Almost 20 years ago, the emphasis in higher education shifted from teaching to learning. It wasn’t enough to just deliver lectures and grade exams. Administrators and faculty alike began looking closely at student achievement and graduation rates, particularly in hot-button areas such as STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“I got up, I talked at you, I gave you three exams, and boom, I’ve taught,” says Kim Eby, director of Mason’s Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence, of the way things used to be. “And that style of delivery does work for some students, but we know from cognitive science literature that getting students actively engaged is a critical component of student learning.”
The center provides professional development opportunities for Mason faculty and oversees the university’s teaching awards programs, so Eby and Joshua Eyler, the center’s associate director, have an insider’s view of what’s really going on in classrooms—and online—around the university.
“Teaching is a science,” says Eby. “You will try something, and it won’t work exactly as you had planned, so you will try to figure it out. There is a difference between ‘my’ teaching and what the students are learning, and there are all kinds of strategies for assessment.”
Some innovations are driven by a need, such as being able to move more students through core courses in a timely manner; others result from a faculty member’s desire to see better test scores and more students staying and succeeding in the major.
“Our faculty are spending a lot of energy, time, and thoughtfulness on what they are doing in the classroom—and our students recognize that,” she says.
In this feature, we look at a number of Mason professors and the different techniques they are using in the classroom.
Paige Wolf, School of Management
Amin Jazaeri, College of Science
Shahron Williams von Rooij, College of Education and Human Development
Susan Hirsch and Agnieszka Paczynska, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Jeff Offutt, Volgenau School of Engineering
Kevin McCabe, Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study and School of Law
Allison Frendak-Blume, School of Public Policy
Chris Totten, College of Visual and Performing Arts
Ali Weinstein, College of Health and Human Services
Mark Sample, College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Andy Brown, MFA ’02; James Greif, MPA ’07; and Buzz McClain, BA ’77, contributed to this story.