During the forum, the four rather senior professors in the panel elaborated on questions all us instructors ourselves at times: what makes good teaching, what makes excellent teaching, how do we evaluate teaching etc.. As to be expected, the panel had no concrete answers to what makes teaching ‘excellent’, but just by listening to the panelist, the audience learns a lot, gets to think, and picks up suggestions, among them for instance:
- How ‘bad’ teaching discourages students;
- How grading without feed back is a missed teaching opportunity;
- How scholarship and being a master of the material is essential;
- Yet how charisma and ‘creative’ teaching are highly valuable as well;
- How student reviews like ‘love this class’ & ‘great professor’, and very engaged students do not per se mean that students learn a lot.
I have to put some emphasis on the seniority of the panelists. These professors all had long careers at MIT and beyond, winning several ‘exemplary contribution to undergraduate teaching’ awards etc. In my point of view, the long careers of these professors and their many recognitions took away a little bit of the objectivity that, I think, is necessary when talking about what makes teaching ‘excellent’ in general in classrooms today. Of course experience is very valuable, but it might also lead to some lack of openness to more recent insights.
There was quite some discussion on the value of ‘lecture’ style courses versus more discursive ways of teaching. It seems that the panelists appreciated lecture-style instruction – one professor even arguing that it gave her the opportunity to engage in conversations with 300 students at the same time!
Quite some discussion centered around the use of technology in and beyond the class room (including moving teaching completely online like in MOOCs etc.). All panelists were involved in such projects, but all favored the ‘human’ factor of actual classroom engagement.
That led to an exchange on how institutional context and the course subject influence and determine teaching style and teaching methods. Obviously at Bentley we teach much smaller classes, for instance, which has consequences for how we teach and what makes ‘excellent’ teaching at our school.
A last topic of discussion, which I found interesting, is the question (based on tenure requirements, or the Bentley profile categories), if and how ‘good’ teachers should teach more, while other faculty members should focus more on research to maintain the scholarly nature of the institution.