Monday, May 24, 2010

Why does no one care that professors aren't trained as instructors?

It has always seemed extremely odd and unacceptable to me that faculty members of most universities, while being experts in their areas of research, have not received even a single hour of training on how to be an effective educator. While such expert status may make someone the best person to teach a very specialized topics course on their research interests, how are they the most qualified people to teach introductory level, or even advanced undergraduate courses? One could argue that a student who has completed the course is equally qualified to teach it as the professor. Though the professor may know many more advanced topics, these rarely help in explaining basic principles; in fact, it may make them more convoluted.

Many parents are so interested in having these unqualified instructors that some universities have instituted policies to prevent graduate students from teaching classes. A graduate student who is interested in teaching would serve as a much better instructor than a "distinguished" faculty member who learned the material over 40 years ago, hasn't changed his teaching style to keep up with modern trends in education research and learning style evolution, and is frankly uninterested in teaching at all in this point in his career. It is unfortunate that parents don't consider these facts when deciding, especially so passionately, who should be teaching their student.

For any other job, training is an intensely integral part of the job. Pilots of airplanes must log thousands and thousands of hours before they are allowed to fly. There are even federal regulations to ensure that every airplane pilot is not only trained appropriately, but also can demonstrate that his training has resulted in him being an excellent pilot. However, for arguably the most important job, educating the next generation of the world, no one blinks an eye at the zero hours of training logged by the pilots of the classrooms.

My recommendation is a "basic training" for faculty. When any university hires a new faculty member, they should be required to attend a several week training program by a nationally standardized group. It is the responsibility of this group to have thorough training, practice, and examination programs in place to ensure new faculty are going to be effective educators. This initial training would be a massive step forward, but it cannot end here! Almost no certifications are a "get it once and have it for life" type of deal. Every 5 years, the faculty should be required to attend a 1-2 week "re-certification". The faculty training staff would be provided with the course reviews that the faculty member has gathered in the time since the last training session, and they would work together to address any issues that may have arisen, as well as introduce new technologies and methods that can (and usually should) be incorporated into the instruction.

It is a well known fact that there is much griping among students such as "All of my classes are terrible!" and "The professor just rambles at the blackboard!". With this type of faculty training system in place, there should be no way for these complaints to continue, making students happier, smarter, and much better engineers of tomorrow.


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