All of the same principles of brain-friendly teaching apply to teaching college students and other adults as much as they apply to K-12 students. However, for years, the problem of NOT observing the principles had been more pervasive in some colleges than in others. Too frequently, there has been an emphasis on just lecturing and even on use of unqualified teaching assistants in a number of college programs. Fortunately, a growing number of colleges and universities are now beginning to focus very strongly on the quality of teaching. This article is intended to assist in that focusing.
Questions on Quality
Consider the difference between a "yes" answer or a "no" answer to each of the questions for a professor who teaches in a college or university:
1. Does my course have defined student performance objectives? 2. Does the course provide learning style and talent options for students? 3. Do I use formative assessment?
QUESTION #1. "Yes" means I can define clear expectations to students in advance, perhaps even giving them the gift of some clear standards or rubrics. "No" means that students can begin to play a wasteful and negative guessing game - - What will be on the final exam? Perhaps tuition should be refunded in the latter case!
QUESTION #2. "Yes" provides students with the gift of being able to use their special talents and backgrounds. "No" often means that everyone is expected to learn in the same way at the same rate, a pretense that human brains and backgrounds are all identical!
QUESTION #3. "Yes" represents teaching, helping students to learn (the basic job responsibility of a teacher). "No" can represent the I-lectured-you-failed-approach, an approach where the lecturer could be replaced with an audio or video tape recording!
Do the above points seem too blunt or harsh? Consider two events that this author actually experienced as a college student:
EVENT #1. I enrolled in a French course as a freshman without any K-12 background in French. I was also a visual learner, one who found visual materials very helpful to my learning. The instructor had just come to the United States from France, spoke English haltingly and depended solely on our using a text written in French for oral translations in class (primarily auditory learning). He was not interested in the different backgrounds of the students, some with two or more years of French in high school and some with no French background at all. I was lost and quickly transferred to a Spanish course where the instructor explored our backgrounds, provided many approaches to learning (magazines with pictures, films, in class role playing, etc.), and constantly checked on individual progress in order to give individualized assistance. I learned to love Spanish because of a teacher who used brain-friendly techniques.
EVENT #2. I enrolled in a computer programming course in which we learned to program in FORTRAN. The performance goal was to construct a program that worked. At the end of the course, we were sent to a centralized computer center which most of us had never visited before to test (pass or fail) our program. Each individual who had never been to the center "failed" since we were unable to enter our program in the computer with its card system. Of course, we had never been taught how to enter the data cards or even been told that we would have to do that. An undisclosed performance objective was used to determine final grades!
The details on using basic quality techniques to avoid negative events like those described above are described in other articles on the resource web site. Certainly many college teachers use the quality techniques in ways that promote great learning. The problem for colleges is to help all college teachers to do that. So let us look at a final recommendation.
A Final Recommendation
Every college or university that does not have a center or system for promoting quality in teaching should create such a center or system as a matter of basic responsibility to its customers. Such a center or system should:
1. Use research and faculty participation to define basic standards of teaching quality focused on brain-friendly teaching and constant improvement in learning.
2. Promote use and evaluation of the use of those standards with the help of both faculty members and students.
3. Establish faculty seminars and sharing programs to help professors and instructors and teaching assistants to implement and constantly improve the teaching standards. Again, the resource web site can be helpful here.
It is important that the system apply to all instructional departments and courses. Special attention should be given to preparing students to understand and assist with the process. Finally, of course, the use of teaching quality standards should be a major part of the learning in all teacher training programs.