You can be the best teacher in the world but is that what is expected?

Some students didn’t take well to Steven Maranville’s teaching style at Utah Valley University. They complained that in the professor’s “capstone” business course, he asked them questions in class even when they didn’t raise their hands. They also didn’t like it when he made them work in teams.

Those complaints against him led the university denying him tenure – a decision amounting to firing, according to a lawsuit  Maranville filed against the university this month. Maranville, his lawyer and the university aren’t talking about the case, although the suit details the dispute. Socratic Backfire? – Inside Higher Ed

A couple of years ago I was fortunate to briefly work with Jim Boyle at the University of Strathclyde. Jim recognised long ago (over a decade) that passive learning wasn’t, and never was, appropriate for teaching. In searching for a better way amongst other things adopted Eric Mazur’s Peer Instruction technique. This technique is based on combining the Socratic model with electronic voting asking students questions, getting them to discuss their reasoning, re-polling the question to make sure they’ve got it.

[When I was working with Jim he was still looking for new ways to improve the way students learned and if you haven’t already seen I’d whole heartily recommend you watch his ESTICT keynote Truth, Lies and Voting Systems which in part looks at the issues using PowerPoint in teaching and learning.]

But why isn’t HE full of Jim’s? Why aren’t all educators looking to educate with the tools at their disposal? I believe part of the problem is ‘expectations’, and not just the expectation of academics that they need to stand up in front of a room and talk for 50 minutes. No the problem is bigger than that. There is the expectation by your colleagues and head of department that you as an academic will stand up for 50 minutes twice a week and lecture your class, there is the expectation by the institution that you as an academic will stand up for 50 minutes twice a week and lecture your class, there is the expectation by the professional body who accredit your course and have supplied you an outline curriculum that you will stand up for 50 minutes twice a week, and unfortunately students themselves have an expectation of university life which includes you as an academic standing up for 50 minutes twice a week.

There will always be individuals within an institution using good teaching practice but to turn these from the minority to the majority needs the institution to have and sell a different expectation of teaching and learning. The OU already do this, Aalborg University and their institution wide PBL approach do this and University of Lincoln’s ‘Student as producer’ has the potential to do it and there will be others but not enough.

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