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Margin Notes

Taking stock of teaching and learning

New book calls for an evidence-based approach to finding what works and what doesn’t in the classroom.


Some of the most enthusiastic and committed professors I’ve ever met have been those involved in the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, the Canadian organization that promotes the improvement of teaching and learning in higher ed. The society’s annual meeting (this year being held June 23-26 in Toronto) always seems to have the happy vibe of a revivalist meeting of the true believers and recent converts.

I bring this up because several long-time STLHE participants, along with other international experts, have come together to write Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

The book is edited Julia Christensen Hughes and Joy Mighty, respectively past president and current president of the STLHE, and includes essays written by them and by other well-known Canadian experts, including Thomas Carey, Christopher Knapper and Alan Wright, to name a few.

This book is based upon a research symposium sponsored by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario and held in the spring of 2008. According to the council, the symposium “was based on the premise that, while much is known about student approaches to learning, and the relationship between how faculty teach and how students learn, common teaching practice does not reflect this knowledge.” Taking Stock, says the council, “attempts to redress this situation by calling for an evidence-based approach in our classrooms, and the wide-scale adoption of effective teaching practice.”

Among the book’s core findings:

  • There is a relationship between how faculty teach and how students learn. When faculty teach in traditional teacher-centred ways, students tend to adopt surface learning strategies.
  • There is also a relationship between how students learn and the learning outcomes they achieve. Surface learning strategies tend to result in a variety of learning deficits.
  • The majority of faculty continue to teach in traditional teacher-centred ways, resulting in system-wide learning deficits.
  • There is much faculty can do in support of student learning, from improving organization and communication in the traditional lecture to the adoption of non-traditional pedagogies and assessment techniques.

Those interested in improving their teaching may well wish to take a look at Taking Stock – and, by all means, to get involved in the STLHE.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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