Home > Class, Teaching > The state of higher education and teaching

The state of higher education and teaching

Yesterday, we met for another session of HIST 551 (Seminar on the Teaching of History) and we explored several topics. First, we explored why institutions, UND included, offer remedial courses and provide a multitude of offices, centers, and courses dealing with instructional methods and development. I argued that these instructional entities were created to allow teachers to keep abreast of the latest methods and applications available and being used to improve instruction and learning. I noted that as historians need to be aware of the latest scholarship in a given field, which is collectively known as a historiography for those outside the discipline of History, college teachers need to be aware of the latest trends in learning and what ideas and materials they can use to improve instruction.

We then discussed the idea of how many Ph.D. programs required a course such as this, as well as how many of our faculty had to take a similar course. We also talked a little about the tenure process and how teaching seems to be relegated to a secondary position behind research today, and that tenure decisions should also be made based on teaching as opposed to how much research a person does. One key point was that while you could measure a person’s research (counting page numbers), measuring teaching was much more difficult. We left with a couple questions to ponder:  Are instructors challenging students? Helping them? Are they making the material mean something to the students? It will be interesting to see how our answers to these questions may change.

While we are presented with a situation of students knowing less and less, which is somewhat true, I feel that the situation is not as dire as made to be. Today’s students simply grasp knowledge via different forms and it is up to us to integrate those new ways of communication and transmission of knowledge into the classroom, while showing them the benefits of older methods. The result may be one where an instructor develops a blog for a class that compliments a lecture and uses it to foster lively discussions outside of class. I know at least one professor who uses Twitter and blogs, so it is something to consider. The challenges teachers face in college are greater than forty or fifty years ago, but the key is to adapt and overcome. Let your passion come out and do not be afraid to take risks (kudos to Bill Caraher for giving that advice early in my graduate career), as the rewards will likely be greater than the risk taken to reap them.

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