I found Teaching at Its Best by Dr. Linda Nilson to be another great resource in preparation for college and university teaching. True to the book’s description, Teaching is “an essential toolbox of hundreds of practical teaching techniques, formats, classroom activities, and exercises, all which can be implemented immediately.”
In particular, I believe that the author set the right tone at the beginning of the book by stating well-researched principles about how people learn. Those include that people “learn when they are motivated to do so by the inspiration and enthusiasm of other people in their lives” (Feldman, 1998), they learn “when they are actively engaged in an activity, a life experience,” as well as when they “receive the material multiple times but in different ways,” and that people “learn better when the material evokes emotional and not just intellectual or physical involvement.” Keeping these principles in mind is of utmost importance, in my opinion, no matter what subject is being taught, despite differences in student body profile, and aside from whatever tools and/or technology is being used to convey the information.
Though the book contains a plethora of useful techniques and recommendations, I found the following the most interesting and impactful for what I would like to achieve with students:
- Writing Outcomes – Ensuring that an instructor has crafted a measureable statement of exactly what students should be able to do after completing the course, as well as criteria for assessing the performance (p 18)
- First Impressions – Laying out expectations, thinking about “class activities that model the level of student engagement you have in mind for the rest of the term” (p 45)
- Motivating Students – The text references Bandura’s Social Cognitive Model (p 54) which states that the more value students give to our learning material, relative to meeting other needs in life, the more motivated they will be to learn.” Nilson references giving students control and choice, which I strongly believe positively motivates students by allowing them to “buy into” the process and outcome.
- Teaching Methods – I found the list of teaching methods in Chapter 11 to be a solid resource for connecting methods with learning outcomes, including suggestions like role play, project based learning, case studies, and fieldwork (p 106-107).
- Experiential Learning – Taking the teaching methods concept further, Nilson expands upon how to successfully execute teaching methods like debates, panel discussions, press conferences, role playing, etc. I found this particularly valuable in that research documents that such experiential learning methods…ensure “higher student motivation, more learning at higher cognitive levels, greater appreciation of the subject matter…and longer retention of the material” (Berry, 2008).
While there are many positive sections of Nilson’s text, I do feel that the book was lacking in at least two areas: Formative feedback and online learning.
- Formative Feedback – While the text covered summative feedback in great detail, the book devoted less than a page to formative feedback. I believe that a chapter dedicated to formative feedback is in order – or at the very least, least several more pages of research and information about the benefit of providing students feedback about their work in progress. Doing so allows students time to think, rework, and correct any “missteps,” receive constructive criticism from the instructor, and have the opportunity to clarify points that were unclear, all which help maintain student engagement and motivation.
- Online learning – Although the text was written in 2010, I would have expected more of the information to focus on both face to face and online learning. While there is some mention of online coursework, more information on online techniques, formats, activities and exercises would certainly be of benefit to readers.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and will definitely keep it as a resource. I look forward to seeing what the fourth edition of the manual might include.