Teaching Is Both Art and Science. How to Work Toward Improving Your...

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Teaching Is Both Art and Science. How to Work Toward Improving Your Instructional Practice

By Bonni Stachowiak (Columnist)     Aug 15, 2018

Teaching Is Both Art and Science. How to Work Toward Improving Your Instructional Practice

This article is part of the guide: Toward Better Teaching: Office Hours With Bonni Stachowiak.

Social media is bubbling with signs that a new academic year is about to begin.

In those spaces, we are sharing stories of the dreams in which we show up to class without having done any of the needed preparation—or forgot where to go in the first place.

Despite this being my 14th year in higher education, I still feel nerves at the start of a semester. My hopes are high for creating experiences that will challenge and encourage learners.

Since I can never seem to avoid changing my classes each time I teach them, I’m anticipating how the new semester will bring me new learning as a teacher. And I always look forward to engaging with a community of professors around the world as I look for new tips and approaches.

Since the Fall of 2014, I have been having weekly conversations on the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast with people I consider to be magnificent educators. They challenge me to experiment with new approaches and to keep pushing to be more more effective in my teaching.

I have experimented with writing open textbooks, thanks to the inspiration I received from Robin DeRosa on episodes 183 and 195. I have grappled with issues of social justice and equity in my teaching after talking with experts like Bryan Dewsbury, Viji Sathy and Kelly Hogan. I reluctantly built up some resilience through my conversations with Kerry Moore, as I dealt with a family member suffering from cognitive decline. (You can read more about my background and university role here.)

I’m regularly being reshaped by these conversations. There’s always something new I discover to help me better live out my beliefs about teaching.

This Fall, I am starting something else new, beyond my teaching and my director roles:

I’m launching this advice column for EdSurge’s higher education space.

In early summer, I was approached to see if I had an interest in doing some writing for EdSurge as a columnist. As conversations began about how I might make the greatest contribution, I quickly identified the sense of meaning and purpose I get out of addressing questions that people have about teaching through my Teaching in Higher Ed podcast. It seemed a natural extension to do some of that with the EdSurge community, as well.

I know, in advance, that I will not have all the answers.

However, I have had the opportunity to speak on a weekly basis with expert educators from around the world for more than four years now. We have talked about grading and assessment, digital literacy, open education, caring for students, cultural competence, how people learn, and productivity. The Teaching in Higher Ed Slack community is another avenue for seeking out guidance from individuals who are engaged in this important work.

Here’s what I aim to do with this new EdSurge advice column:

  • Recognize that teaching is both an art and a science. Share the scholarship of teaching and learning that is helping to inform our teaching practices, while recognizing that our experiences are diverse and unique. Just like an artist, sometimes we learn the rules, so that we can then break them for a given purpose.
  • Focus on the joy and the pain that can come from the pursuit of good teaching. Celebrate with you when things go well and mourn with you when they do not turn out as you wished.
  • Provide guidance from my experience as a teacher and faculty developer and reach out to others when my expertise is lacking.

Do you have a question about teaching in a higher education context? We would love to hear from you and add your question to a list of potential queries I will tackle in the coming months.

Have a thorny teaching issue in your college or university course? Ask a question and Bonni may address it in a future column.

The kinds of questions we are seeking are broad ones having to do with the art and science of facilitating learning, not how-to questions on a particular application. For example, at a recent speaking event, I was asked about how to address the issue of students potentially being distracted by their mobile devices in classes. We also got into questions about the research (or lack thereof) surrounding learning styles.

We’re happy to leave your name out of story if you like—we can identify you as simply “an adjunct in Alabama” or “a community college instructor in Toledo.” Just indicate your preference when you submit your question.

In the meantime, I wish those of you who are about to start new classes the absolute best in your quest to facilitate learning well. As Doug McKee from Cornell University said on episode 35 of the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast: “If teaching isn’t hard, you’re probably not doing it right.”

May this column be one way of making it a little bit easier for all of us, while still challenging ourselves to take the risks necessary to aspire to greater heights in our teaching.

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

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Toward Better Teaching: Office Hours With Bonni Stachowiak

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