Learning to Teach

Article excerpt


Striking the right balance between research and teaching just might be possible-if we teach the teachers how to teach before they become professors. If new assistant professors have had that experience, they will do a better job and have more time to devote to research. The ideal training time is during the doctoral program, but it's never too late to become a better teacher.

For graduate students, the training should begin when they are teaching assistants (TAs). Schools should strive to make this an effective learning experience for the TA by requiring an ongoing seminar and encouraging discussions of teaching with the professor in charge.

A more thorough approach is a class on teaching that covers a variety of methods, including testing and grading procedures and learning theories. Such a course can provide the background for conducting educational research in engineering education (see a description of my course on educational methods in engineering at ).

Additionally, a teaching practicum can be made available for interested Ph.D. candidates who want to be student teachers, receiving supervision and frequent feedback on their teaching from an experienced professor.

Most professors have not had the opportunity for any kind of instruction in pedagogy. They probably learned to teach through on-the-job training, which provides practical knowhow but does not build the theoretical background required to become a professional teacher. On-the-job training is the most effective when the teacher reflects on the experience after each class, asks for feedback from students, and discusses teaching with colleagues. Other methods include:

Attending teaching workshops. Though they do not provide as strong a background in pedagogy as a formal course, workshops are good for motivation and learning specific techniques. Examples are the National Effective Teaching Institute connected to ASEE's annual conferences, NSF summer workshops, workshops at professional society meetings, and internally sponsored university workshops. Workshops can help professors learn techniques, such as cooperative learning and computer applications in teaching, that they missed out on as undergraduates. These kinds of sessions can help professors adapt to new teaching methods.

Going to teaching symposia and listening to papers that are presented. …