Friday, February 12, 2016

Professors Can Learn to Be More Effective Instructors

Studies of faculty development efforts at a liberal arts college and a land-grant university suggest the programs can have an impact on student outcomes. Intuitively, it makes sense that professors who spend time developing their teaching skills will become more effective instructors -- and that that will eventually translate to better student outcomes. Practically speaking, though, the challenges of (and the variables involved in) tracing the effects of professional development on student learning are myriad. That’s probably why the research on the matter is patchy, relying largely on self-reported measures. But a new book based on data from two very different institutions purports to show that faculty members can learn to become more effective teachers. “Broadly speaking, faculty development has measurable impacts on teaching,” the book says. “Existing research and the current project confirm that faculty consistently self-report learning gains aligned with workshop goals at the end of these experiences.” Moreover, it continues, faculty members’ accounts demonstrate that they can look back at past development opportunities and describe changes in their teaching aligned with these goals. An analysis of subjects’ syllabi, assignments, methods and grading scales backs up those claims -- as does a review of student work. Faculty Development and Student Learning: Assessing the Connections (Indiana University Press) was written by William Condon, a professor of English at Washington State University; Ellen R. Iverson, director of evaluation at the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College; Cathryn A. Manduca, director of Carleton’s Science Education Resource Center; Carol Rutz, director of the College Writing Program at Carleton; and Gudrun Willett, a cultural anthropologist at Ethnoscapes Global. The book is based on the Tracer Project, two parallel, multiyear studies of how faculty development impacted student learning at Carleton, a small liberal arts college in Minnesota, and at Washington State, a large land-grant institution. Despite their differences, the authors found similar outcomes at both institutions -- including that the benefits of faculty development are cumulative.

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