Techniques of Teaching


When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. --Author Unknown

Techniques of teaching, also termed pedagogy, have been under development for generations. With the rise of the education major and its intensive, near exhaustive analysis of methods appropriate to good teaching, it can be assumed that the subject has been carefully scrutinized. Popular forms of pedagogy have emerged, samples include:

The Carrot and Stick Approach: Free lance writer Lisa Birk in her article entitled: Grade Inflation: Whats Really Behind All Those As (Harvard Education Letter, January/February 2000) relates information from a 1997 survey by H. Parker Blount of Georgia State University. Quoting: For 86% of the teachers questioned, student effort was a factor in their grading. Eighty-two percent said they used grades to motivate students. Noted education writer Alfie Kohn speaks repeatedly of this approach to teaching together with its negative consequences.

The Rise of Pandering: Pandering to students is now an established form of pedagogy in higher education. Many approaches are possible depending on the level of creativity adopted. Dumbing down is one of the earlier and has been the subject as well as the title of a book discussing the issue. Spoon feeding is another (and we thought spoon feeding was for babies). Dumbing down can be coupled to spoon feeding to produce a double whammy. Feeding students actual food is still another technique. For example, instructors bring pizza to an evening class, and everyone sits and talks having a good time. Hosing the students follows a more involved approach. Faculty dumb down course content until SET data are collected then suddenly up the ante. Care must be taken not to acquire a reputation for this sort of thing. Students now post comments over the internet.

Stripping in Public: On the humorous, but none-the-less real side, the following account is taken from the April 12, 2002 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. At Cornell University a nutrition professor begins the class fully clothed, then takes off his shoes, pants, and shirt. He sprints around the auditorium in tiny running shorts to explain, huffing and puffing, how his body is using energy. The Chronicle calls him a talented teacher. Others might say exhibitionist.

The Fox Effect: Sometimes called Educational Seduction, The Fox Effect takes its name from Dr. Myron Fox who once gave a lecture entitled: Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education. Although the title is impressive, Dr. Fox was a doctor of nothing. He was a paid professional actor hired to present a content-free lecture peppered with double talk and contradictions. Professional actor Fox was a gifted entertainer who received accolades from the audience for an informative talk.

Pedegogical Research: The Fox Effect sparked interest in research which attempted to quantify various aspects of this phenomenon. Research confirmed that audiences do respond positively to engaging presentations.

The Williams - Ceci Experiment: described by Valen Johnson, Grade Inflation A Crisis in College Education, Springer, 2003. Dr. Ceci taught Developmental Psychology. In back-to-back semesters, he put the Fox Effect to the test. All aspects of the course remained identical except the addition of lively and entertaining presentations in the spring. Spring-semester students responded positively, demonstrating, from a student perspective, a much improved learning experience. However, exam scores did not support student opinion. No increase in actual learning occurred. Educational researchers then weighed in stating that nothing new had been discovered. They already knew that entertaining lectures lead to a higher level of student satisfaction. Johnson calls the situation "scandalous." Reprinted by permission.

Edutainment: The Fox Effect has morphed into Edutainment. Edutainment is not as obivous as the Fox Effect in that it does present content, although watered down, which conveys the perception that students are engaged in important learning activities. Edutainment combines watered-down content with lively classroom presentations which, taken together, are a sure-fire way to obtain high ratings on Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) forms. Administrators are pleased with high SET scores.

The U.S. Department of Educations View: In summary, we have found that rigorous research indicates that verbal ability and content knowledge are the most important attributes of highly qualified teachers. (Taken from the departments report A Message from the Secretary of Education, released 2002.)