SUSAN CATES: The remote-learning response to COVID-19 is remarkable. It also highlights a problem.

date:2020-04-28 11:40author:adminsource:https://bigthink.com/Charles-Kviews:


 

We know what effective teaching looks like. Implementing it can change the lives of Americans.

 
  • US higher education has a national graduation rate that is well below the performance of other developed countries and behind projected economic need (pre-COVID) for a well-educated workforce.
  • Research shows that students earn higher grades and complete courses in greater numbers when taught by faculty who are trained to implement proven teaching practices.
  • Quality teaching is more important now than ever. Investing in faculty is the most cost-effective way to drive stronger student outcomes year after year.
 

At Cal Poly Pomona, instructional technology specialists rerouted calls to personal phones to deliver uninterrupted support from "Studio 6," their training lab. At Broward College in Florida, biology faculty quickly launched virtual labs with online microscopes and pH scale simulations. Nationwide, online teaching experts including Flower Darby, Mike Wesch and Viji Sathy led impromptu webinars in support of their colleagues, attended by thousands.

Although campuses are quiet, classes continue at colleges and universities thanks to the nation's 1.5 million professors. They moved courses online in a matter of days, to ensure that millions of Americans could continue to pursue their degrees while so much else is disrupted.

Yet, the sudden shift also revealed a severe lack of broad preparation to sustain higher education's most important function: quality teaching and learning. Faculty picked up digital tools that had long gone underutilized. Training was by necessity stopgap, focused on the bare basics of online resources. Emergency measures sustained operations but what is being widely referred to as "remote learning" shouldn't be confused with quality online instruction and the depth of professional development necessary to teach online with proven approaches that lead to stronger, more equitable student outcomes.

It is widely acknowledged within academia that professors are not adequately prepared to teach. They are subject matter experts and world-class researchers, yet few receive comprehensive training during their PhD programs on evidence-based teaching practices. On-the-job development is scattershot, and professional incentives largely emphasize papers published over measures of teaching effectiveness.

As a result, many students don't experience the instructional methods that promote engagement, deeper learning, and success in college and beyond. This omission is reflected in graduation rates; among today's first-time college students, only 60 percent will earn a bachelor's degree in six years and only 32 percent will earn an associate's in three. This equates to a national graduation rate of 50 percent—well below the performance of other developed countries and behind projected economic need (pre-COVID) for a well-educated workforce.

Many factors affect a student's academic achievement, some of which are outside of an institution's control. But the systemic failure to invest in a faculty member's ability to teach effectively ignores a proven lever that is within higher education's grasp.

 
The good news is the specific techniques that make for effective teaching aren't a mystery, and they aren't assigned at birth. Decades of research have identified what practices work, and they can be learned and developed through practice.

Our research indicates that students earn higher grades and complete courses in greater numbers when taught by faculty who implement a comprehensive body of proven practices. Our studies also show that effective teaching promotes greater equity, with minority and low-income students posting achievements comparable to their peers. Related findings from Gallup indicate that graduates are twice as likely to be leading fulfilling lives with rewarding careers when they had a professor who taught well, assigned academically challenging coursework, made material relevant, and took an interest in their students' lives and aspirations.

The good news is the specific techniques that make for effective teaching aren't a mystery, and they aren't assigned at birth. Decades of research have identified what practices work, and they can be learned and developed through practice.

Today, thousands of faculty members are developing these approaches through comprehensive courses offered by the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE). Courses prepare faculty for in-person and online instruction. More than 120 colleges, universities and higher education systems have made this offering for faculty part of their strategic plans. They recognize that investing in their faculty is the most cost-effective way to drive stronger student outcomes year after year. Plus, it's the right thing to do, for both students and faculty.

Dancer and Rehearsal Associate Charmene Yap confers with students as she teaches ballet online from her lounge room on April 07, 2020 in Sydney, Australia.

Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images

It's hard to overstate the importance of quality teaching and learning under normal circumstances. Students spend more time with their professors than with all other college professionals combined. For the millions of students with family and work responsibilities—demands that will only increase in the coming days—their professors and their courses are their university experience.

This reality is made all the more vivid when dorms are closed, fields are silent, and libraries empty. With such clarity as to what matters most in a student's collegiate experience, we must ensure that every faculty member has the pedagogical preparation they seek to teach well, in-person or online, so that every student receives the quality education they deserve.


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