Sermon of the rocks


Claudia Khourey-Bowers, Tom Koballa

Professor Jones has taught in the geology department for 30 years. His notions of teaching and learning can be summarized in the saying, "I'm here to teach, and students are here to learn." His approach to teaching involves lecturing from the textbook that he authored. Lectures, for Dr. Jones, are not unlike a Sunday sermon. He talks and some students listen. Others sleep, read newspapers, and surf the Web. Student evaluation of his classes and teaching effectiveness are routinely low. The student evaluation results reveal that Dr. Jones presents only one side of seemingly controversial issues and discourages students from asking questions and presenting alternative perspectives during class. Further, he does not make himself available outside of class to speak with students about their concerns.

As a tenured professor, student evaluations have been of little concern to Dr. Jones until recently. His university's faculty council voted to initiate mandatory peer observations of all faculty members with low student evaluations and implementation of a professional development plan. Professor Jones has been assigned a peer mentor, Dr. Lisa Smith from the Department of Language and Literacy. After observing three lectures delivered by Dr. Jones over a period of two weeks, Dr. Smith meets with Dr. Jones to develop a professional development plan to help Dr. Jones improve his lectures and interactions with students. What might be addressed in the professional development plan? If you were Dr. Smith, what strategies would you use in your mentoring of Dr. Jones?


Jennifer Stempien, Kathie Owens

Solution: Converting the "Minister" from the Sermon

Background information/Questions that need to be considered:

  1. Does the instructor actually want to change his teaching practices? Is he willing to consider modifying his teaching practices on any level?
  2. Is the person resistant to change or resentful of perceived intrusion on his academic freedom to teach?
  3. Are there certain "pet peeves" that the instructor has year after year, (ex. students that come in late)?

If the person is changing because of the influence of the administration and not by their own intrinsic motivation:

  1. Start by introducing active teaching methods that could potentially reduce his "pet peeves" of teaching to demonstrate the benefit for him in incorporating active teaching methods.
  2. Suggest small changes to a traditional lecture format that will have a significant effect. For example, ask him to count to 20 to wait for students to respond to a question (increase wait time from 2 seconds to about 30). If the individual can see the benefit of incorporating small modifications to enhance teaching, he may later be willing to implement further modifications.
  3. Initiate bonding with an active learning proponent/practitioner from within the department.
  4. Present credibility of education methods. Present results from education research literature that support certain teaching methods such as interactive lecture methods and the influence of the affective domain.

More Responses

Written at the October 2007 POD workshop

  • Stealth approach to confronting the efficacy of his teaching (he is not coming willingly to us)
  • We'll deliberately focus our attention on the class dynamics-not a blame game.
Video tape the class as it is currently taught.
Ask to consider:
  • What are you doing to promote learning?
  • What are the learners doing?
  • What are they learning? How do you know?
Anticipating the difficulty of answering those:
  • We want to honor his classical style.
  • Appeal with a socratic method updated
  • Define: What are his learning objectives?
  • Minute papers
  • Think/Pair/Share
  • Making their thinking visible (above and beyond what he thinks)
Time dilemma: use his textbook to extend learning beyond the 4 walls.

Sermon of the rocks  

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