Excerpted from Learning, Teaching & Innovative Technologies Center at Middle Tennessee State University
(online resource no longer accessible)
One of the most important goals of NIU is to offer effective instruction to the students who study here. The University strives to recruit the best faculty and teaching assistants possible and to support them in their teaching, research, and service endeavors. As part of the support for teaching, this handbook provides an overview of some basic information on instructional strategies. To situate this information within the general context of effective teaching, this section provides an overview of what is meant by effective teaching, how faculty can continue to develop their instructional strengths through seeking and using feedback and how, given the pressures on instructors to perform well in several roles, they can “balance it all.”
[NIU] strives to recruit the best faculty and teaching assistants possible and to support them in their teaching, research, and service endeavors.
Research suggests that certain characteristics are consistently associated with good college teaching as viewed by students, other teachers, and administrators. In a study of winners of the Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award at Ohio State (Ebro, 1977), observation of their classes identified the following characteristics of effective teaching, which strongly parallel those found in other studies – these instructors:
Lowman (1996) describes two main dimensions of effective college teaching that emerge in his studies: Intellectual Excitement (enthusiasm, knowledge, inspiration, humor, interesting viewpoint, clarity, organization) and Interpersonal Concern/Effective Motivation (concern, caring, availability, friendliness, accessibility, helpfulness, encouragement, challenge). Other studies (see, for example, Chickering and Gamson, 1991) consistently identify knowledge of subject matter, organizational skills, enthusiasm, clarity, and interpersonal skills as marks of an effective teacher. Agreement across studies suggests that the characteristics of good teaching are not mysterious or extremely relative. They can, and have been, identified by researchers, students, and professionals alike.
. . . knowledge of subject matter, organizational skills, enthusiasm, clarity and interpersonal skills as marks of an effective instructor.
Inspection of these characteristics fails to support another commonly held belief about teaching: good teachers are born, not made. While certain characteristics such as humor and interpersonal skills come easily to some people and not others, people are not born with knowledge of a given discipline or competency in the use of instructional strategies. Furthermore, those who exhibit these qualities most consistently state that they work hard at attaining them and are very conscious of their actions and their effects.
These highly conscious teachers are examples of what Schön (1983) has termed the “reflective practitioner”: the professional who acquires expertise by learning in the action environment. Based on a study of Ohio State faculty (Chism, 1988), a model of faculty growth in teaching emerged that suggested that effective teachers develop by maximizing what they learn through experience. They engage in cycles of learning during which they try a practice, observe its effects, and decide how and when they will use a similar practice. Most instructors often carry on the process unsystematically without a great deal of conscious attention to the learning process. What distinguishes those who learn best, however, are the very levels of conscious reflection and quality of information they bring to bear in determining the effects of a practice in a particular context. The best instructors know not only what they are doing but why it is working and why it is likely to work in one kind of environment but not in another. Although they may have some natural personality characteristics that support their success, they also work very hard at their teaching and continually try to improve.
The best instructors know not only what they are doing, but why it is working and why it is likely to work in one kind of environment and not in another.
A number of writers have observed differences in style among instructors. They classify them according to several dimensions that represent how the teachers approach their students, the ways in which they think learning takes place, and personal strengths and preferences. Lowman (1996) observes that exemplary college instructors “appear to be those who are highly proficient in either one of two fundamental sets of skills: the ability to offer presentations in clearly organized and interesting ways [intellectual excitement] or [the ability] to relate to students in ways that communicate positive regard and motivate them to work hard to meet academic challenges [interpersonal rapport]. All [exemplary college instructors] are probably at least completely competent in both sets of skills but outstanding in one or, occasionally, even both of them” (p. 38).
Grasha (1996) advocates an “Integrated Model” of teaching and learning styles, recognizing that individual teachers will naturally exhibit different styles but stressing that teachers must cultivate certain styles so that they can use approaches appropriate to the instructional situation and the learners they encounter. For example, Grasha observes that a blend of the Expert-Formal Authority styles works best with learners who are dependent and less capable with the content. Grasha advocates that teachers reflect on their stylistic approaches and make conscious decisions about these. His book, Teaching with Style, provides many exercises for faculty to use in thinking about style and outlines his five teaching styles:
As with any new work environment, instructors new to the university will find it necessary to make anticipated as well as unanticipated adjustments. The New Faculty Member by Boice (1992) offers suggestions that can be useful for new university instructors, particularly those in their first-year of teaching. Boice interviewed and studied 200 new instructors on two campuses (one comprehensive and one doctoral) over two years, the majority of whom had little preparation for teaching in their graduate experience. For most new instructors in the study, the first year was full of surprises and disappointments in the areas of collegial support, preparation time, and student ratings. Three groups emerged from the study:
A majority of inexperienced new faculty felt a lack of collegial support. They thought they should have received more concrete help from experienced colleagues, particularly with copies of previously used syllabi and other course material. Inexperienced new faculty characterized chairs and senior faculty as expressing the attitude that the “best faculty” figure things out on their own. By their second year, many first-time faculty turned to one another for support. They sought out senior faculty and used them as role models. Inexperienced new faculty were also open to trying various teaching methods and styles in the classroom. Inexperienced new faculty who were most satisfied and successful during their first two years (labeled “quick starters”), expressed interest in learning the creative ways senior colleagues had devised to make learning easier and more interesting for their students.
Inexperienced new faculty who were most satisfied and successful during their first two years . . . expressed interest in learning the creative ways senior colleagues had devised to make learning easier and more interesting to their students.
