Liberal Education Seminar

Catching Up to St. John’s

At St. John’s we have long believed that the classroom belongs to the students, that the learners own the discussion, and that the teacher is an experienced learner assisting less experienced learners.

Now it seems that many of our colleagues at other institutions are coming to this realization as well. A survey released by the Higher Education Research Institute last week shows that increasing numbers of college and university professors are trying to use discussion-based methods in their classrooms. Discussing the report, Dan Berrett wrote that the survey’s authors see in the data

[blockquote] widespread evidence of faculty members’ using teaching methods that demand more of students than the traditional lecture often does: More faculty members are using class discussions, relying on student inquiry to guide learning, and assigning group projects.[/blockquote]

Because the data is self-reported by professors, there seems to be some question about how much of a shift is actually occurring. Berrett reports that Maryellen Weimar, a professor emerita of teaching and learning at Pennsylvania University, has her doubts:

[blockquote] While she thinks there has been a shift in faculty members’ methods and attitudes, she cautioned that professors tend to respond optimistically to surveys about their teaching. “There’s a bit of tendency to report what they think they should be doing rather than what they’re actually doing,” she said.[/blockquote]

But even if the shift is small, St. John’s applauds it as a great good. We welcome every teacher who comes to see that the best teaching comes from getting out of the learner’s way. And we are always happy to share our more-than-three-quarters-of-a-century’s worth of experience.