The collection of readings in Teaching College is designed for first-time or beginning college instructors. While the compilation is targeted to beginning instructors, even a veteran will recognize that much of what we know about effective teaching can be lost or overshadowed in the course of busy semesters with responsibilities well above and beyond the classes we teach. As the editors point out in the introduction, the essays focus on the most salient aspects of teaching that are important for all of us who provide instruction at the university level.
One of the effective characteristics of this collection is the brevity and specificity of individual essays, which allows the reader to scan the contents and select topics of interest quickly. Key topics include assessing and improving class participation, tackling student apathy and increasing student interest, teaching large classes and small seminars, improving lectures, and substituting group inquiry and discussion for lectures. The editors have grouped articles together under four main headings:
Section 1: So You're Going to Teach a College Course
Section 2: As You Plan for Your First Course
Section 3: As You Teach for the First Time
Section 4: Evaluating the Results of Your Teaching
The editors recommend not reading the book from cover to cover, but instead selecting articles relevant to immediate needs. Scanning the section introductions and essay titles is a good way to proceed. The articles cover many of the instructional activities required throughout the semester and provide suggestions on how to improve most of the elements fundamental to teaching at the university level.
The first two essays in the introductory section, "It's a Myth: Nobody Knows What Makes Good Teaching" (Weimer) and "It's a Myth: Good Teachers Are Born - Not Made" (Weimer) discuss characteristics commonly cited in the literature as attributes of effective teachers, e.g., enthusiasm, clarity, preparation, knowledge, etc. These short essays highlight the research on the qualities and character traits of effective teachers and describe how such traits often combine synergistically to create unique variations of style among teachers. Other essays in this section highlight the importance of the learning environment, the affective aspects of teaching, the creation of a community of learners, and students' rights and responsibilities.
In the second section, the underpinnings of effective teaching are highlighted in "Achieving Excellence: Advice to New Teachers" (Browne & Keeley). These include questioning techniques, teaching for comprehension and understanding rather than rote memory, and improving lectures and student evaluation forms. Other essays include "Syllabus Shares 'What the Teacher Wants'" (Altman), "The Textbook Selection Checklist" (Hemmings & Battersby), "Blackboards and Overheads" (Weimer), and "Meeting a Class for the First Time" (McKeachie). This last essay offers valuable suggestions about focusing on student concerns and setting the stage during the first class session. For new and experienced instructors alike, the author advises against just handing out the syllabus and letting it go at that, suggesting that this "does not convey the idea that class time is valuable, nor does it capitalize on the fact that first day excitement can be constructive" (p. 51).
Section Three contains probably the most useful articles for teachers who already have a semester or more under their belts, as the authors share experiences and insights about classroom pedagogy and increasing student learning. Cashin offers wonderfully concrete, detailed suggestions for improving lectures, including how to prepare, present, and stimulate using this teaching approach. Weaver also tackles the time-honored lecture method and offers a formula for success. Stasz's analogy of effective lecturing as it relates to birdwatching is a refreshing take on the topic of active learning. Other issues covered in this section include teaching large classes, increasing student participation, and using humor and examples when teaching. It might have made for more enjoyable reading if the essay on humor had used more of it, or if the essay on creating examples had contained more than one, but overall this section of readings provides plenty for beginning and seasoned college instructors to consider.
Considering the current emphasis on assessment, the final section offers some valuable ideas about grading student work and assessing teaching performance. Several of the essays address the philosophy of assessment and testing, including grading, examinations, and classroom participation. The section ends with a framework presented by Weimer that advocates a proactive rather than reactive approach to improving teaching and offers systematic steps to this end.
Teaching College is a useful reference tool aimed at beginning teachers. The essays stimulate reflection and shed light on a number of relevant issues in college teaching, from teaching small seminars to creating multiple-choice tests. Although there are a few articles that do little to further the discourse on improving teaching and learning, most offer plenty of fodder for the new instructor to consider when teaching for the first time.