Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thinking About Teaching

Thanks for passing along our blog address to others who are serious about teaching.

You may have seen the video below (it is four minutes long). It had a lot of impact on me when I was creating our new Financial Accounting textbook. The video was apparently created by the students you see and really made me think about the state of education today. As far as I am concerned, education is expensive and, too often, both boring and inefficient. I wanted to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. As a result, I helped design and create this new type of Financial Accounting textbook.

As I have mentioned previously, a few years ago I wrote a free on-line teaching tips book ( I was lucky, a few people read it and told other people and then I got a very nice review in the Chronicle of Higher Education. As a result, I started getting emails from around the world about teaching. That was wonderful.

One day I received an email from a professor in London who said something like: “you don’t know me but I have read your teaching tips book and have a quote that I think you are going to love.” And, he was absolutely correct—this is one of my two or three favorite quotes about teaching. Whenever I give a teaching presentation, I always use this quote to explain what I believe is the true secret for becoming a better teacher. It is the best piece of advice that I can give any teacher who wants to improve.

"Teaching does not come from years of doing it. It actually comes from thinking about it."

I get pretty decent teaching evaluations from my students and I have won a few awards. Whenever anyone asks me how I managed to do that, I always say: “I think about this stuff a lot. Whether it is 6:00 a.m. when I wake up or 10:30 p.m. when I go to bed, teaching and my students and how to help them learn is always floating around in my head.”

So, today, I decided to tell you about what has been floating around in my head recently.

It seems to me that college education in my lifetime has focused on the conveyance of information. One content expert (the teacher) conveys information to a group of individuals who want (or are required) to gain a bit of that expertise. Despite what we might say, that process has not changed too radically in the last four decades since I was a college student.

However, with the Internet, Google, Bing and the like, information is readily available to most individuals at any time. It is hard to find a factual question that you cannot answer in less than one minute using a search engine. What then is the future purpose of a college education (other than the acquisition of a very expensive diploma)? If there is no longer a huge need for the conveyance of information from one generation to the next because it is so readily available, what are we doing? Don’t we need to know that before we even start the first class?

Do we who teach in college think about that question enough or just try to ignore it as best we can?

When I give teaching presentations, we work on developing “fly-on-the-wall” philosophies. What the heck is that? I ask the members of the audience to picture the course that is their favorite to teach. Then think of the final day of the semester when the students file out of the room for the last time. I ask each of the teachers to pretend they are a fly on the wall right above the door. If you were that fly on the wall, what would you want to hear from your students as they exited for the final time?

--The teacher sure conveyed a lot of information??
--I certainly took some great notes this semester??
--I memorized a lot of material so I could pass a test??

From my experience, a lot of teachers teach as if that is their goal. But, surely that cannot be the reason we became teachers. In 2010, doesn’t it have to be something more than that? And, if the answer is Yes, then what is the purpose of a college course?

I can tell you my own personal fly-on-the-wall philosophy but I am not sure that I am not ready for some change in it. So, if you have suggestions, let me know.

Here is my mine. On the last day of class, I would love to hear by students say:

“I never thought I could work so hard. I never thought I could learn so much. I never thought I could think so deeply. And, it was actually fun.”

What is yours?

And, in closing today, one of my Financial Accounting students sent me the following link.

“I came across something that I thought was pretty interesting, it's not about accounting but for some reason I thought it might peak your interest.”

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