Teaching about teaching

One way to achieve effective, evidence-based teaching and learning in higher education is train the next generation of university faculty, today’s graduate students. Then, year after year, a new wave of trained instructors will march into lecture halls around the world until every instructor-thru-professor has a practical and theoretical background in teaching and learning.

Yes, it will take 40 years to complete. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start, right?

The mission of the Center for Teaching Development (full disclosure: I’m the Associate Director there) at the University of California, San Diego is to prepare…oh, read it yourself:


A significant piece of their preparation is participating in The College Classroom, a course I teach each Fall and Winter. It’s based on a course taught through the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) Network. UCSD is a member.

The College Classroom is a lot of fun to teach. Occasionally, though, I get trapped in recursive teaching about teaching about teaching… loop that’s hard to escape.

  1. The course is about teaching.
  2. I’m teaching about teaching.
  3. I’m acutely aware that not only am I presenting ideas about teaching, I’m modelling how to do it. For example, I cannot *lecture* about benefits of student-centered instruction. Have you ever tried to write a peer instruction question about peer instruction? Now you’re starting to feel my pain…
  4. I have to remember, like a good instructor should, that my students are not (yet) experts in the subject and may not be aware of what I (or they) are doing. So, I regularly break out of character and fourth-wall with them, revealing what it is I’m doing and why. For example, the when we use whiteboards, I make sure everyone has their own colored pen (otherwise, he who holds the pen, holds the power) and I make sure I tell them that I made sure everyone has their own colored pen (otherwise…)
  5. Like a good instructor, I carefully plan the activities we do in class, thinking about what I can reasonably expect them to accomplish, how to efficiently run the activity, what resources are available, and so on. They don’t get to see that, though: I’m doing it in the days, hours (and minutes) before class begins. They should hear about that stuff, though, and I’ve started writing “behind the scenes” notes in the blog post, like this one, after each class. That’s teaching about teaching, too.
  6. This is forcing me to think about my thinking about teaching and they say metacognition is one of the keys to How People Learn. They also say you need to give your students opportunities to be practice being metacognitive. I’m doing that, on one of the teaching-about levels.
  7. And here I am, writing this post with the aspiration that it could help the next instructor who teaches such a course. Am I teaching about teaching about teaching?
On white: Who you really are
(Image: On white: Who you really are by James Jordan via Compfight on flickr CC)

This is why I occasionally get paralyzed, hands poised above the keyboard in my office or fingers frozen over the clicker in class. This thing I’m about to do, which level of teaching is it, again?

Well, they can kick me out of the Teachers Club for giving away the stage secrets but I’m going to keep telling the College Classroom students what I’m doing and why. Teaching isn’t a purely theoretical endeavor. If I want the next wave of instructors to have theoretical and practical skills, they need to see it and hear it and practice it for themselves. That’s how people learn, after all.

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