Teaching is defined as a web of communications, activities and beliefs within an academic environment where there is a complex set of expectations, tasks and communications.
Educational theorists cite a wide cross section of teacher demographics; ranging from age, gender, family, full-time roles, part-time posts, senior and junior positions, full academic contracts or teaching in a specified field. The locality of the teacher includes the state, institution and department in which they work.
Teaching practices in higher education can be categorized into familiar techniques. For example, lecture, classroom discussions, workshop, team teaching/learning, small group, laboratory classroom, case, tutorials and field trips. These methods adopted by higher education teachers are likely to be influenced by underlying social, environmental, philosophic or psychological factors and orientations. Role models the teacher has been exposed to over their educational and teaching career could also influence methods of instruction, both positive and negative.
Shulman & Richert (1987) propose that effective teaching requires a wide knowledge base that can be broken down into several main categories. University professors generally do not receive formal preparation for their teaching position. It appears that they gain beliefs and knowledge about good pedagogy through trial-and-error in their work, reflection on student feedback and self-evaluation. Hativa (1997) suggests that, to a lesser extent, professors learn from their own experiences of being taught, while studying.
Higher education teachers may experience various roles, responsibilities and structural conditions depending on their demographics. For example, they could face pressure to publish academic material, quality assurance procedures, marketization, grantsmanship, greater student diversity, larger classes, resource constrictions, proliferating behind the scenes work and intensification. Knight & Trowler (2000) argue that higher education teachers may have more fragmented disciplines than is sometimes assumed.
Cognitive psychology and college teaching are closely related. Cognitive psychology centers on valued goals within college-level instruction, such as self-awareness, self-regulation, problem solving and decision-making. This focus provides practical ways of thinking about learners and learning that appear to help many professors conceptualize their instruction in new and powerful ways. The association-behavioral perspectives take the concept of learning as the strengthening of associations between sensory impression and actions, stimuli and response, while the behavioral objectives concentrate on emphasizing behavioral outcomes.
Ovando (1989) observes that universities pay increasing attention to the quality of the pedagogy practiced within the teaching environment and how effectively professors are teaching. Researchers and educators are constantly looking for ways to increase their knowledge about teaching effectiveness. One way to understand teaching effectiveness is to look at how exemplary teachers think about teaching, their pedagogical knowledge and their instructional behaviors. By looking at these aspects, this information can be conveyed to less successful teachers.
Characteristics of exemplary teachers include high organization, carefully planned lessons, setting unambiguous goals and having high expectations of their students. A good teacher also provides regular progress reports to students, makes specific remediation and recommendations and assumes a major responsibility for student outcomes. Research by Hilgemann & Blodget (1991) cites a study of professors who treat students as individuals in the classroom, providing encouragement and challenging them intellectually. Active involvement of students in the learning process is another a key factor for successful student participation.
It appears there is a correlation between the student ratings of instruction and instructor personality traits. Studies show that students rated charismatic and expressive instructors as highly effective, regardless of the substantive content of a lecture. This could be due to more effective teaching that produces greater learning and higher evaluations by students; increased student satisfaction with higher grades causes them to reward their teacher with higher ratings independently of teacher effectiveness or greater learning; or initial differences in student characteristics that affect both teacher effectiveness and performance.
Higher education teachers hold various responsibilities within their roles, for example classroom management, textbook selection, testing and evaluation. Classroom management and organization can be divided into three basic roles - manager, communicator and overseer-monitor. Researchers believe that college teachers must develop a high degree of skill in each of these areas in order to become efficient and competent. Selection of textbooks requires the teacher to understand the advantages and disadvantages using these books, while ensuring the choice covers relevant themes in the module. Higher education teachers are involved in the planning and writing of a test, administering, scoring and returning the test.