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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Evidence of Evidence-Based Teaching by Maryellen Weimer, PhD

Dr. Maryellen Weimer, professor emerita at Penn State Berks summarizes, "Evidence-based teaching seems like the new buzzword in higher education. The phrase appears to mean that we’ve identified and should be using those instructional practices shown empirically to enhance learning."

Photo: The Teaching Professor Blog

Sounds pretty straightforward, but there are lots of questions that haven’t yet been addressed, such as: How much evidence does there need to be to justify a particular strategy, action, or approach? Is one study enough? What about when the evidence is mixed—in some studies the results of a practice are positive and in others they aren’t? In research conducted in classrooms, instructional strategies aren’t used in isolation; they are done in combination with other things. Does that grouping influence how individual strategies function?

Questions like these should prompt more cautious use of the descriptor, but they don’t excuse us from considering the evidence and how it might be incorporated into the teaching-learning activities of our courses. I was impressed by a recent article in which three biologists describe how they created a classroom observation tool that identifies specific, evidence-based behaviors and practices. “PORTAAL [Practical Observation Rubric to Assess Active Learning] is one effort to create a tool that translates research-based best practices into explicit and approachable practices.” (p. 13)

The Teaching Professor Blog

The tool was designed to assess taped teaching samples, and that’s how the faculty research team used it (with interesting results, highlighted in the December issue of The Teaching Professor). I think the team’s effort to take research findings and translate them into concrete actions is especially commendable. It’s a challenging task given the diversity of research evidence, even in a single area. For example, there are multiple studies that attempt to identify what gets students offering better (more thoughtful, reasoned, higher order) answers. Some of the research has been done with students working in groups, some of it during whole class discussions, and lots in the context of clicker use. To use those findings, a specific yet broadly applicable action must be extracted. In this case, it’s pretty easy: students need time to think before they talk. That is straightforward; but imagine a diverse collection of studies exploring the role of feedback in skill development.
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Source: Faculty Focus