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Are our best teachers rewarded?

Remake higher education to focus on classroom leaders

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Remember your favorite professor, minus the topic?  Easy, right.  
Remember your favorite class, minus the professor? Little harder.

As much as we praise "innovation in higher education", we cannot forget that the bulk of the work in classrooms is done by human beings, instructors who labor under conditions that work against the basic concept of quality in education.

Graduate students who are given scanty training on how to teach, often little more than a few hours on how to avoid the worst of harassment claims.
Adjuncts who earn a less-than-minimum-wage salary patching together four or five different classes at multiple campuses, with little say in the design of their courses or the direction of the institution.
Tenured professors who achieved their status on research rather than teaching, and who regard the classroom as a distraction from their true work.

The simple fact is that the human element is consistently ignored in innovation, when it is those human connections that are the irreplaceable value added of higher education, as opposed to independently reading textbooks.  How can institutions encourage, rather than discourage, excellence in teaching.

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Michael Burnam-Fink, PhD, is a graduate of the School for the Future of Innovation and Society at Arizona State University. His dissertation, "Making Better Students: ADHD and the Biopolitics of Stimulant Medication" explored the history and causes of the use of Adderall, Ritalin, and similar drugs by college students to study, and what it means for the future of humanity. Michael currently is a consulting sociologist of science.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

What can we do to give instructors the opportunity to improve their skills, and to make good college level teaching rewarded?


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Photo of Rana Chakrabarti

Hi Michael,

Kate Rushton  pointed me to your post. Thanks Kate !

We're working on the prototype of the @The Cookbook - meant to make it easier for educators to introduce design-doing into the classroom. A side effect of design-led classes is high engagement by students. It's the real-world problem solving that gets them excited. Do take a look. Happy to continue conversing if it interests you. Link :


Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Michael!

Have you seen this article in TES?
Even top teachers ‘not recognised or compensated’, warns research
Research-intensive universities may not be matching rhetoric with actions on teaching support

Photo of Lucy Chen

This is a short warm video that might interest you! Michael

Photo of Tyler Hughes

Great input Michael! I've seen many different higher education solutions involving online portals, diverse syllabus, and different learning exercises, but all of these solutions stem from a the university facility.  We need engaging professors with a tantalizing energy to teach and inspire our students. This is difficult to obtain if our most promising professor don't feel appreciated or can't afford the lifestyle. Maybe, there should be a university program that promotes teachers that experiment with the traditional teaching method. What type of ideas would you suggest? 

Photo of Max Noble

I have also noticed that many new education systems are growing around great teachers. We should be supporting the 10% and firing the the bottom 10% (haha)

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Michael.  Thanks for sharing!
I wonder, in addition to  " Teacher of the Year Awards" or "Rate My Teacher" online, what if students were asked to reflect on what they learned and observed from their professor about teaching?  Positive comments might be shared with professors, and students, particularly those who go on to higher degrees and might be asked to teach as grad students, might begin to acquire knowledge about teaching through this reflection?  Not sure if this makes sense.  Just trying to think of different ways for teachers to be rewarded and for students to benefit further from their experiences. 

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Congrats on this being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Michael!

Thank you for your post. Lots of interesting questions there!

Can they learn from the work of higher education advisors e.g. Appreciative Education mentioned by Sarah in her post on Appreciating the Process - ?

Can they learn from the innovations at K-12 e.g. Aven Zitzelberger mum (a Chemistry teacher) mentioned in Flipping the Modeling Instruction Classroom - ?

What do you think of Rate My Professor -

This is something that has just popped into my head. Could Universities pay for academics who teach amazing classes at other institutions to teach one-off classes at their faculties either in person, online or via live streaming?

Photo of Michael

You're right that there's a lot there.

I can analyze at least 4 distinct questions

1) How do people learn, particularly college students in collegiate settings?
2) What activities best help learning? I've definitely seen more than my share of confusing readings, sloggy class discussion, and pointless term papers, and things like flipped classrooms can help, but I'd be cautious about over-committing. I've seen pointless and confusing 'hands-on' practice as well.
3) What kinds of PEOPLE facilitate learning, and in what contexts.  Appreciative Education can help, but why is this pushed off on to another layer of administrators rather than dedicated, long-term professionals.  Similarly, why do we believe that we can buy and sell teaching talent like beans?
4) What kinds of institutions, patterns of life and career expectations, support people who are able to lead good classroom activities.

RateMyProfessor is a fascinating platform. Students have a pretty good sense of who knows how to teach and not, although there is a bias towards "easy A" classes, rather than anything actually challenging.  Most colleges have official teaching evaluations as well, although the questions are terribly designed.  It continually astounds me that places full of sociologists and Ed.Ds can't manage to put together a survey that actually matches any sort of research objective into who their best teachers are, and why they're better than average.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Michael, thanks for the post! Any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story. You should be able to use the Edit Contribution button on the top of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO.