Think back to some of your least favorite/least informative classes you’ve had in your undergraduate and graduate careers. What is the common denominator? Is it the subject matter or the instructor?
When I reflect back on my least favorite courses of my college career, two immediately come to mind: plant biology and macroeconomics. Why? Being a horticulturalist, I looked forward to taking plant biology, and economics has always been interesting to me. Thus, a disengaging subject matter was not the problem. Unfortunately, for both courses, the professors’ incompetency in teaching ruined my learning experience. But, that’s not what bothers me the most. What’s worse is that both professors are still teaching those same courses, ruining plant biology and macroeconomics for hundreds of students at a time. It sounds harsh, and I confess that I do not have hard evidence to support my accusation. While all online reviewers of these professors share my viewpoint, student evaluations don’t tell the whole story and shouldn’t be used to gage an instructor’s effectiveness (see “Student Evaluation of College Teaching Effectiveness: a brief review”). That being said, the one thing I believe should change in higher education is quality assurance in teaching.
I am passionate about teaching and truly believe that teaching is equally important to society as research. In fact, I would argue that many times these teachers are the inspiration for students who pursue research careers. Thus, I would say that if more instructor roles were filled by effective, passionate teachers, research would advance concurrently. So, how do we ensure quality teaching in higher education? I don’t think that teachers should only teach and researchers should only research, for research can improve the effectiveness of teaching and vice versa. However, I don’t think brilliant researchers should be given teaching positions if they are terrible teachers (by the way, both of my aforementioned professors are exceptional researchers). If they are brilliant researchers and terrible teachers, their time would be better spent doing research! So, I would suggest two ways to help resolve this problem: 1) to require all new instructors to be peer-evaluated by other faculty unannounced throughout the semester and 2) to increase compensation of full-time instructors.