Spreading evidence-based practices through paired teaching

Sara Harris, University of British Columbia

At our research-intensive university, some new faculty members arrive enthusiastic about teaching. Even the keen ones, however, come with little training nor awareness about evidence-based teaching practices, let alone those specific to geoscience. To address the challenge of making research-based teaching more widespread in our geoscience department, we are experimenting with "paired-teaching".

In paired-teaching, a new instructor collaborates with a prior instructor in teaching an existing course that already incorporates research-based pedagogy. The new instructor experiences teaching using evidence-based pedagogies in a course where alignment of learning goals, activities, and assessments is already in place and is expected. They may design some new activities and assessments, but are not immediately responsible for the full course structure and materials. The idea is that learning to teach is just like learning other skills: you have to do it deliberately, make mistakes, reflect, and try again.

One advantage of the paired-teaching model is that the new instructor has support and feedback during this learning process. Another is that the prior instructor has an inquisitive and curious colleague asking about all aspects of the course. The ongoing conversation about pedagogical choices makes the prior instructor reflect on their own teaching practices–where are they clearly evidence-based, or not? A deliberate reflective piece facilitated by a 3rd party can help catalyze progress for both instructors. If informal faculty interactions are important for dissemination of teaching practices (e.g. Dancy et al., 2016), these semi-formal and frequent interactions in paired-teaching may be at least as effective.

Challenges in implementing paired-teaching include: buy-in from prospective faculty participants, made easier if they are brand new; buy-in from administrators in charge of teaching assignments and budget, since assigning two people to one class means there's likely a short-term hole somewhere else. However, if there are long-term benefits to a faculty member's career, both in their teaching effectiveness and time for research that they might otherwise have spent struggling with their teaching, then the upfront costs are minor.

Using this approach specifically in geoscience could be facilitated by the GER community with development of two particular items that emerged from the 2016 GER community survey:

  • A database of published surveys and instruments for GER
    • If the prior instructor knew about these and implemented validated assessment instruments regularly, this would be an excellent way to introduce new faculty to the idea of collecting evidence about their own students' learning early in their teaching career.
  • An annotated bibliography of "best practice" papers in GER.
    • In addition to (or instead of) annotations, if each best practice paper could be turned into a 2-page practical guide to implementation, with the key supporting data, that might be about the right length for people who are not going to read the full papers.
Widespread adoption of GER results by practitioners is likely to be slow. By implementing systematic teaching experiences, like paired-teaching, for new geoscience faculty (or pre-faculty), we may be able to speed the transition.

Dancy, M., C. Henderson, & C. Turpen, 2016. How faculty learn about and implement research-based instructional strategies: The case of Peer Instruction. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12, 010110.