From: Trav Johnson
Date: Apr 28 2006 - 4:54pm
Let me take a little different approach to one part of this discussion. I know what I am about to say is implied in some of the previous comments by others, but I think it is useful to make it explicit.
Both the design of a course and the characteristics/actions of the teacher are obviously important, but neither is the primary focus of what we really want to know. First and foremost, we want students to learn that which is important and relevant (we could spend all day discussing what important and relevant might be, but suspend this discussion for now). We know from research and learning theories that students learn by doing, by being engaged in the learning process. So we are not so concerned with course design and what teachers do per se, only that these facilitate what students do to learn —think of Barr and Tagg's article "From Teaching to Learning,” and Dee Fink’s book “Creating Significant Learning Experiences.”
Course design and teacher performance are means to an end. What we want to see are course designs that require students to engage in significant learning. We want to see instructors who effectively engage students in the learning process. So my suggestion is that we think of a “student engagement” test. We want students to do what it takes for them to learn significant concepts, skills, etc.; so the focus of evaluation is on course designs and instructors that best facilitate and support student engagement in significant learning.
So if instructors are completely interchangeable, we may wonder what value the instructor adds to student engagement in learning in a course. If student engagement is dependent purely on the instructor teaching the course, we might wonder what is wrong with the course design. By the way, my experience is that a well-designed course that engages students in meaningful learning can go a long way to compensate for *almost* any teacher deficiencies, i.e., the course can be adequate or even very good. On the other hand, course design alone will seldom make a course outstanding. The amazing courses I sometimes hear about (i.e., those that have life-changing effects on many students) always seem to have an exceptional teacher (in addition to good course design).
Trav D. Johnson, Asst. Director
BYU Faculty Center, 4450 WSC