So you want to improve your teaching? Here's how!

A good friend of mine will be teaching a brand new course at her new institution in the fall, and she emailed me for advice. I told her if she did these two things her teaching can’t help but get better:

1. Read

There are a lot of really smart and experienced people out there who have written good stuff about teaching. Some of it is hidden away in books we think we don’t have time for. There are blogs filled with smaller chunks of wisdom. Twitter is a great place to find links to useful articles. My advice is to look broadly for sources you like and return to them often. Don’t restrict yourself to the latest posts either–There’s gold in the back catalogs of many blogs. Here are my favorites:

  • Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed: If I could only read one blog, this would be it. Paul T. Corrigan and a few of his friends build a bridge between research on teaching/learning and the actual classroom.
  • Hack Education: Audrey Watters has interesting ideas and posts weekly roundups of what’s new in education and ed tech.
  • Brilliant or Insane: Mark Barnes and colleagues write about a broad range of education-related topics and while some articles really are insane, they all make you think.
  • doug–off the record: Doug Peterson is an opinionated university professor who posts links to lots of interesting articles as well as reports from his own classroom experiences.
  • Managing Learning Technology: Edward O’Neill is an instructional designer here at Yale who knows a lot and thinks deeply about learning.
  • ICT Evangelist: Mark Anderson teaches in the UK and loves to write about his experiences with technology in the classroom.
  • the red pincushion Amy Collier is the director of digital learning initiatives at Stanford. She writes about her life and its relationship to technology and teaching. I just wish she wrote more.
  • Yale Teaching Center Blog: I may be biased, but almost all the articles here give you excellent practical advice based on personal experience. You can tell the faculty and graduate students who write here take the job very seriously.

I don’t read a lot of books about teaching, but I do like these two quite a bit:

Teaching and Learning in Higher Ed. recommends what look like terrific books, though I haven’t actually ready any of them yet:

2. Experiment

By far the biggest benefit of doing all this reading is getting ideas for things to try in the classroom. These range from new kinds of exercises to better assessment methods to knowing when to keep my mouth shut and let students figure it out on their own. Teaching is a little like painting–There are lots of techniques, but everyone has their own style that works for them.

If you don’t actually try some of these ideas you read about (or invent on your own), you can’t get better. Some things will work–Keep using these. Some won’t work–Modify them and try them again or cast them aside.

Very few people can just walk into a classroom and teach a great class the first time. In the early 1990’s an economics professor I know taught his first class. It was by all accounts mediocre. He worked hard and continually refined the class and by the time he got to UCLA, he had mastered his craft. Guido Imbenz was the best professor I had in graduate school. I have no doubt he is continuing to experiment in the classroom and is an even better teacher now.