Improving Classroom Instruction through "Best-of-Class" Techniques

By Blackbourn, J. M.; Payne, James S. et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Improving Classroom Instruction through "Best-of-Class" Techniques


Blackbourn, J. M., Payne, James S., Burnham, Sonja, Elrod, Frank, Thomas, Conn, Journal of Instructional Psychology


This article provides a philosophical and a data-based perspective on instruction from a Total Quality position. The concept of "best of class" was employed initially to design instruction to meet and/or exceed student expectations. In addition, the concept of "ongoing customer feedback as the foundation of continuous improvement: was employed to validate the impact of instruction and indicate target areas for possible improvement. Improvement in student satisfaction was equated with suggested changes in the delivery of instruction. Summary and recommendations are provided.

The effects of W. Edwards Deming (1986), Joseph M. Juran (1964), Phillip B. Crosby (1989), and other TQM advocates are being realized around the globe in business, industry, government, health care, and recently education (Payne, Blackbourn, Cox, Kritsonis, Baum, & O'Neill, 1992; Petrini, 1991; Stanfel, 1997; Vinson, 1996). One of the interesting components of TQM deals with Best-of-Class.

Best-of-Class simply refers to applying ideas, advice and expertise from an established expert outside one's present domain or discipline. Examples of this concept might include an elevator manufacturer getting ideas for improving their invoicing procedures from an established banking firm, or a travel agency seeking advice on customer satisfaction from a well-known department store. What is being discovered is many times knowledge and skills transcend domains or disciplines and are applicable across traditional product and service lines. There is considerable overlap of specific procedures regardless of the business or service. Invoicing, billing, communicating, evaluating, inspecting, monitoring, strategic planning, etc., are functions that contain significant portions of autonomy, and to some degree, are applicable regardless of the specific business or service. These functions can even find application in esoteric fields such as Higher Education.

Every college and university is interested in improving instruction. Indeed, Deming (1992) has stated that quality in public education is critical to the proliferation of quality in business. Quality in public education is dependent on quality in higher education, especially in teacher preparation programs. However, Gunn (1993) states that educational leaders have failed to recognize that education is a system and the output (product) will not change until the system is changed.

The question of "what is quality instruction?" has multiple answers, depending on who is asked and the philosophy of the instructor. Most academic accrediting agencies require some type of course evaluation completed by students and subsequently the information from the students be used to improve the teaching. The idea of student feedback which ultimately leads to student satisfaction from improved instruction is akin to the focus on customer feedback found in business and industry leading to customer satisfaction or the exceeding of customer expectations (Blackbourn, Payne, & Hamson, 1997).

The purpose of this article is to suggest student evaluations of a course could be increased without changing the content by using Best-of-Class practices from theatre and stage. The counterpart from the entertainment field would be, how to stimulate positive audience reaction without the audience determining the music played, songs sung, or jokes told.

An orchestra conductor, a theatre director, and a professional comedian were consulted on how to increase the chances of getting a positive audience reaction (i.e., standing ovation or encore). Obviously, talented people, good material and excellent execution are critical components of such an activity. However, in addition to people, material, and performance, professional entertainers give quite a lot of thought to timing, pacing, and sequencing. Conceptually, it is important to gain audience attention, set the stage, create an expectation of excitement, and lead the audience through a series of activities (songs, jokes, lines, acts, numbers) that culminate into a climax or crescendo.

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