Taking Teaching Seriously: Meeting the Challenge of Instructional Improvement (review)
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The Journal of General Education 50.1 (2001) 75-80



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Book Review

Taking teaching seriously: Meeting the challenge of instructional improvement


M. B. Paulsen & K.A. Feldman (1995). Taking teaching seriously: Meeting the challenge of instructional improvement. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No.2. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development. 133 pp. $24.00 paperback.

The Paulsen & Feldman report, Taking Teaching Seriously, is a must read for those interested in strengthening the teaching culture and improving the instructional practices in our colleges and universities. The book will be of value to those who coordinate teaching or instructional improvement centers; department chairs and deans; all academic leaders who seek to support faculty in their efforts to improve their teaching; and researchers interested in faculty development, the instructional improvement process, and organizational change in higher education. This book does not consist of tips and tools for use by individual faculty to improve their teaching, such as Davis's Tools for Teaching (1993) or McKeachie's Teaching Tips (1994). Instead, this report summarizes what is known about the process of change in the instructional practices of faculty.

The central question for Paulsen & Feldman is: What have we learned about how faculty can be motivated to improve their teaching? To address this question, the authors organized and summarized a small mountain of empirical research, relevant theory, and lessons learned from the field. The framework that delimits and guides their review is Lewin's (1947) general theory of change in human systems, one comprised of three stages of change: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing. In this framework, two factors play a critical role in the instructional improvement process--the strength of the teaching culture of the institution and the nature of feedback to faculty about their instructional practices. Feedback contributes to all three stages of change: motivating faculty to [End Page 75] change ("unfreezing"), taking action ("changing"), and integrating and reconfirming the change ("refreezing").

The report's introduction is followed by sections on the teaching culture, sources of information feedback (including self-assessment, student assessment and feedback from colleagues, department chairs and consultants), and a special section on supporting instructional improvement among new and junior faculty. In each section, the authors summarize research that shows direct links with or implications for teaching and its improvement. The authors identify and describe relevant theory and promising programs initiated at a variety of colleges and universities. Most examples are drawn from four-year college or university settings.

A notable strength of the authors' approach is the importance given to the organizational culture within which the instructional improvement process is imbedded. The nature of that culture can serve to support or to impede efforts to improve instruction. The section on the teaching culture could stand alone as an excellent brief introduction to theory and research on organizational culture and the development of faculty culture in U.S. higher education. The authors describe eight characteristics of organizational cultures that are associated with the support of teaching and its improvement: commitment and support from high-level administrators; faculty involvement, shared values, and a sense of ownership; a broader definition of scholarship; a teaching demonstration or pedagogical colloquium as part of the faculty hiring process; frequent interaction, collaboration, and community among faculty; a faculty development program or campus teaching center; supportive and effective department chairs; and a connection between rigorous evaluation of teaching and decisions about tenure and promotion.

The next three sections summarize research findings and exemplary practices that use information feedback in the instructional improvement process. These sections explain a variety of approaches and programs that demonstrate a positive impact on teaching and its improvement. The first section on feedback, teacher as reflective practitioner, describes the process of "practice-centered inquiry" initiated by the faculty members that can range from observations and self-assessment of their own practices to the design and initiation of classroom research. The teaching [End Page 76] portfolio is identified as a powerful way for faculty to reflect on their own teaching, especially when combined...