As college and university instructors reflect on pandemic education, they probably feel like they’ve learned many lessons through hardships, struggles, and often burnout. Some people believe that teaching practices will eventually revert to pre-pandemic approaches, given the “slow and deliberative traditions of higher education”. But other academics are more optimistic, as generally accepted teaching practices have been called into question and instructors may be more likely to rely on the innovative teaching approaches and skills they develop through teaching. remote and hybrid / HyFlex.
As one department head noted in a 2020 research study conducted by Ralph A. Gigliotti, some see this collective pandemic teaching experience as “a timely opportunity to push us all to orient ourselves more effectively towards what we should have always done (e.g. more active learning, experiential learning, greater use of backwards design, flipped classes, greater intentionality, etc.). We agree that now is the time to embrace innovation. Right now, we can take advantage of the fact that faculty attitudes towards students and teaching are shifting and burying dead ideas that continue to linger in teaching and learning. The “Dead Ideas in Teaching and Learning” podcast, produced by the Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning, where we work, highlights a number of these ideas, such as that professors are the only experts in a room. class. The same goes for a previous article we wrote for Inside higher education.
Department heads can play a particularly important role in challenging old approaches to teaching and learning and putting new ones on the agenda. As the “most influential scholar / administrator,” a chair can drive change in its department and institution because of the way it can bring people together and connect with faculty and students. Even if uncertainty persists and department heads still often operate in a crisis leadership mode, managers can capitalize on recent innovations in teaching and learning practices as well as on existing efforts within of their department. With increased attention to the role of department manager spawned by the Netflix series The chair, their continued commitment to “reimagine, reimagine and reinvent,” in the words of University of Maryland President Amanda Bailey, will not go unnoticed.
So how can the Chairs specifically help support the transformations in educational approaches that flourished during the pandemic? How can they continue to build on the lessons we learn from distance education and combine them with what departments are already doing to support education? We have five chair suggestions for you.
- Make room and take the time to talk about teaching. Allow time in department meetings to intentionally discuss teaching. Whether it’s once a quarter to debrief, once a month to celebrate science teaching efforts and share educational innovations, or more frequently to think about solutions to common educational challenges, integrating these conversations into the structure existing amplifies the value that the department and the institution place on education. Time is our most scarce resource, so this can be difficult to do. But a chair that makes space for such conversations helps ensure that higher education teaching will no longer remain “a hobbyist and sole proprietorship”, as Steven Mintz, professor of history at the University. from Texas to Austin (and a Inside higher education blogger), put it on.
- Encourage the community around the teaching. After months of feeling the isolation of distant life, many people thirst for community. Beyond incorporating teaching conversations into department meetings, chairs can encourage faculty members to come together to discuss their teaching and informally connect in small groups both within departments and between them. Such groups can open their classrooms, either in person or virtually, to each other, observing each other’s lessons and finding inspiration by seeing their teaching and learning in action. They can also explore how they might leverage the strategies of their colleagues to create inclusive and anti-racist learning environments, involve all learners, and implement innovative approaches to assess student learning.
- Recognize teaching efforts. As we all know, the recognition of teaching goes beyond university-level teaching awards. This may involve recognizing the scientific teaching efforts made in the department, inviting colleagues to present their approaches over a lunch or highlighting good practices in departmental, school or institutional communication. . Encouraging faculty members to showcase their university teaching efforts beyond your department brings greater visibility to the teaching and learning that takes place there. At Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning, some of the ways we give visibility to our faculty creativity include partnering on faculty spotlight and asking our faculty to share their teaching efforts during our annual symposium celebrating teaching and learning.
- Invite students to participate in conversations about teaching and learning. Department heads regularly hear from students, and student perspectives are invaluable in conversations about teaching and learning. At the center, we’ve seen it firsthand through our Students as Learning Partners initiative, in which students work with faculty to co-create inclusive, learner-centered classrooms. Many instructors are also actively seeking feedback from their students during the pandemic – listening to their concerns and learning challenges, and tailoring their lessons to respond to students where they are. However, this is intense work, and sustaining such efforts will require adapting teaching practices and priorities. By encouraging these types of connections with students, Chairs can help ensure that such partnerships continue.
Consider urging your faculty to talk informally with their students about how their lessons are going and to collect informal feedback from students throughout the semester. (See our center’s early and mid-term student feedback resource for ideas on how to do this.) Why wait for end-of-semester course evaluations to hear student voices? Additionally, departments often host student panels for potential majors, so if you’re looking for a way to help facilitate a professor-student conversation about teaching, consider hosting one for faculty to hear. students’ perspective and engages in conversations about teaching and learning within the discipline.
- Collaborate with your teaching and learning center (or another campus entity that can help instructors improve teaching and learning). Take advantage of the educational resources that exist on your campus and help your colleagues save time, find community and reinvigorate their teaching. Encourage faculty members to participate in or partner with your center to offer a personalized session for your program, department or school. Centers like ours are there to help, and you don’t have to do this important work yourself.
While teaching during a pandemic continues to be stressful and stimulating, instructors have also found some aspects to be liberating. They searched for creative solutions, learned new skills, experimented with new teaching strategies and took risks like never before. In our center, we have heard this from the teachers we work with, and many have shared with us how they have adapted to new teaching modalities through our Voices of Hybrid and Online Teaching and Learning initiative. They have also innovated to meet students where they are in their teaching context, as demonstrated by the Celebration of Teaching and Learning Symposium 2021.
Those of us who work in educational centers continue to encourage teachers to think back to think about the future, to take a break that allows them to use what we have learned in the past to inform their future practices. We also remind them to take the time to take care of themselves as they teach during times of stress and challenge. Leading this important work and supporting changes in teaching and learning is a community effort. We call on the Chairs to put teaching on the agenda, but we are not asking you to do it alone. We’re here to work with you in any capacity that suits your department.