Teaching Well: Do You Have to Be Schizophrenic?

By James L. Bess
Review of Higher Education: 22(1), 1-15, 1998 (available on-line)

Reviewed by L. E. Olson

This article takes a critical look at how faculty, considered as individuals and as a collective body, carry out the responsibility for teaching, where teaching is defined as the transmission of knowledge. The transmission of knowledge is conceived as "the delivery of discrete, uniquely packaged clusters of information to students for the purpose of effecting a change in their cognitive state." The thesis is that teaching has increased in complexity, due in part to changing technologies, and that not every faculty member will have the interest or motivation to become expert in all of the various teaching tasks associated with the increased complexity. The author proposes breaking the teaching process into sub-parts and taking a "team teaching" approach, where each team member uses his or her expertise in one of the sub-parts to create, then transmit the knowledge.

Knowledge transmission is considered to require four related skill sets; research, pedagogy, delivery, and evaluation.

  • Research requires exploring the limits of knowledge in a discipline through library or laboratory work.
  • Pedagogy is taking this knowledge, organizing it and packaging it in technologically-appropriate, presentation-ready units that are accessible to students. This requires articulating learning objectives, matching the level to knowledge to the readiness of the students, and sequencing the materials within a curriculum.
  • Delivery is the face-to-face interaction between the faculty member and the student. The author distinguishes between two styles, each requiring a different type of personality/expertise;
    • the classical lecture, which requires presentation skills such as reading the auditory and visual cues from the audience, story-telling, and creating moods, much like an actor; and
    • the group discussion, which requires the skills of a psychologist to manage the "dynamics of group process", which include leadership and establishing group norms and culture.
  • Evaluation is the final sub-role, which involves closing the loop by providing feedback to the student, and perhaps other faculty, regarding learning. Excellence in evaluation requires good observation, measurement, and analysis skills, the ability to compare desired results with achieved results and to decipher any discrepancy between the two, and the ability to be critical in a way that is constructive and growth-promoting.

The author argues that each of these sub-roles requires a different set of skills, interests, and abilities, yet typical faculty career tracks only prepare future faculty for research. He proposes that institutions think about more efficient and effective use of faculty with exceptional skills in one or the other sub-roles by incorporating them in teaching teams, and configuring the faculty reward system to recognize their excellence in these sub-roles. He concludes that "The current practice of leaving self-serving faculty to their own parochial interests has long been lamented for its resulting isolation and insularity. While the essence of professionalism demands individual autonomy, the improvement of teaching effectiveness amid the complexity of new technologies requires that autonomy be set in the context of group efforts that will encourage a new sense of collegiality."

My interest in this paper was not so much the concluding proposal, but rather the insight gained from thinking about teaching as more than the knowledge-base of a faculty member. It also provides food for thought as we continue our discussions on how to evaluate teachings for formative and summative purposes.