Supporting Undergraduate Teaching Improvement

November 15, 2017

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences this week released the fourth and final paper from its Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, called “Policies and Practices to Support Undergraduate Teaching Improvement.” The paper says that institutions are increasingly under social, economic and political pressure — just not pressure to improve undergraduate teaching. Even public accountability systems, in the form outcomes-based accreditation processes, ignore the educational processes underlying those outcomes, it says. Good college teaching means subject-matter knowledge, general pedagogical knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge, but especially the latter, according to the report. It describes examples of teaching improvement initiatives, including teaching centers, mentoring programs, guided reflection programs and the Science Education Initiative, a recent effort to systematically improve the teaching of science at two North American research universities. While teaching centers

and faculty mentoring programs tend to be rooted in general pedagogical knowledge, the latter two programs focus — particularly helpfully — on teaching within a specific discipline, the commission found. To improve teaching across an institution, the paper concludes, leaders must share an idea of what good undergraduate teaching looks like and value to role of discipline-specific pedagogical knowledge. The commission also found that whether teaching improvement initiatives are on campus or off, improvement of teaching is most likely when there is “coordinated activity at multiple levels of the academic enterprise.” The report includes numerous policy recommendations, such as that campus ands system leaders analyze and realign the formal faculty incentive system and fund and fill tenure-track faculty positions that emphasize undergraduate teaching. 

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