Returning new faculty were most vocal about the lack of collegial support. Perhaps they expected to feel a level of acceptance as faculty similar to what they previously experienced. This would be a difficult expectation to meet and one on which returning faculty may want to reflect.
Experienced new faculty who were new to campus reported that they received useful advice and encouragement from senior faculty. Experienced new faculty also reported the least amount of difficulties in adapting to all aspects of their new teaching position.
The majority of new faculty reported that their teaching ratings from students were lower than they had expected.
At the end of the first semester, between 50 and 80 percent of all categories of new faculty received student ratings below the mean rating for their campus. Throughout their second year, student ratings of their teaching improved but continued to be lower than desirable. By this time, the new faculty began attributing the disappointing ratings to their students’ inability to handle challenging material. New faculty rarely sought out advice for ways of translating ratings into alternative styles of teaching. New faculty taught defensively, concentrating on covering the material and getting the facts straight. This “more of the same” approach was not successful.
This “more of the same” approach was not successful.
Boice (1992) describes quick starters as resilient, insightful, and positively identified with the campus. Quick starters demonstrated resilience by not taking their early feelings of isolation personally, instead seeking support from senior faculty and identifying those who could be helpful. They demonstrated their insight as they gathered information about their new role and new environment. Quick starters were able to separate gossip and small talk from valuable and reliable information. Perhaps because they quickly identified helpful senior faculty, quick starters began to feel themselves as part of the campus more readily than other new faculty.
Boice (1992) describes quick starters as resilient, insightful, and positively identified with the campus.
After studying new faculty at different institutions over several years, Boice (1991, 1992) identified several characteristics of faculty he calls “quick starters,” those who adjust easily and make steady progress in their work. According to Boice, quick starters
Quick starters learned swiftly to carry out their teaching responsibilities competently and efficiently and to integrate their teaching with their other scholarly activities. Critical to the success of new instructors were collegial support, a positive view of teaching, and control over preparation vs. research vs. writing time.
Quick starters also took a very different approach to their teaching. They were more relaxed, and even though they too taught in a facts-and-principles manner, they left time for student participation. Effective instructors had good rapport with students and encouraged classroom involvement through verbal and non-verbal cues. These instructors enjoyed teaching and their students, and they expressed positive and optimistic attitudes about the undergraduates on their campuses.
Essentially, the quick starters were those new faculty who, during their first two years, were exemplary teachers according to student ratings, Boice’s (1991) own ratings, and faculty’s self-descriptions. In summary, the attributes and behaviors of quick starters included
The most obvious advice for new faculty is to follow the model set by quick starters. Finding balance in time expenditure is critical. Boice suggests that new faculty keep daily records of how they spend their time and work to streamline classroom preparation time to approximately one-and-a-half-hours per classroom lecture hour.
. . . seek to streamline classroom preparation time to approximately one and a half-hours per classroom lecture hour.
The biggest mistake most new instructors made was spending too much time preparing material for lectures. Rather than providing students with the structure for thinking about the material and including only necessary content, many new instructors tried to cover too much. A good number of new instructors openly admitted to over-preparing lectures, having too much material to present without hurrying their lectures, and being perfectionistic beyond the level that could be rewarded in most classes. Knowledge of these errors did not seem to make any difference in their behaviors.
The biggest mistake most new instructors made was spending too much time preparing material for lectures.
For all new instructors in the study, there was a constant anticipation that the next semester would bring about greater balance between their teaching and their scholarly writing or research. As semesters came and went, most did not achieve that balance.
There was also an expectation that the summer would provide the time for them to bring about a better balance between teaching, research, and writing. Rarely did this occur. Most instructors were not as productive over the summer as they had anticipated. However, the quick starters were able to reduce their teaching preparation time by the first half of their second year. For many new instructors, it is rather frightening to consider cutting back on preparation time and giving up writing copious notes in advance of the lecture. Boice found that it takes a “leap of faith” and that colleagues can be helpful in encouraging new faculty to focus on particular goals for each class and to keep details limited to what is necessary for student-level comprehension. In regard to teaching, Boice directs new faculty to seek advice on how to interpret student ratings and to improve their teaching accordingly. Further, he suggests that new faculty be attentive to social networking, spend time on scholarly writing each day, and integrate research and scholarly writing interests into lectures.
Another attribute of effective instructors is confidence. Eison (1990) stresses the importance of confidence for new teachers, noting that confidence is built upon good planning, setting clear goals, and cultivating a sense of relaxation and self-esteem. Eison advises new teachers to avoid perfectionism, recognize their limitations, and consider it as scholarly, rather than a sign of failure, to admit that they do not have all the answers and to seek assistance from colleagues.
… consider it as scholarly … to admit they do not have all the answers and to seek assistance from colleagues.
Sustaining growth in teaching involves continuing to learn. Chism (1993), using a model of teaching development rooted in experiential learning, suggests that experienced instructors can avoid burnout and continue to improve through a range of activities, such as
The challenge of being the kind of instructor who persistently strives to improve instructional technique confronts faculty who are simultaneously conducting their own studies or research program, engaging in service activities, and maintaining a personal life: instructors can feel caught among all these roles and feel that they are not performing to their personal standards. Severe stress can result. Psychology professor Grasha (1987) suggests ways to control stress and balance the work load:
Avoid the feeling that you must please others at personal expense to yourself. It is acceptable not to provide a reason for refusing requests.
After addressing these questions to refine your task list, schedule social and recreational time as well as uninterrupted work time for writing or extended projects. Make effective use of these designated times, taking them as seriously as scheduled meetings.
. . . schedule social and recreational time as well as uninterrupted work time for writing or extended projects.
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Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2020). Advice for new faculty. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide/