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