3 barriers that can limit innovation in the classroom

If faculty members are hesitant to adopt a new teaching strategy, the problem isn't necessarily that they don't see how effective the new approach might be, David Matthews writes for Times Higher Education.

He shares research from Lauren Herckis, an anthropologist at Carnegie Mellon University, who studied why faculty are sometimes hesitant to change their teaching strategies. She sat in meetings with faculty, read faculty email exchanges, conducted research interviews and surveys, and tracked the outcomes of new teaching tools for one year.

Based on this research, Herckis identifies three main barriers to faculty innovation:

1: Negative student evaluations.

Even though their usefulness continues to be a subject of debate, student evaluations still factor into the trajectory of many instructors' careers. Because of this, faculty are sometimes resistant to things they believe could threaten their student evaluation scores, Herckis says.

2: Respect for role models.

Many faculty members have strong ideas about what makes a great professor, often based on their experiences when they were a student, Herckis says. We tend to believe that our idols were always in control and never vulnerable—which can lead us to believe that we, too, cannot take risks or make ourselves vulnerable.

3: Fear of the unknown.

Herckis notes that some people are more likely to try a new strategy if it's their own idea than if someone else suggests it to them. She suggests ego, lack of trust, or fear of the unknown might be behind this phenomenon.

8 ways to encourage innovation on campus

Writing for Inside Higher Ed, John Warner suggests a few ways for faculty to feel more comfortable taking a chance on a new teaching strategy.

For example, instructors might try discussing the initiative with students and getting their input on how to implement it. This can help instructors get more student buy-in and can reduce student frustration later on.

Warner notes that students don't want to feel like they're being experimented on, and he encourages colleges to recruit students as co-investigators. He recommends allowing students to give feedback in real time, rather than waiting for official student evaluations. "Ask students if something worked, and they will tell you," he writes (Matthews, Times Higher Education, 7/4; Warner, Inside Higher Ed, 7/10).

What's the best way to reward faculty for learning innovations?


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