Good Practice: An NAS Series (2)

Feb 12, 2009 | 

Peter Wood

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Good Practice: An NAS Series (2)

Feb 12, 2009 | 

Peter Wood



What is the best way to teach a course? To organize a curriculum? To administer a college? To serve as a trustee? This is an open-ended series on good practices in higher education. We hope that this will draw diverse contributions from many readers. The only restrictions we put on this thread are (1) seriousness, and (2) positive proposals only. 

To submit your specific ideas of good practice in higher education, post here as a comment on this article or send an email to nasonweb@nas.org. Please give your remarks a title. 

Newest Contribution

2. Logic and Facts

        We need to teach logic.  We need to go away from rote memorization and indoctrination (for all kinds of reasons) and actually educate.  Yes it matters that the Constitution was written in 1787 and not 1987, I am not advocating leaving facts out of the curiculum.  Instead, I argue that students should be taught to use these facts toward an understanding of the larger concept.  A student should be able to give three reasons WHY it is relevant to note that the Constitution was written in 1787 and not 1987.

        Or not, as long as the student can defend that position with something more than an "I feel" discourse.

        Which, of course, means that the academy has to start tolerating diverse viewpoints.  Faculty have to stop grading students on their ability to parrot back the professor's personal views and start grading students on ther ability to reach an independent viewpoint on the subject and to present that in a logical manner, supported by things known as facts.

- Ed

 

Older Contributions

1. Exposition for All 

        It’s good practice to include some of kind of graded expository work in every course. Where written essays are appropriate, as in most science, engineering, and mathematics, exposition can take other forms, such as poster talks or video presentations.   We think students benefit profoundly from having to think about the subjects they study from the point of view of how they can effectively communicate what they know to others. A college that treats expository communication seriously as an across-the-curriculum priority, assumes the burden of teaching students to write and speak well, and also to make good use of visual media. 

        There are difficulties in accomplishing this, not least of which are the students’ overestimation of their abilities. To build exposition into the whole curriculum requires making sure that freshman English breaks down the unearned self-esteem with which most college freshmen come equipped by virtue of years of flattery. Learning to write well is the foundational skill of all higher education.  

        Another complication is that the popular pedagogies of writing instruction provide little help with the spoken word. Writing instructors often resist taking on this added burden, and many aren’t prepared to teach in this area anyway.   So colleges need to figure out how to build this fundamental skill into the freshman curriculum too. 

        And yet another complication is that faculty members who teach other subjects in which exposition has played only a small role or no role in the past need help in adding this dimension to their own courses—help both in figuring out how to make it a constructive part of their teaching and how to grade it. 

- Peter Wood

Original Story

What is the best way to teach a course? To organize a curriculum? To administer a college? To serve as a trustee? 

                There probably is no single best way. Different subjects and different contexts require different approaches. Yet among the alternatives, some are surely better than others.

                Today on nas.org we begin an open-ended series on good practices in higher education. We hope that this will draw contributions from many readers. And we don’t mind at all if recommendations sometimes contradict each other. 

                The only restrictions we put on this thread are (1) seriousness, and (2) positive proposals only.   We have plenty of space elsewhere for saying what is wrong in higher education. This is a space for concrete ideas about how to do things better.

                Tell us your specific ideas of good practice in higher education. Submit remarks here as a comment on this article or in an email to nasonweb@nas.org.

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