The dynamic environment of today’s university classroom brings together students who have varying degrees of familiarity with course content, who come from a range of backgrounds, and who possess different strengths and personalities.
At Bryant University, an institution known for its support of faculty innovation in teaching, faculty embrace new pedagogies and tools that address these challenges. As part of ongoing opportunities the University provides for faculty to iterate their teaching craft, a cohort of Bryant faculty attended a course at Harvard University’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning.
Bryant's goal: “To have faculty feel that they have a very rich toolbox of pedagogical techniques they can draw from.”
Designed for early-career professors as well as established professors, the course featured new and modern views on longstanding principles underlying learning, as discussed by thought leaders on teaching in higher education such as Robert A. Lue, Professor in Harvard’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and the Richard L. Menschel Faculty Director of the Bok Center.
“While there’s no right or wrong way to teach, the standard lecture has undergone many transformations in the educational literature, as researchers are constantly seeking out new ways to improve student learning in the classroom,” said Ed Kairiss, Director of Faculty Development and Innovation at Bryant. “Our goal with the course is to have faculty here feel that they have a very rich toolbox of pedagogical techniques they can draw from in any course that they teach.”
Assistant Professor of Finance Cathy Zheng, Ph.D., a course participant, said she was impressed with the evidence-based approach discussed in the course. “Many of the principles that were presented in the course are based on research — they discussed the science of how the student receives the knowledge and how it’s processed in their mind. It was very impressive.” She said she’s already implementing one of the principles, the so-called backward design principle, into one of her finance course this fall. This is where instructors design a course not by chapters but by starting with learning outcomes, and working “backwards,” building in lessons according to student needs.
Assistant Professor of Mathematics Son Nguyen, Ph.D., added, “Many times throughout this course, I re-thought my teaching philosophy. That’s because I was constantly in the role of a student trying to learn the material of the course. I’ve made changes to my syllabus, too, as a result.”
“At Bryant, we’re already creating a very effective teaching and learning environment," Kairiss says. "Classes are small; we have no teaching assistants; and faculty are very authoritative and knowledgeable in their fields. And we’re already using forward-looking practices, catalyzed by classroom designs as seen in our Quinlan/Brown Academic Innovation Center. But the course is a way for faculty to continue to broaden their tool belt with evidence-based approaches, which coincidentally, are a natural fit for what we’re already doing at Bryant.”