Nilson’s Teaching at its Best

I like to read before I fall asleep. It started as a method of treating my insomnia, really as a way to “wind down” my overactive mind (anyone else have a inner voice that will not stop rambling – ever?). And, although I’m having less and less problems with insomnia as I age, I still continue to try to get a bit of reading done before drifting off to sleep.

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I wish I could sleep like this fox. Maybe I should try sleeping on a tree stump.

But, trying to read this book before going to bed was not the best idea I have ever had. Because, it is one of the densest readings I have ever attempted. And, this is coming from someone who is attempting to do some theory work for my dissertation (oh, theory literature, so so so dense).

I’ll admit, it depended on the chapter, or, more specifically, the sections of the chapter. Take the second chapter for example, the one on outcome-centered course design. It oscillated between practical advice (e.g., how to write a learning outcome) and existing theories (e.g., several different types of learning taxonomies). The practical advice was simple to read, but the existing theories – not so much. That may be because I don’t easily understand theories or because I was not expecting so many theories, but, from my perspective, it got quite dense at times. I would have to re-read sections, or, in the even more extreme, abandon the reading for sleep because my mind could not handle it during the transition to a lower level of mental functioning with increasing tiredness.

However, this density was not necessarily a bad thing. Having more than just a citation for why something is supported by research is the opposite, a good thing. Knowing why I’m doing something as opposed to just doing it on “faith” raises my confidence in my teaching.  But, it is going to take me a while to get through this one (I decided to read the book, instead of skim). Yet, I’m happy with that decision. Because, even though I may not remember all of it due to the density and state of mind during my reading, I do think I’ll take a way a good amount of information that is useful. It may be more restricted to the practical advice, as that’s my focus at this time, but maybe its a book that requires a couple of reads to really understand all of it. To that end, I’m flagging areas to return to along the way so I’m setting myself up for a quick reference guide in the future.

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I do fear that my book will look like this when I’m done with it. Hopefully, I can tone it down.

Anyway, although I’m not done with it yet, I have enjoyed my educational, but slow, journey so far. I look forward to getting through more of it as I move along!

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Teaching Methods Checklist

Our society is placing more and more emphasis on using research to inform the day-to-day functioning of real life. As a self-identified researcher, I’m biased; yet, nevertheless, I applaud this movement. There are other reasons for my appreciation, but one of the most important is that it makes us more effective in all areas, including our teaching. And, one of the simplest (life is complicated enough!) and diverse (got to keep it interesting!) ways to make sure teaching is effective is to organize research-supported techniques into a simple checklist, a teaching methods checklist.

Although there are teaching methods checklists floating around the Internet (such as Checklist #1 and Checklist #2), I wasn’t able to find too many of them, especially those with citations from research to support the inclusion of each item onto the list. So, it may be best, at this time, to create your teaching methods checklist yourself, either as a teacher or a researcher. That way, you’ll know the research that supports each item and have the opportunity to tailor it to your own style. And, there are two broad ways to go about completing this task, targeting methods that are specific to your discipline or general to all teaching.

To locate materials that are specific to your discipline, try looking for information published in course textbooks, academic journals, conference presentations, etc within your field. For example, in psychology, the American Psychological Association has a specific division that is focused on teaching psychology (Society for the Teaching of Psychology, Division 2). Their website and annual conference are great resources for locating materials to include in a teaching methods checklist. They even have a journal dedicated to publishing applicable information (i.e., Teaching of Psychology). As another example, I’ve recently become a fan of open access textbooks. In my favorite so far, an instructor’s manual is also provided. It’s massive, with several guidelines and activities provided for each chapter. And, out of the ones I have read, they are based in work published in academic journals, meaning (hopefully) they have research supporting their practice. But, other textbooks, open access or not, frequently provide ideas for techniques to implement in the classroom if you can get the instructor’s copy. Additional effort may have to be undertaken to ensure the technique is supported by research, if such is available, but at least the idea can be sparked!

However, if discipline-specific techniques are difficult to locate, general teaching resources may be of assistance. Like before, try academic journals (e.g., Higher Education), available books, or even your university’s faculty resource center. Or, the easiest place to start is probably within the material from this class. For example, just look at the other methods listed on the sheet passed around our class for this blog post. They are limited to assessment techniques per the assignment, but those are an important part of teaching techniques. Or, for a broader teaching methods checklist, adapt the books we have read/are reading. Bain (2004) can provide recommendations on how to interact with students. Obviously, Barkley (2009) can provide recommendations on how to engage students. Nilson (2010) can provide recommendations on how to set up a course. And, Angelo and Cross (1993) can provide recommendation on how to use assessment techniques. Of course, much more information is provided in these texts, but I hope the gist is clear. Use general resources, inside or outside of this class, to create a teaching methods checklist.

As soon as the hard work is done and the checklist is created, it’s easy. Simply observe and check which of the list has been accomplished, whether it be in your own course or another course you are evaluating. Or, maybe even better, jot down a few things about the implementation (e.g., reactions of students, ease of use) to give yourself a little field research to update your list as you go along.

In all, teaching checklists are easy ways to keep teaching methods up-to-date in effectiveness. And, for a bonus, if used correctly, they can be included as evidence for a tenure review or other promotion!

Hope you enjoyed the quick overview of this method! Until next time – bye!

P.S. If anyone is interested, as this class has shown me that psychology is quite prevalent in other fields, the open access textbook and its associated instructor’s manual I referenced is found at: nobaproject.com (if you want the instructor’s manual, you must register on the website as an instructor – it’s not difficult, no pro of required).

P.S.S. My apologies for the lateness of this assignment. I was reading the old version of the syllabus, thinking that our final project proposal was due this past weekend, not this one.