CL1 - FAQs: "Are there risks with CL?"













"Are there risks with CL?"

At many institutions, there are barriers and risks associated with changing one's teaching. These can arise from the institution, the instructor's or his/her colleagues' concerns, or from students.

Institutional structures may de-value teaching and teaching innovations. A clear message is sent by the institution if research excellence is recognized and rewarded while teaching excellence is not. It was noted that, "The language of the academy is revealing: Professors speak of teaching loads and research opportunities, never the reverse." (American Association of Colleges, 1985).

Institutions can be unclear about their teaching expectations. Teaching excellence is always expected and often stated in the institution's mission statement but what this means may not be articulated. This may leave an instructor uncertain and convince them that the traditional approach satisfies teaching excellence since it is found throughout the institution. Even when an institution creates an environment that encourages and embraces teaching innovation, instructors may encounter resistance.

Instructors accept the traditional teaching style often because they were taught this way, their friends teach this way, and they're comfortable with this style. Instructors may feel they teach well and their students learn, so why change. When asked to rate their own teaching, nearly all teachers at 24 campuses surveyed felt their teaching was "superior" (20 to 30%), "above average" (58 to 72%), or "average" (7 to 14%). This may be the academic version of the "Lake Wobegon Effect", Garrison Keillor's fictional Minnesota town where all students are above average (Bonwell and Eison, 1991).

Instructors may not feel they are in control when the class uses collaborative learning structures. In a traditional class, the person in control is the instructor. In a student-centered course, the person in charge may not always be apparent to the casual observer or colleague. This in turn raises concerns that colleagues may view this negatively and ultimately impact promotions and/or tenure. Many instructors also express concern about covering the content, large lecture sections, few resources, and other logistical issues. Even if the institution supports academic innovation and the instructor is "sold" on the idea of "more student-centered, active participation in class is better", the students themselves often resist this change.

Students resist change because they are familiar with the traditional teaching style which requires only a passive role. Students with busy schedules will resist a change to a student-centered model if this tends to increase their workload. The students' resistance may be loud, and may appear as complaints about the course, the group work, or the course content. They may wonder aloud what their tuition dollars are paying for if they are have to "teach themselves". End-of-the-semester evaluations which usually evaluate student feelings about the instructor rather than which techniques helped them learn, can be critical.

Here are a few suggestions to help bring students on board (Felder and Brent, 1996):

    All of us have listened to excellent lectures only to find that when you try the problems, you can't do them. Small group work in class will give you a head start on the homework problems.
    Breaking a lecture into smaller chunks helps you concentrate.
    If you ask any instructor when did they learn the material, the most common answer is after they taught it to someone.
    You'll participate in teams in the workplace, and companies are looking for individuals with teamwork skills.
Finally, it should be applauded that some institutional environments view teaching innovation as an opportunity rather than a nuisance. What is truly encouraging is at institutions where the climate for change is not favorable and teaching innovations still thrive.

American Association of Colleges, 1985. Integrity in the College Curriculum: A report to the academic community. Project on redefining the meaning and the purpose of baccalaureate degrees. Washington, D.C. ED 251 059 MF-01.

Blackburn, R. T., Pellino, G., Boberg, A., and O'Connell, C. (1980). "Are instructional improvements programs off-target?", Current Issues in Higher Education, 1, 32.

Bonwell, C. C., and Eison, J. A. (1991). "Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1)." Washington, DC: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

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