defines bodhichitta as the ready mind and compassionate heart capable of overcoming the fears we feel toward ourselves and others that often result in aggression, prejudice, despair and even indifference. According to her, those who dedicate themselves to training in bodhichitta are called “bodhisattvas or warriors — not warriors who kill and harm but warriors of nonaggression who hear the cries of the world. These are men and women who are willing to train in the middle of the fire. Training in the middle of the fire can mean that warrior-bodhisattvas enter challenging situations in order to alleviate suffering. It also refers to their willingness to cut through personal reactivity and self-deception, to their dedication to uncovering the basic energy of bodhichitta.”

(emphasis mine)

Link: The Fundamental Way That Universities Are an Illusion – The New York Times

Here’s a provocative essay on the illusion that is the modern university.

Kevin Carey suggests that universities cannot guarantee overall excellence in their academic programs because professors are more like independent contractors than anything else. Academic freedom plays out as “you can’t tell me what to do.” So higher ed pedagogy is much harder to correct than K-12 pedagogy (which I would argue is making greater strides toward excellence, despite the destructive effects of the assessment craze).

An interesting short read.

When college leaders talk about academic standards, they often mean admissions standards, not standards for what happens in classrooms themselves.

via The Fundamental Way That Universities Are an Illusion – The New York Times.

The Liberal Arts Are Dead — The Synapse — Medium

The Liberal Arts Are Dead — The Synapse — Medium.

Are they?

Great explanation of the difficulties facing colleges in the wake of massive shifts to the “delivery model” for education. Yet is there a core human quality that drives us back to liberal arts? Yes, I think so.

The real question is, How do we ‘fight for’ that benefit for all students, when by definition a liberal arts education has always been time-intensive and expensive, and available really to only the privileged few?

via The Liberal Arts Are Dead — The Synapse — Medium.

Today’s Fail-Safe Students – Students – The Chronicle of Higher Education

An excellent read about the question of how failure can motivate a student – or derail her. It’s easy to blame helicopter parenting for today’s risk-adverse, success-obsessed students. But the story is more complex that that…
Today’s Fail-Safe Students – Students – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“These students are going to live through the second digital revolution, and they are not ready for it,” says Mr. Levine. “This is a high-risk world. The notion of building in opportunities for failure is really important.” If young people don’t experience meaningful failure in school or college, they’re bound to face it in adulthood, where it could paralyze or derail them.

Info on the new SAT

If you’re a high school (now senior) planning for college, a parent of a rising senior, or someone who works with high school students, you need to learn about the redesigned SAT.

So far, I like what I’m seeing. Or to put it another way, the new SAT is a whole lot more like the ACT, which I always thought was a better test anyway.

The new SAT debuts in March. You will not be able to “mix” scores from the current test and the redesigned test for college admissions, so plan carefully for the upcoming admissions cycle.

We Need Better Teaching with Tech in Higher Ed

I’ve developed a greater interest in recent years in how pedagogy works at colleges and universities. While student loan debt and the value of a liberal arts degree in a STEM world are topics on everyone’s minds (so the media would suggest), a deafening silence surrounds the question of whether faculty in higher education are effective teachers.

My gut feeling, based on my own experiences with higher ed plus some very limited observation and basic reading, is that higher ed pedagogy is very broken.  Subject specialists with PhD’s in research fields may have little to no aptitude for teaching, while qualified educators who’ve honed their craft (usually in a secondary classroom) are often barred from higher ed because they do not possess a doctoral degree (an expensive and time-consuming credential).

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently released a report on Faculty Trends. There’s much to discuss there, but I want to focus on the question of technology in the classroom.  Inside Higher Ed offers a great piece that sums up the report’s findings and offers some counter conclusions. Take a moment to read:

Take-Away From the Gates Report on Faculty | College Ready Writing @insidehighered.

In brief, the Gates Foundation reports that the rate of tech adoption in colleges is very low, as expected. Faculty are aware of innovative teaching methods, like flipped classrooms or hybrid courses that incorporate online discussions with face to face teaching, but the majority of faculty aren’t using them.

The Inside Higher Ed article highlights two important reasons why higher ed faculty are not as innovative as their peers in K-12:

1. Faculty are far more influenced by their peers in the discipline than anyone else, and some disciplines are less open to technological innovation.

2. Campus infrastructure tends to devalue anything that isn’t STEM or business, so many faculty in other fields are teaching in outdated classrooms.

My own classroom experience was located in a small school with few resources. I didn’t really mind the challenge; I think scarcity can breed creative problem solving. But the technology roadblocks were maddening.  If I had a dollar for every time my attempt to take students into the computer lab to do some research turned into a frustrated pile of kids and teacher clustered around the only working computer, I’d have a retirement account.

Higher ed pedagogy is under-addressed.   While I’m not a fan of the pressure coming from the DOE on universities toward outcome-based assessment, perhaps one upside will be attention on professional development for all college faculty.