I feel a strong obligation to share what I know about teaching with both teachers and students to improve student learning. My approach is different from the popular collections of tips, gimmicks and teaching fads. I try to deepen their understanding of how people learn and correct counterproductive misconceptions so that teachers can improve their pedagogy regardless of the methods they use and students can improve their learning by devising their own effective study strategies.
Students often use strategies that are ineffective or inefficient. I teach them how to identify effective and ineffective study strategies so they understand that, although there is no magic bullet, they can learn to get maximal learning out of their study time. Most teachers mistakenly believe learning comes from active engagement and student struggle. Engagement alone, however, is not sufficient for learning, and although learning is hard work for students, not all hard work leads to learning. I give teachers the knowledge to design presentations, assignments and activities that optimize student learning.
I try to elevate the level of teaching and learning by regularly hosting workshops and presentations based on pedagogical research to both teachers and students. At Samford, I’ve spoken to the whole faculty, to faculty in specific schools and colleges, and to specific groups, such as new faculty, instructors for the core curriculum and librarians.
Last year, I sent out an invitation to faculty to join me in a discussion of The College Fear Factor, a book on teaching I found thought provoking. I hoped for a small group, but about half the faculty expressed interest in attending. I created multiple discussion sessions that were lively, informative and well attended.
For those who couldn’t attend, I wrote a blog of my reflections after each discussion, and it gained a regular readership. The discussion group was so successful that we are continuing it this semester with another book.
Five years ago, the director of freshman life asked me to prepare a presentation for all entering students on how to learn. It was a huge success and has become a significant annual event for freshmen. I continue to refine it and have added a follow-up workshop for students who are struggling academically. I conducted an extensive assessment of the presentation and both quantitative and qualitative measures indicated a major positive impact on student beliefs about learning and study behaviors.
Over time, however, students slipped back into old, bad habits. To address this problem, I created five short videos summarizing the main points of how to learn effectively. They are posted publicly so students at any institution can access them as needed and faculty anywhere can refer students to them.
I give workshops and presentations for faculty at other colleges and at conferences on teaching psychology, teaching in general and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Last year, I presented my work on improving student learning at a major conference in Canada. Later, I received a message from the conference organizer saying, “…according to the feedback forms, yours was the hands-down best session people attended,” and inviting me to be a keynote speaker at this year’s conference.
The ultimate goal of my research is to develop a comprehensive model of learning that can guide both teachers and students to improve student learning. Teaching is a complex interaction among teachers, with their learning goals and teaching strategies; students, with their prior knowledge, expectations and study strategies; and the subject matter. Teachers must oversee myriad interacting factors, constantly making adjustments based on the level of student understanding. This is the true challenge of teaching. I strive to advance teaching through pedagogical research, to improve student learning by sharing the resulting knowledge with teachers and students and to use it to enhance my own teaching.
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