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Commission Examines Teaching at Lewis & Clark

“Teaching is not broken at Lewis & Clark College,” says Tom Schoeneman, professor of psychology and chair of the College’s Commission on Teaching. “But Lewis & Clark faculty are not complacent. We are interested in new developments in teaching, sharing information about effective teaching, and creating the best possible learning experience for our students.”

Schoeneman led a group of nine other faculty members in a two-year analysis of teaching at Lewis & Clark. Their work began in spring 2000, when President Michael Mooney created the Commission on Teaching. He charged the group with “defining the elements of good teaching at Lewis & Clark, classifying the differing demands imposed by the kinds of teaching required by our curriculum, and recommending ways in which to evaluate and enhance such teaching.” A grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation helped fund the effort. 

To tackle this challenge, the commission divided the charge into specific areas of inquiry.

Definition and Scope of Teaching

Not surprisingly, the commission uncovered varied teaching methods developed in response to the many learning styles encountered in the classroom.

Faculty at Lewis & Clark seem to have moved away from the model of teacher-as-authority to something less formal, implying a less rigid hierarchy and a less firm division between teacher and student. As one member of the science faculty said, “What works for me is teaching unlike the way I was taught through lecture and regurgitation.” To do this requires paying attention to students as persons and as learners.

Support and Development

As a long-term goal, the commission recommended the College establish a Teaching and Learning Center, staffed by a director and an assistant and housed in a dedicated space. As a transitional step, until economic resources are available, the commission suggested creating the Faculty Teaching and Learning Committee. This group would spearhead teaching development initiatives (e.g., workshops, lectures, conferences) and plan the College’s eventual transition to a full-fledged Teaching and Learning Center 

Advising

The commission found that richer faculty-student relationships are needed to ensure a quality advising experience for students. In response to this finding, and to data from related studies at the College, Lewis & Clark has launched a pilot program to strengthen the overall advising.

Interface Between Scholarship and Teaching

The commission recommended that all departments incorporate student research into their curriculum. To ensure that every student has some research experience, the commission recommended that the College continue to advance its goal of requiring a senior research experience within each major (i.e., the capstone or keystone course).

Evaluating, Documenting, and Honoring Good Teaching

The commission did not recommend significant changes in the current teacher evaluation process. However, the commission did see a need for developing annual awards that recognize excellence in teaching. This awards program could be organized around an annual academic event that focuses on teaching.

The commission prepared its final report to President Mooney in fall 2002. “We hope our report spurs the College to create ongoing mechanisms to support teaching and its development,” says Schoeneman. “That would be our legacy.”

What is Good Teaching?

In an effort to define good teaching, the commission interviewed members of the faculty, asked students to recall the best moments of their college learning experience, and read pertinent books and reports. The following emerged as teaching fundamentals that appear to be valued by both students and faculty.

Respecting students. Good teachers reject a rigid hierarchy between teacher and student. These teachers pay attention to students as persons and as learners: They know students’ names, and they are sensitive to students’ different learning styles and levels of preparation. They also avoid mindless regurgitation in the classroom.

Teaching and learning as collaboration. Faculty need to know their students and listen to them; students need to be able to communicate with their teachers. Students need to be able to learn from each other; and faculty need to share with each other what they know as teachers. Shared responsibility among all participants is necessary to produce an effective circle of learning.

Enthusiasm, disciplinary proficiency, and high expectations. Students and teachers agree that enthusiasm for one’s subject is an essential characteristic of a good teacher. Yet this is not enough. Students need to have confidence that their professors are knowledgeable—even when they’re teaching at the introductory level or outside their fields of expertise in general education courses. And there must be a challenge that pushes students beyond the edge of their ease and comfort.

A culture of support. Faculty need a solid infrastructure to ensure continuous improvements in teaching. Adequate classrooms and access to up-to-date technology are part of the picture, but teachers also need a rich culture of mutual support among faculty and administration.

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