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Category: Evaluation and Feedback

The Future of Teaching
mid-semester feedback
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Peer Review. Two colleagues chatting.
Who knows what it might be? At this point no one can say for sure. However, it's a pretty good bet it won't be the same. Some scholars, Michael Wertheimer and William Woody among them, propose dramatic changes for the future professoriate. They base their predictions on the “radical technological and cultural transformation” currently underway. (p. 284) Their objective in proposing how a professor in the future might be teaching prompts this question: “How should today's faculty in psychology and across the university, intentionally develop new skills and approaches to fit the coming academic world?” (p. 284) In other words, the future is better-prepared for now than later. The sticking point, of course, is what the future will bring and that's what makes this article such a good one for discussion. Wertheimer and Woody start out with stark facts that do have clear implications for the future. Attitudes about a college education have changed. 75 percent of the public in the US sees college as unaffordable and 57 percent say it is not worth the cost, according research reports cited in the article. Other citations report that only 50 percent of recent grads think their degrees were worth the cost. How are faculty responding to these significant changes in attitudes about higher education? Or are the changes just being ignored? The article does an excellent job of highlighting teaching in the 20th century, starting with the lack of training to teach and this pithy query: “Does anyone really know how to teach someone to become an effective teacher?” (p. 285) There's also the teaching-research disconnect and resulting disparity between the two, amplified by how teaching effectiveness is assessed with student ratings. Institutions changed dramatically across the century so that by its end “many colleges and universities had. . .succumbed to a kind of business model. . .” (p. 286) Expectations grew that faculty scholars would “contribute” to the institution by securing external grants and contracts. Throughout the last century and continuing today, even with the “infusion of active strategies” the lecture prevails despite “slim at best” evidence that it effectively promotes learning. (p. 287) But not for long. These authors propose the lecture's demise. “The electronic revolution not only makes enormous amounts of unrelated information readily accessible to everyone and anyone; it is also radically altering what professors do.” (p. 289) MOOCs, which do have their problems, are precursors of what's to come, according to these authors. Brilliant lecturers will carry the load, teaching thousands with great economic efficiency. “Professors will no longer lecture but will conduct small seminars, engage in one-on-one apprenticeships and tutorial sessions, and facilitate informal or formal student-student interactions.” (p. 290) They also propose that teaching will become more evidence-based. They point to the “enormous literature” in various fields and on many topics related to learning. “There exists a myriad of published studies the results of which have not yet been responsibly translated into practical applications.” (p. 289) They claim that this work has started and is desperately needed for that time in the future when faculty will be teaching in small group settings that will make them more directly responsible for the learning experiences of students. These authors are not the first to prognosticate about the future, predict the demise of the lecture or propose a dramatically altered form of higher education. Some of those previous predications have come to pass; others have not. It's hard to argue with the points these authors make as to the financial unsustainability of the current model given what can be learned via technology at no or a fraction of the cost. In light of that, questions must be raised about the viability of physical campus locations. Those on the other side regularly remind that in democracies there's a need to educate the citizenry and teach critical thinking. Wertheimer and Woody contend teaching those skills has already been compromised across all levels of our educational system. What's most useful about a piece like this is the thinking and discussion it can provoke. It's a well-reasoned and referenced narrative, even if conclusions aren't accepted. Things will change. When and in what ways are not yet clear, but might become clearer if they were considered and discussed. There's no arguing that the best time to prepare for the future is today. Reference: Wertheimer, M. and Woody, W. (2017). The professoriate in the 21st century—with some speculation about impending changes. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 3 (4), 284-298.