Despite a commonly held notion to the contrary, teaching excellence can and does occur at a large research university.
At Virginia Tech, innovative and dynamic undergraduate instruction happens rather frequently--and in all academic disciplines and majors. To illustrate this, and to help other instructors benefit from the experiences of their teaching colleagues, a Virginia Tech professor and a graduate student have produced a collection of 39 essays that celebrates the joy of teaching.
The book, “Teaching Excellence at a Research-Centered University: Energy, Empathy, and Engagement in the Classroom” (Pearson Custom Publishing, 2007), was compiled and edited by E. Scott Geller, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Psychology in the College of Science, and Philip Lehman, a Ph.D. candidate mentored by Geller in the Clinical Psychology Program. In the book, various authors describe how teaching excellence can be achieved while facing the challenge of large classes and the demand to produce meaningful research and scholarship.
“Interestingly, several authors suggested that these challenges actually facilitate, rather than hinder, the learning experience,” said Geller. “They say professors sustain their passion for teaching though their own research and scholarship. The belief that effective teachers love to teach is pervasive throughout the book.”
All 39 contributors are members of Virginia Tech’s Academy of Teaching Excellence. Established in 1974, the academy is committed to enhancement of the educational environment, the highest standards of instruction, the pursuit of new forms and technologies of teaching, the continual evaluation of practices and standards of teaching effectiveness, and personal and organizational commitment to the importance of teaching in the research university.
Common to all essays in the book, Geller says, are the themes of energy, empathy, and engagement in one’s teaching.
“It is common sense to think that effective teachers are energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate, and the most effective teachers find ways to instill these attributes among their students. If you create an exciting and energetic classroom climate through dynamic and enlightening demonstrations, discussions and exchanges, the result will be inspiration, critical thinking and self-directed learning in our students.”
Geller also notes the importance of having empathy for students—from showing respect, kindness, and caring, to linking course material to relevant happenings in the students’ lives—is universal in quality teaching.
In their essays, several authors urge their fellow teachers to learn their students’ names, stay abreast of popular culture, and to update their presentations to reflect contemporary issues. The most effective teachers show sincere interest in their students, and in turn, the student show interest in the course.
“The third key theme, engagement, implies self-directed responsibility and commitment to a particular endeavor,” said Geller. “Several authors want students to attend class and study course material for more than just a grade. To achieve that, the best teachers strive to make their course meaningful and relevant to the student and employ techniques to activate sincere interest and critical thinking.”
Geller believes teachers at all levels of experience can benefit from the many years of teaching experiences reflected in the book. He also believes prospective students and their parents may have interest in the book when they inquire about the quality of teaching at Virginia Tech.
“Almost every author proclaims their love of university teaching,” Geller said. “I hope readers will be inspired by these testimonies of personal passion to share profound knowledge.”
The book may be purchased at campus book stores. All proceeds will benefit the Virginia Tech Academy of Teaching Excellence to support exemplary teaching at the university.