In a recent meeting with a number of teaching-minded colleagues, one made what – to me – sounded like a rather innocent remark. She suggested that perhaps all new faculty should be required to attend a course about good teaching practices before they begin planning their first courses. Her suggestion was met with an uncomfortable quiet and when I asked others about it afterwards I was informed that this issue was a political hot potato of a sort. Why, because of the notion of academic freedom.
The idea, as I understand it now, seems to go like this. Professors are smart people. No-one should dictate to them how to teach their courses. Having any sort of top-down curriculum would stifle creativity and would make it harder for innovation to occur in the classroom. Well, that’s the flattering take at least. The less flattering one is that professors simply do not want to be told what to do … period.
Here is my counter-argument. I fully support the right of any faculty member to decide exactly how they will support the development of relevant knowledge and skills in their classroom, but I don’t think they have the right to be willfully ignorant about what we have learned about effective teaching. I see no good reason why new faculty especially, and maybe all faculty, shouldn’t be asked to expose themselves to what educational research has shown to be effective teaching strategies, and effective practices for creating classes that provide rich learning experiences. This is a little like informing an artist (although I personally believe teaching is as much science as art) what their tools are, and what each tool is good for. Is it so far-reaching to expect all our faculty get to know the basics of education before they begin planning? I personally think not. You?