Talking about teaching: sharing pedagogical knowledge
Posted by Melissa on April 28, 2012
Last week, Maryellen Weimer had a post about the tendency of faculty to share their pedagogical developments primarily through word of mouth. She discusses what she sees as the problems with this approach: dissemination is spotty, it doesn’t “establish the value or permanence of pedagogical knowledge”, and it doesn’t provide any peer review of the knowledge that is being disseminated (as publication in a journal would). It’s an interesting critique, and she has some valid points. While the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) has grown immensely in the past decade or two, and I appreciate the contributions that many are making in that field, as someone whose primarily scholarship is not in that area, I find I don’t have time to keep up on the SoTL literature. Heck, I can barely keep up on the condensed matter literature that is relevant to my research. Granted, I do peruse the physics education research articles that appear in American Journal of Physics, but unless I hear about a particular SoTL article via word of mouth (at an AAPT conference or through social media), I’m unlikely to read anything beyond AJP or The Physics Teacher.
I rely primarily on word of mouth to expand my teaching horizons, to get ideas for addressing pedagogical challenges, or to learn about the approaches others successfully use in their classrooms. Where do I turn to learn from and share ideas with colleagues? On campus, I find that many valuable conversations begin at the lunch time sessions that the Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching (LTC) organizes almost weekly. The aspect of LTC lunches I enjoy most is the opportunity to listen, learn, and share pedagogies across disciplinary boundaries. Classroom approaches that are taken for granted in one discipline can provide tantalizing new ways to engage students in another. Beyond campus, I find that national AAPT meetings and the local MAAPT meeting (just attended one today!) provide valuable venues for learning about how other physicists think about teaching. I particularly like that AAPT brings together physicists who teach in high schools, community colleges, undergraduate institutions, and research universities. There is a lot to learn by having conversations across different institutions and different types of institutions. Finally, I find on-line social media, and blogs in particular, to be a valuable way to learn, share, and start conversations. Although the comment section of this blog is rarely active, blog posts here have sparked a number of interesting off-line conversations about teaching and learning.
For me, it’s the concept of conversation that makes word of mouth pedagogy so valuable. No two teachers, no two classes, no two institutions are the same. Having conversations with other teachers allows more give and take, and an opportunity for tailoring the conversation and the pedagogy to one’s particular needs. Reading a journal article about teaching, although it may catch my interest, is much less likely to cause me to change what I do in the classroom than talking with another teacher. That teacher can describe how he or she changed his or her approach, acknowledging benefits and drawbacks, while at the same time defusing my concerns or addressing my uncertainties. A journal article can’t do that.
For those of you who are teachers, what do you think about the role of the oral tradition in sharing pedagogy? Are we doing a disservice to ourselves and our teaching by not reading and sharing more through the peer-reviewed SoTL literature?