Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Toward Truly Transformational Teachers

I've been listening to courses on CD from the Teaching Company. Those courses are taught by nationally renowned teaching-award winners. I've been so disappointed.

The Teaching Company, indeed most students and university administrators, have much too low standards for what a great course would be.

A truly great course would immerse the students in fascinating and/or thorny situations in which they fully experience what's going on, and actively use their mind and courage to triumph over those situations, often exclaiming, "Aha!"

I am aware that it is not easy to create and teach such a course but THAT and nothing less should be the goal.

Key to that is to look OUTSIDE academe for instructors. People who opt to get a Ph.D. are unlikely to be transformational instructors: Ph.D students are people who have deliberately opted out of the real world for "a life of the mind." And if those Ph.D. students don't start graduate school focused on trivia, graduate school and the professoriate's reward structure makes most of them that way.

The best undergraduate instructors are likely to have these characteristics:
  • Caring more about elevating than informing their students.
  • Are NOT natural geniuses in the subject matter. The brilliant mathematician rarely can help typical students become people who, in their bones, in their daily life, reason well quantitatively. Someone who struggled to get an A in quantitative reasoning but now really "gets it" and uses it in her daily life will likely be a more transformational instructor for the typical student.
  • A bright but not brilliant student who has just a bachelor's degree. Too great a disparity between students' and instructor's ability and knowledge base will reduce the likelihood of that instructor being transformational for the student.
  • Is theatrical. It is difficult for many students to remain focused even on a five-minute mini-lecture. The ability to be a compelling storyteller is a real plus but lectures are very rarely transformative. So the instructor must have the restraint to use even the most fascinating lecturettes only as a spice, not as the main course.
  • Must make immersive simulation the main course--for example, putting students in the role of the general in a Civil War battle, a surgeon deciding where and how to cut, an investor deciding where to invest his life's savings, a disaster relief manager deciding how to allocate resources.
Of course, such instructors are difficult to find. That's why I so believe the way to improve the quality of education worldwide is to find such people, have them develop those highly immersive courses, and distribute them online.

Readers of this blog know that I have developed a model for a general education curriculum that is consistent with all of this. For your convenience, I reproduce that HERE.

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