Study our own teaching practice

Evaluating ourselves as teachers
One effective way to become a better instructor is to study our own teaching practice. This process of reflecting on one’s teaching is variously called self-study, practitioner research, teacher research, classroom action research, or lesson study among others.  What these all have in common is the systematic study of our practice with the intent to understand it better or improve it. Methods include close examination of the artifacts of teaching, of interactions with individuals with multiple perspectives on our practice, of collection of existing or new data, and using both qualitative and quantitative analysis.  Much of the literature in the area of teacher research or classroom action research is focused on helping K-12 teachers become better at teaching, but there are numerous university faculty members who are similarly engaged in reflective practice.

Assessing students to determine how we are teaching
Faculty members commonly evaluate student progress in a course, and reflect on ways course participants could be better students.  It is less common for faculty to reflect on student performance in a class and think about how they could be better teachers.  New faculty members have the opportunity to monitor and improve their teaching practice by looking to student data as a means of evaluating themselves as instructors. After grading student assignments, take the time to collate and analyze student performance on assignments, quizzes and tests, projects, and presentations to look for patterns, common errors, lack of clarity and strengths.  Use the findings to revise lessons, activities, course notes, and plans for upcoming class sessions or to reteach a concept that few students understand.

Other data sources
In addition to student assessment data, there are a number of things we can collect to study our practice more closely.  Video or audiotape a class you are teaching. Watch or listen to the class as an amazing way to learn more about the ways you connect with students.  Just as we analyze artifacts in other research settings, we can examine lesson plans, teaching notes, handouts, syllabi, assignments, assessments, images from the classroom, class participant interactions, or any other artifact of our teaching.  We might invite a peer to observe in a class and discuss what they saw with us afterward. Think about the many ways we express ourselves as instructors, and what we might collect in order to better understand how effective we are as teachers.

A systematic process
Practitioner research goes beyond merely “paying attention,” to developing a conscious and systematic means of collecting the data we need to both understand ourselves as teachers more fully, and notice our impact on student learning.  At the outset of a teaching term, if we take some time to reflect on what to collect and how to analyze it, we can continuously gather data, analyze it, and use the findings to modify our teaching to maximize student learning.  We are better able to make informed determinations about what new directions to take, and understand the impact on our students when we do make adjustments by documenting and reflecting on our teaching as the term unfolds.

Action Research

Physics Professor Tracks Action Research Results
Hansen, E. (2009). Inspired Learning and Teaching, Bringham Young University, Idaho
Professor Hansen experiments with small changes to his instructional assumptions and methods, and searches for data to determine if they led to instructional excellence.  

Transforming University Science Teaching Through Action Research
Gilmer, P. (2009). Science and Technology Education Library, Vol. 42
This text examines the use of collaborative learning and technology.

Doing Action Research in your Own Organization
Coghlan, D. & Brannick, T. (2005). Sage Publications, 2nd Ed.
Two business faculty from Dublin, Ireland describe the process, outline exercises illustrating steps of action research, and discuss challenges.

Improving Teaching through Classroom Action Research (CAR)
Mettetal, G. (2002-2003). The Professional & Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, Vol 14, No. 7.
Indiana University at South Bend
CAR is a way for instructors to discover what works best in their own classroom situation, thus allowing informed decisions about teaching.

Reflective Teaching Groups

Teaching Groups: An Emerging Practice
Schmidt, B. (2008). Inspired Learning and Teaching. Bringham Young University at Idaho
Groups of faculty meet regularly to discuss, improve, and reflect on their teaching with the intent of improving it.

Social-Cognitive Perspective

Artifacts of Knowledge and Practice in University Teaching and Learning
Ching, C.C., Levin, J.A. & Parisi, J. (2003), (AERA) presentation, American Educational Research Association
Research on teaching in learning spaces of university campuses is rare, and research on the spaces from a social-cognitive perspective is rarer.  This paper is an analysis of video cases of university teaching to examine how concrete and abstract artifacts are used to convey representations of expert knowledge.

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