Efforts involving Palmer faculty have led to an upsurge of scholarship across all three campuses. One of the goals of the Center for Teaching and Learning is to enhance faculty scholarship; another is to enhance teacher effectiveness. We can do both by engaging Palmer faculty in the conduct of educational research. There is a general belief that good researchers can make good teachers, but oddly enough actual research has not shown a significant correlation between scientific research and teaching. However, when the scholarship is pedagological, this situation reverses, and being able to conduct such research does impact your teaching effectiveness in a positive way. Weimer (1) offers several reasons why this is the case:
You explore the questions that interest you. She notes that doing scholarship allows you to examine those areas in which you may have interest or wish to obtain additional information. We all wish to do scholarship in areas that interest us; for example, I am interested in informed consent in research and I have done research in that area. As a result, you are energized by your work and by what you find. Mainly, because of what you learn.
You develop instructional awareness. Here is the truth: most of us were never trained as teachers and we come by our teaching skills by a great deal of on-the-job training. We may be unaware of teaching theory, but the more we learn about our craft, the better able we are to address issues, concerns and challenges as they occur. This makes us better teachers.
You think more deeply about teaching and learning. I have come to a sad realization. People who do not teach do not really understand the tasks of those who do. And we live in a culture where, in general, teachers are now pawns in a political debate between differing world views. How often have I heard that, because someone only has 12 contact hours of teaching, they are obviously overpaid and must be sitting there for the remaining 28 hours of the week? And for us, we get bogged down in the daily minutiae of preparing and going to class- how much we need to cover, test preparation, grading, and so on. How much can we affect how well and how much our students learn? How much is our responsibility as opposed to theirs? What is the calculus here? As we ponder these issues through our own scholarship we can begin to come to grips with answers to the vexing problems confronting those who teach.
You improve for the right reasons. As you do educational research, it makes your own teaching a more positive endeavor. This is not remediation; it is new learning for you and new application. You are doing the work to help you perform better at what you do every day of your working life. You can make changes that are based on evidence.
It keeps your teaching fresh over the long haul. I’ve been teaching for 31 years now. I was at National University of Health Sciences for 23 of them, and during that time taught the same class for more than 15 straight years. Yes, I made changes along the way, but they were incremental. Yes, I tried new teaching methods, but sometimes they did not work as well as I wanted. I went and earned a master’s degree in medical education just because I was not, and am never, satisfied with my teaching. Research here helps you gain new knowledge and apply new methods. It makes you current.
It improves conversations with colleagues. Rather than complaining, we are talking about exciting, novel changes and methods. It changes the tenor of our discussions. How often do we meet with our colleagues to discuss our teaching methods? As opposed to our problems? This can help alter that balance in a positive and useful direction.
I encourage you to consider your own projects. I urge you to then submit to a conference such as ACC-RAC. It will make what you do all the more exciting for you.
And have a happy Valentine's Day!
1. Weimar M. Enhancing scholarly work on teaching and learning: professional literature that makes a difference. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006: 169-174