Innovation? What Innovation?

Something of a response to Simon’s post about teaching innovations:

Rube GoldbergSimon is one of those rare people in a position of authority who, when he’s not plotting to become the next king of Scotland, asks what people have been doing in the classroom and how they’ve been doing it. Many of us don’t get asked, and many of us don’t bother changing how we do things, partly because steps taken to improve one’s teaching don’t directly factor into tenure and promotion decisions. This assumes, of course, that the possibility of promotion exists, which it does not for most college-level instructors in the USA. Given the current political economy on many university campuses,  pedagogical experimentation gone awry can lead to unemployment for the instructor.

The end result is that many of us have structural incentives to play it safe and replicate the classroom environments that our graduate school professors experienced when they were undergraduates. Or we tinker away in self- and institutionally-imposed isolation. The folks here at ALPS have a different approach, of course, but I remain surprised by the lack of institutional mechanisms at many universities for faculty members to share their classroom innovations with each other. In my case, the problem is exemplified by the fact that I can share ideas with people working at universities hundreds or thousands of kilometers away more easily than I can with people on my own small campus.

If these mechanisms did exist, we wouldn’t see expensive outside speakers brought in to tell us about “new” teaching methods that some of us have already made part of our repertoires. Nor would we be expected to shove square technological pegs into round holes of instruction in the name of innovation. Instead faculty would be communicating regularly and directly with each other.

It is somewhat perverse that Daphne Koller, co-founder and president of Coursera, is more attuned (beginning at 14:50) to what good teaching is and how to foster it than many of the people running traditional universities. Academia has had decades to implement systems that identify and reward good teaching, but at many institutions of higher education this opportunity was and continues to be squandered.

One thought on “Innovation? What Innovation?

Leave a Reply