- web services enabling students to use the Internet to control distant laboratory equipment in order to do experiments (iLabs).
- an interactive, visual approach to learning introductory physics (TEAL),
- a way to legally use video clips when discussing films online or doing student papers (XMAS),
- software for teaching computer science that involved sophisticated online homework checking (xTutor), and
- a new approach to managing the large-scale assessment of student writing (iMOAT). MIT allocated about 10% of its budget ($2.5 million) for dissemination. We were asked to study factors affecting adoption of those promising innovations.
The biggest barrier: typical faculty members get little preparation, little help and little reward for continually updating and improving all their courses. The best way to improve learning is not to invent your own ideas from scratch. It's to scan the world for successful ideas already tried out by like-minded colleagues teaching comparable courses. And if faculty were better prepared, supported, and rewarded they could do that.
I'll make this claim: academic programs could do much better (in all senses of 'better') if they helped their faculty become the best at a) finding and adapting best practices from peers who teach similar courses, and b) sharing their own best practices with the world.
This kind of support would produce the biggest dividends in disciplines where the field itself is changing due to advances in research, changes in the job market, etc.. In such disciplines, rapid improvement in the academic program is more likely to lead to gains in visibility, enrollment, and respect. However, because teaching options are increasing in all fields, there is no department for which this recommendation is irrelevant.
What do you think? Is continual improvement in teaching important for your program? What kinds of support can the institution and department give faculty to help them discover, screen and adapt the best new practices from peers at other institutions? Please post your comments.