Friday, July 19, 2019

Review: College Teaching At Its Best

College Teaching At Its Best College Teaching At Its Best by Chris Palmer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are several useful and helpful tips in Palmer's book. But overall, I didn't get a lot out of it. I've been teaching for nearly twenty years, so maybe I'm not the target audience. Some of this quite basic. It does seem geared a bit more towards a new college teacher, and it that regard it could be a good resource. Even with that caveat, the advice is a bit limited. It struck me as much more applicable to one who is a teaching at a more competitive or elite school with classes of 25-30 relatively well-prepared students. There is a chapter on teaching large lecture classes and there is some helpful items here. But this brings me to my other concern: much of this is overly idealistic. The techniques and advice often require a lot of time, effort, and resources from the instructor to implement, manage, and maintain. (Here's a simple example: he suggests meeting with all your students within the first two weeks of the semester. But with several hundred students each semester that's not realistic.)

The problem is not the extra effort(this is our job after all); the problem is that it ignores the reality that many if not most teachers at the college level are teaching 3 to 4 sections of large classes with little TA help, so they are already stretched thin. And there is little external incentive from the administration to do these things--and in some cases, the implicit incentives are to do less, not more. Most university's give a lot of lip service to academic excellence but do little to actually support it (and some of the policies undermine it). The book doesn't seem to acknowledge this reality of teaching.

Another huge problem is that there is nothing in the book about online or even hybrid teaching. This gaping lack is egregious as most universities have more and more teaching online--where the challenges are different and much of the advice in this book is irrelevant.

On the plus side, the book is clear and concisely written. It is easy to read over a weekend, so if you are teacher and want to improve(or are new), I'd cautiously recommend it. Some of the tidbits might speak to you and help you out. I certainly picked up a few things that I'll add to my repertoire.

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