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Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning






Taylor & Francis

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We always tell our students that there are no shortcuts, that important ideas are nuanced, and that recognizing subtle distinctions is an essential critical-thinking skill. Mastery of a discipline, we know, requires careful study and necessarily slow, evolutionary changes in perspective. Then we look around for the latest promising trend in teaching and jump in with both feet, expecting it to transform our students, our courses, and our outcomes. Alternatively, we sniff disdainfully at the current educational fad and proudly stand by the instructional traditions of our disciplines or institutions, secure in our knowledge that the “tried and true” has a wisdom of its own. This reductive stance is a natural one. As university faculty who work within disciplines, we have each chosen a slice of human knowledge about which we are passionate, and we often settle on the most expedient (but sound) answer to the question of how to teach so that we can move on to the interesting issues and problems that led us to pursue academic careers in the first place. Further, the professional demands on us and the rewards for our work generally do not align with high levels of sustained effort invested in teaching. However, what we tell students about mastering our respective disciplines are the same truths that apply to finding effective instructional strategies: The devil is always in the details, and nuance is critical. Yet in our desire to do right by our students and still invest the bulk of our efforts in teaching content, we put our faith in over-simplified generalizations that never seem to realize the full benefits that they promise. There have been many sweeping statements made regarding the best ways to teach students in the 21st century. Two of the most au courant are “traditional lectures are ineffective” and “internet-based technologies help students learn.” There is empirical evidence to support the truth in each of these statements, true—but only if they meet specific parameters, which rarely carry over from their origins in educational research to guide their implementation in practice.