Great Expectations

I read with interest a blog from Faculty Focus.  It focuses on creating and communicating course expectations to students.  In illustrating ways that we communicate expectations, it reports the perspective of students on two questions: Describe a great professor and Why was a professor their favorite.

This survey was conducted in order to give new faculty insight into student expectations for the classroom.  In reviewing the descriptions of a great professor, it is surprising that few relate to the personal character of the professor such as honesty, concerned, energetic, and enthusiastic.  Whereas, the remaining descriptors seem to suggest more behavioral characteristics towards the student such as available, relatable, engaging, entertaining, etc.   These were not ranked but honesty was at the top of the list.  Also, conspicuous are the traits that are not listed such as authoritative.

What traits have you observed in great teachers?

What traits do you hope your students see in you as a teacher?

See previous post on Three C’s of a Teacher.

Link to Faculty Focus blog post:


“I am ashamed to say it,” I returned, “and yet it’s no worse to say it than to think it. You call me a lucky fellow. Of course, I am. I was a blacksmith’s boy but yesterday; I am—what shall I say I am—to-day?”

(Great Expectations by Charles Dickens Chapter 30)


First things first

Much of education today seems to focus on knowledge and content.  However, there continues to be growing demands for abilities outcomes as the end result of an education, ie. ability to use knowledge.  In a discussion with a colleague of mine, Phil Schanely from the Cedarville University Center for Teaching and Learning, he mentioned David Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction.  First principles are the irreducible minimum for teaching.  These are the elements that all educational theories seem to have in common.  He suggests that all of these elements be connected to a real-world problem or task in order for learning to be efficient and effective.

1. Activation: leveraging previous experiences, new experiences, and structure

2. Demonstration: this refers to guided practice; show the learner how to solve the problem

3. Application: let the learner solve more problems with increasing complexity and continued feedback

4. Integration: the learner begins to own the new knowledge and “make it their own” by using it in everyday life.

In looking at many different types of teaching theories and strategies, I think you will see most of these elements.  Which of these elements do you find the most challenging to incorporate?  Do you incorporate all of these in your teaching?  Test it out.  You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

In previous posts, I mentioned that feedback and practice are essential.  Here are two quotes from Merrill’s article:

“Gardner (1999) and Perkins and Unger (1999) both emphasized the necessity of many opportunities for performance.”

“Feedback has long been recognized as the most important form of learner guidance.”

Merrill MD.  First Principles of Instruction.  ETR&D. 2002; 50(3);: 43-59.   (He also recently published a book that you can find on Amazon.)

You will be assimilated

Technology has become a part of everyday life for most.  I use technology in many different ways.  I use it to deliver content, to give students practice opportunities, to gather data used to give students feedback, to interact with students, and for feedback on my own teaching.  In higher education, there exists a tension between technology and traditional delivery of education.  Here is video that gives some food for thought on the best practices in using technology in education.

As good as it gets

I was conversing with a colleague of mine on the subject matter of faculty development.  Over the years, I have personally needed much development.  Professionally, I feel that one of the greatest barriers to higher levels of care is the lack of development time built in to the average person’s work week.  This leads the professional to choose between personal life and professional development.  Which do you think most often would be chosen?

What would it look like if 4 hours a months were built into a work week for development?  I understand that some go to week long conferences.  But, even then, how much is being used to develop the professional?  If I take just one thing back from a conference, I think I’m doing good.  But, if I had the slow, steady change of more frequent development time, what would be the effects?

Many systems seem to be okay with the product that they produce.  But, the most successful companies don’t rest on their laurels.  They continually ask, “How can we improve?” and “How do we know we are doing our best?”  [This continuous improvement is only one aspect of a professional.]

The tension between good enough and continuous improvement will also exist.  What is one thing that could do today to set you on a path to improve for tomorrow?

Value and the Learning process

As a teacher, I often reflect on my role with relation to student learning. I ask myself what can I do that students can’t get some other way. In today’s blog, I would like to frame the question on the context of the learning cycle.

There are multiple ways that scholars have tried to model or describe the learning process. One is Kolb’s learning styles. He describes four quadrants that reflect a learner’s preference for taking in information and processing information. The corollary to the learning styles theory is that each learner should move from one quadrant to the next until all four quadrants are navigated. For example, if the learner begins with lecture attendance or reading (which could be observational or reflective in processing and abstract information that would be attained), the learner would start in the assimilator quadrant. The next quadrant asks learners to use the abstract information. Examples of this include practice problems, quizzes, and exams. The next quadrant is application of knowledge in a concrete or real world context. Finally, the learner moves into the last quadrant to reflect on the concrete experience. The end result is a return to the original quadrant with new learning material.

I did some surveys to look at learning styles of pharmacy students over the years. There was an overwhelming bias towards the abstract (as opposed to concrete learning). Many questions arose such as why this was – could it be recruitment, place in the curriculum, exposure to traditional teaching methods? I don’t know. From a pedagogical perspective, I think that teaching strategy has a lot to do with this. For example, many programs that I have been a part of traditionally assign reading, expect students to attend lecture to take notes, and pass an exam. There is a strong emphasis on course content. However, two key elements that I feel are consistently missing are practice using newly gained knowledge and feedback on performance.

Teaching effects learning. If the teacher expects learners to acquire a great breadth of knowledge, he/she should set up the course differently than if he/she expects the learner to use that knowledge.  On the contrary, some might argue that there are teaching methods that help learners gain knowledge while applying learning skills.  However, even in this scenario, the knowledge content is limited or defined in some way.  In order for the learner to learn, he/she must receive practice and feedback. These two elements reinforce student learning. I would argue that if we are not interacting with our learners as such, they may be better off sitting in front of a pre-recorded video to learn.

How can you plan in time to give students practice and feedback? In my opinion, this is a key role for a teacher that adds value to an education.