The new AAAS Report on Undergraduate Teaching Improvement
by Mary Taylor Huber, Senior Scholar, Bay View Alliance
The “knowledge that teachers have of how students go about learning a particular subject,” is key to “good college teaching,” according to a new American Academy of Arts and Sciences report on Policies and Practices to Support Undergraduate Teaching Improvement.
Written by Aaron M. Pallas, Anna Neumann, and Corbin M. Campbell, all of Teachers College, Columbia University, the report’s advocacy of teaching improvement efforts to foster disciplinary-specific pedagogical knowledge should be of special interest to the Bay View Alliance community.
Efforts that have targeted teaching and learning at the disciplinary level, according to this report, include the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (SEI), the Carnegie Foundation’s Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL), and Discipline-Based Educational Research (DBER). Many members of the Bay View Alliance community have deep roots in one or more of these initiatives.
More controversial is the report’s critique of campus teaching centers as addressing primarily general pedagogical knowledge “applicable to all teachers in all subjects.” BVA participants who are members of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD) have joined colleagues to point out that most teaching centers provide both cross-disciplinary campus-wide programs and discipline-specific programs customized to the individual needs of departments and colleges, while members of the Network of STEM Education Centers (NSEC) have, of course, called attention to their explicit embrace of discipline-based pedagogical expertise.
Policies and Practices to Support Undergraduate Teaching Improvement recommends a menu of measures to strengthen opportunities for faculty and students to develop “pedagogical content knowledge.” Recommendations for academic departments include graduate student teaching preparation, “management and organizational support for teaching improvement,” and building ‘teaching expertise and promise into the faculty recruitment cycle.” Disciplinary associations are asked to develop “discipline-specific undergraduate teaching resources to support the teaching of core disciplinary ideas” and “protocols for classroom observations in particular fields of study.” Other recommendations target “campus and system leaders” and “government and philanthropic foundations.”
In addition to this report on support for teaching improvement, publications of the AAAS Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education address topics such as the college student journey, alternative postsecondary credentials and pathways, financial aid, and the economic impact of increasing college completion. These studies have informed the Commission’s final report: The Future of Undergraduate Education: The Future of America (2017). The BVA community may also want to read a response to that report by POD and NSEC “calling attention to how Centers of Teaching and Learning (CTLs) and STEM Education Centers (SECs) already contribute” to educational quality at the nation’s colleges and universities. See, too, an essay by POD leaders, including BVA senior scholar Mary Deane Sorcinelli, on the effectiveness of faculty development, available as a POD Speaks publication.