What the Best College Teachers Do

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During the scenic two-hour shuttle ride from the Calgary Airport to Banff on my way to the Open Education Global conference I managed to plow through the slim little bestseller, What the Best College Teachers Do, by Ken Bain. Dr. Bain was one of the keynote speakers at this year’s VCCS New Horizons conference and I was really captivated by his talk, which he gave in the midst the keynote audience, wandering table to table like some Vegas crooner. His keynote was essentially a synthesis of his book, citing examples of what the best college teachers do–they focus on knowledge-creation, not knowledge transmission, create learning experiences in their courses, encourage learners’ intrinsic motivation–and how these practices are supported by research in the learning sciences.

However, I found his concluding chapter a bit contradictory. Dr. Bain researched what the best college teachers do, not what the best-trained college teachers do. Many of the teachers he studied learned to be effective “on the job,” through trial and error and, most likely, possessing some natural disposition for good teaching. Yet in the concluding chapter Bain argues that good teaching is not inborn but is in fact a set of skills, based in research, that can be taught. I don’t disagree, but think this point would be much more effective if we could see how teachers trained in the learning sciences arrive at effective teaching more quickly and completely than those who are not. Sadly, perhaps there are not enough teachers trained in this way for a statistical sample.

This book is a reminder to me that, colleges don’t need to be reinvented, run like for-profit corporations, or actually run by for-profit corporations. Instead, higher education needs to focus fully on supporting effective teaching and learning. We know what works–in fact, Bain summarizes these approaches nicely in his book–so let’s finally, finally train our faculty to do what the best college teachers do.

You can buy What the Best College Teacher’s Do at your local bookseller or, if you insist, online through some global behemoth.

*Updated May 11, 2015 at 12:15 pm

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