TO THE EDITOR:
On Sept. 27, in the article “I wrote this essay by hand,” columnist Kyle Hayden stated:
“No one stops to ask if the technics (sic) in the classroom are having an adverse effect on learning or if the speed of instruction is making the assignments feel more or less like ghosts passing through us rather than bits of useful material that stick.”
As a faculty member at Miami, I want to assure Mr. Hayden and all Miami Student readers that the vast majority of faculty and instructors are very concerned with student learning (far beyond getting “bits of useful material to stick”) and there are multiple processes in place to evaluate the effect of teaching on learning.
I assume you are aware that every class has a student evaluation where the student has the opportunity to rate the extent that the class affected their learning. In an annual review process, faculty, lecturers and instructors are evaluated on teaching (as well as research and service, depending on their rank).
If there are instances in which the student evaluations demonstrate, on average, that learning is not occurring, a plan is put into place to help that professor/lecturer/instructor to improve their teaching. If improvement is not made, then contracts are not renewed or tenure is not earned (which is the same as being fired). But this is not the only process in place for evaluating the relationship between teaching and learning.
All tenure track faculty must implement multiple forms of evaluation of their teaching. You may have experienced a Small Group Intervention Dialogue (SGID), in which someone from the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) comes into the classroom and asks the students (without the teacher present) what aspects of the class are (or are not) contributing to their learning. The CTE provides a detailed report to the teacher, presents the information in a one-on-one meeting and helps the teacher think about ways to improve their instruction.
Another form of teaching evaluation that many faculty implement is observation from someone at a higher faculty rank, who then provides feedback on what they are doing well and what needs improving.
Beyond these methods for evaluating the effect of teaching on learning, every B.S., B.A., Master’s and Ph.D. program has to provide an annual assessment and report documenting the extent that the students in the program are learning. If the results are poor or stagnant, then the program works at the departmental level to make improvements.
Additionally, every department has “Program Review” every few years. This is an extensive yearlong process evaluating the success of teaching, learning, scholarship and service at the department level. It concludes with a team of outside reviewers (faculty from the same discipline at another institution) spending 2-3 days gathering information from faculty and students and then providing a report detailing what is going well and which areas need improvement.
These processes are all designed to answer the question that Mr. Hayden claimed no one is asking.
Before closing, I would also like to provide an explanation for why faculty, lecturers and instructors often expect students to learn on their own outside of class via videos, readings or other means.
Mr. Hayden seems to think this is a bad thing, but there is a good educational reason for that expectation. In “Bloom’s Taxonomy,” a framework to understand lower and higher levels of learning, the lower levels are remembering and understanding, which teachers often expect students to do in preparation for the class.
If students spend time engaging in learning outside of the class (through videos, reading, note-taking and studying), they accomplish remembering and understanding so that class time can be spent with the teacher helping students engage in higher levels of learning such applying, analyzing, evaluating and synthesizing.
If students do not hold up their end of the learning process by doing the work outside of class, in-class learning must become reduced to those lower levels, which seems to be exactly what Mr. Hayden does not want. I hope this information clarifies the extent that faculty, lecturers and instructors go to in order to ensure students are receiving the best possible learning experience. When students contribute to the learning process in significant ways as well (which many Miami students do), then deep, meaningful learning can and does happen.
Assistant Professor, Student Affairs in Higher Education
Department of Educational Leadership