Is it just me, or is anyone else a little bewildered by this post at Inside Higher Ed called “Homework for Profs: Perfect the Art of Teaching?” In it, Kim Mooney says that:
- Liberal Arts educators “need to talk more about what and how we teach college students” so that we can “engag[e] 21st century college students in the kind of learning that will lead to success in life, work and citizenship.”
- “[E]veryone’s teaching needs regular rejuvenation and context.” (Ed. note: “context?”) Mooney explains: “context means understanding how you can use your course to help students develop in ways that will serve them well in their lives.” (Not sure that that really clears things up, but wev–she’s the Liberal Arts teaching expert!)
Mooney goes on to explain that at her liberal arts university, “our experience is that the best time to think about teaching is right after commencement, before faculty go abroad with students or start teaching summer courses. May College, as it is called, has been held for several years during the week after graduation.” Yeah–isn’t that what you all want to do with what’s left of May after getting your final grades in? (Do they serve Dirty Martinis and Pisco Sours in quart-sized mason jars at May College?)
I write this not as a skeptic of the value of thinking about pedagogy and of improving one’s teaching–but, and level with me, dear readers–isn’t that what we do all of the time, throughout the year, without going to workshops or special “colleges?” Isn’t this what we do, when we assign all or mostly new books to our classes each term, so that we can keep up with the current literature in our fields (and not incidentally, avoid boring ourselves with the same old readings)? Isn’t this what we do when reviewing previous drafts of lecture notes to see what’s outdated or less useful, and to add new material based on your current readings and research, or to speak to the specific themes we;re emphasizing in this or that semester? Aren’t we always adding new visual images, new ideas, and new slides to our PowerPoint lectures? Do any of us set out intentionally to bore our students to death? Do we enjoy being out-of-date and out-to-lunch in public?
I remember hearing about that legendary college professor who worked from yellowed note cards, or off of lecture notes on legal paper from the 1930s that hadn’t been revised since they were first drafted. Remember him? Me neither. I never met that guy or took his class–it was always someone’s brother’s roommate, or someone’s girlfriend’s sister who was in that class, and usually at another college or university. That professor is largely an urban legend, but “Centers for Teaching and Learning” are set up and funded to guard against him in universities across the country. (Do they also sponsor a “Center for Defense Against Unicorn Attack?”)
Historiann’s college experience is lost in the mists of time, back in the late twentieth century, but I don’t think that things have changed all that much in the 21st century, and especially not with liberal arts education. Unless I’m grievously mistaken, reading books, grappling with ideas, and writing essays and research papers are still central to liberal arts education. As I wrote some time ago, we all know what works–we don’t need clickers or Blackboard or even PowerPoint, although if you’ve figured out how to make those technologies work for you, that’s great. The question is, do even small liberal arts colleges (let along large universities) give us the resources we need to make liberal arts education effective? In sum, why are there so many workshops urging faculty to learn to teach better, and so few workshops urging universities to hire more regular faculty and dramatically improve the faculty-to-student ratio?
Whose interests are really being served here, in advancing the notion that liberal arts professors need to be taught how to teach?
After all, liberal arts colleges should be broadcasting the good news that liberal arts faculty are cheaper than business, engineering, and science professors–universities can get so much more for their money if they’d hire some more regular liberal arts faculty, instead of sponsoring these numberless workshops that imply that liberal arts faculty don’t know what the hell they’re doing, and need to be “rejuvenated” to cope with the twenty-first century.
UPDATED 8/7/08: Since many commenters here, and Paul Harvey over at Religion in American history, have introduced “assessment” into the discussion (which is different but clearly related to CTLs), I thought many of you might enjoy this discussion of assessment at Inside Higher Ed today called “Do We Assess Learning? Pull up a Chair…” by Bernard Fryshman. He very patiently explains the difficulty in assessing learning in any easily quantifiable way, and pays admirable attention to the effort students put into learning, too.