Bloggin' 'bout science and life

Tag: teaching

Valuable Advice About Editing And Teaching In General

Posted by The Baltimore Sun on Thursday, September 8, 2016

This is hugely valuable advice.  If one is to teach what students need to know, one really has to just simply do it!


A Solution To Grade Inflation

I’ve been a university professor since 1991.  Being a university professor is a very weird job, because your performance is frequently measured in ways that don’t necessarily quantify whether you’re doing your job well.  This job essentially had three responsibilities: (1) teach effective classes in your discipline, (2) do world-class research that contributes new knowledge and insights to your discipline, and (3) help run the institution at which you are employed and help run the professional components of your scholarly discipline.  When I was being considered for promotions and every year when the size of my merit raise is being determined, my performances in these three areas (teaching, research, service) was supposedly what determined my success.  

At most universities, only research output is valued.  Dartmouth is different and quite possibly unique: I’ve written before about what it takes to get tenure at Dartmouth, where research and teaching are weighted equally in that evaluation, and your research is held to the standards of the best research universities, and your teaching is held to the standards of the best undergraduate teaching colleges.  However, the way my teaching effectiveness is evaluated is one of the primary causes of grade inflation.  In this post, I will explore how we might change the incentives of faculty to reduce the causes and consequences of grade inflation and thereby provide better educations to our students.  

The rationale presented here summarizes the conclusions made by the committee I was on that considered the causes, consequences and solutions to grade inflation.  You can see a description of our proposal at (click here for the pdf of our full proposal). 


Research & Teaching Can Be Synergistic

At most major universities in the United States, the advice that junior faculty get from their senior colleagues about the optimal division of effort between research and teaching usually boils down to something like the following: Research is paramount!  Put enough effort into your teaching so that (1) students aren’t complaining to the Department Chair and (2) students say they don’t hate the course on the course evaluations, and you’ll be fine.

The truth is that this often directly reflects the weightings given these activities during evaluations for promotion and tenure.  What keeps research institutions running are research dollars coming into the institution, and what keeps research dollars flowing in is the research productivity of the faculty.  Thus, research productivity becomes paramount, and the incentive structure is constructed to make it so.  Consequently, this causes most faculty (and administrators) to see research and teaching as a zero-sum game.


Are Students Much Worse Today That When I Was In School?

I hear this question in one form or another almost every day?  Clearly, this is a very provocative title, and is meant to be so.  I think many of the issues that raise this question have to do more with the inflexibility of teachers and instructors than it does with the students.  Here are some more comments I hear from my teaching colleagues all the time:


Why Don’t We Treat Academics Like Sports?

It’s the first day of the 2013 college football season, next week is the first week of the NFL season, and so it is for high school football, too.  Every other commercial is a Nike vignette of a high school football practice telling the players to commit totally to their efforts to win.  If you’re not giving your all, you’re a loser.  And the players buy into it wholeheartedly.  Wouldn’t it be great if our schools (and society) celebrated and revered academic performance like it does sports performance, and motivated students to perform academically like we do athletically?  


Returning to the Small Teaching College?

Many of Dartmouth’s disgruntled alumni feel that President Wright’s emphasis on increasing the research and scholarly profile of the faculty to be antithetical to Dartmouth’s mission. That mission in their minds seems to be defined as undergraduate teaching to the exclusion of all other activities.


Getting Tenure at Dartmouth

In many respects Dartmouth is a very unique institution of higher learning. Across much of the undergraduate college, the place is simultaneously a major research university and a small teaching college. Many of us here think it has the best of both.


Doing Science

The best faculty member in any discipline at a major university integrates teaching and research into one seamless endeavor. These activities are at one level synergistic: teaching forces the faculty member to think beyond the narrow confines of the current grant or the current experimental result, while research maintains the desire for discovery that pervades the best teaching. However, when considered at a more fundamental level, they are in fact the same endeavor.


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