In Their Own Words
Center for Effective Teaching and Learning
California State University, Los Angeles
Like most librarians, I am a generalist. We think broadly, even institutionally, to help people connect to information they need. When I transitioned into faculty development, I was surprised to find that the academy did not always share this broad approach with regard to teaching. I found that there was little consensus on the foundational practices, regardless of field, that constitute effective college instruction. The prevailing assumption was that instruction is discipline dependent.
But we now know so much more about learning and can see that good teaching practices—behaviors, really—are generalizable. For example, we know that people fundamentally learn the same way (Willingham, 2009) and that learning is modified by prior knowledge, beliefs, and emotions (National Research Council, 2000). At the California State University, Los Angeles, Center for Effective Teaching and Learning, our view—supported by the scholarship on teaching and learning—is that a body of evidence-based practices related to teaching behavior and student learning does exist and is applicable to any field.
Two years ago, Cal State LA was one of the first institutions to join as an ACUE founding partner. Together, we asked faculty from a wide range of disciplines what effective instruction looks like. We found common, discipline-agnostic teaching behaviors. These practices, supported by the literature on teaching, were included in ACUE’s course.
“This resource presents the right teaching behaviors and helps faculty change existing behaviors, in a collegial way, for the better.”
We helped ACUE develop its iterative course design in which faculty learn about and then implement techniques, reflect on their efforts within a community of peers, and then explore how to refine the approaches in the future. The design respects instructors’ expertise and prior knowledge and deepens their sense of self-efficacy. Built online and certified by Quality Matters, the course complements my center’s face-to-face offerings and allows me to reach many more instructors.
Effective teaching is critical to our students’ success, especially for our many first-generation learners. Our teaching center is making important contributions to Cal State LA’s strategic plan, and we’re seeing the results of our combined efforts. Our six-year graduation rate has increased from 34% to 46% (Brown & Kurzweil, 2017). In a recent study by The Equality of Opportunity Project (2017), Cal State LA was ranked first in the United States for upward mobility.
With ACUE, I am observing newly acquired practices during class visits that I help colleagues enhance through further consultation. This ACUE resource presents the right teaching behaviors and helps faculty change existing behaviors in a collegial way, for the better. Faculty from across campus—in public health and political science, from biology to communication and economics—are sharing: “I tried this, and it works.”
Reprinted with Permission from Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning