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Expert seeks evidence-based education reforms

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Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2011 9:36 pm | Updated: 5:58 pm, Thu Jan 24, 2013.

Academics must make deliberate, data-driven efforts to improve the way they teach, according to Lee S. Shulman, president emeritus of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

“If we believe that evidence [that suggests many students learn little during their stay at college] is flawed, we must reply with more evidence,” he said Thursday, speaking at an academic symposium held to mark today’s inauguration of University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan.

Shulman recounted his experience in academia, where research seemed to be the mark by which professors were judged, with teaching merely a sidelight. Doing a good job of teaching was well and good, he said, but bringing in research grants was “ballyhooed.”

The system can and is changing, but professors must not be satisfied merely to improve themselves, he said.

“A research university cannot be a static institution,” he said. “It must be itself an ongoing experiment.”

In part, he said, that must spring from a recognition that the academy affects the world at large. With that action comes a responsibility to do it as well as possible, he said.

“That’s what people in professions, including the academic profession, do,” Shulman said. “We mess with the world.”

In the case of professors, he said, that means messing “with the minds and hearts of students.”

The selection of teaching methodology as the subject of the symposium marking Sullivan’s inauguration is a promising sign, he said.

“This is work that should not be done quietly and in secret,” Shulman said.

Shulman’s address kicked off a day of breakout sessions and roundtable discussions on topics ranging from improving teaching along the country’s education pipeline to innovative coursework to teaching about diversity. In all, a dozen sessions were expected to be held around Grounds.

Karen Knight, a health sciences librarian who sometimes teaches, said she enjoyed the presentation.

“Seeing [evidence] applied to the very work we do as educators maybe brings it full circle for me,” she said.

Ruth Dillon, a UVa library project specialist, said she is glad that Sullivan has put a focus on teaching and thinks many of the faculty and staff are proud of her work.

“She’s just reviving everything,” Dillon said.