Elements of Effective College Teaching

                                                                                By Brad Bell

          I believe that college teaching effectiveness is a complex concept that involves a significant number of dimensions.  In this article, I have included some key elements of college teaching effectiveness.  These elements may be overlapping and interdependent.

Perspective Taking

         In order to effectively address questions asked by students, it may be essential to adopt the perspective of the students.  This perspective taking can be viewed as the cognitive component of empathy.  What are they thinking?  Why did they ask the questions?   What is puzzling to them?  Thinking about the answers to these questions may facilitate answering student questions.


         I believe that respect for the student can be accomplished in several ways.  First, it is important to thank the student for questions.  Second, one can strive to treat every question as important.  Third, one can acknowledge that there are different perspectives on an issue that may be valid.  Fourth, one can reinforce the value of the perspective of the student by providing additional ideas consistent with the perspective.


         I believe that the comprehension and memory for concepts greatly depends on the presentation of examples that are (a) concrete, (b) logical, and (c) relevant to everyday life.   Also, using humorous examples may be a good way to present some ideas.


         In my view, great professors are able to foster intellectual discussions that involve interesting questions and critical thinking.    Being able to select the right discussion questions may facilitate meaningful learning by increasing intrinsic motivation. Discussion questions that involve problems relevant to everyday life may increase both intrinsic motivation and critical thinking.  


         I believe that enlightenment is a cornerstone of higher education.  This involves seeing ideas and issues from different perspectives.  It also involves discerning a holistic perspective that integrates different views. This could involve an integration of ideas from different fields. Professors may be able to foster enlightenment by presenting their own views on a topic that are different from other views on the same topic.


         I learned the value of creativity in education in junior high.  In one class, I was allowed to create a board game.  I felt that I was motivated to learn.  I believe that creating the board game helped to make the course more interesting and meaningful.  In my view, including class assignments that involve writing a poem or a short story may be a good idea even if the class content is not related to creative writing.


         Finding a personal sense of meaning in one’s education may increase intrinsic motivation.  As a result, there may be an increase in the perceived quality of the learning experience.  Personal meaning may be fostered by (a) including examples from everyday life, (b) addressing questions provided by students, and (c) assigning paper topics and class projects that involve addressing real-world problems.  For example, students could write a fundraising letter based on findings and theories in social psychology.

Critical Thinking

           I believe that it is important to address the validity of ideas and think of alternative explanations for findings.  What is the evidence supporting the idea?  Are there other explanations consistent with the findings? These are some essential questions that could be included in class discussions.


         One of the important lessons I learned while teaching is the importance of positive comments on assignments.  Without these positive comments, students may lack a sense of hope.  They may not be motivated to make a greater effort.   It is important that the positive aspects of a student’s work are praised.  This could result in the positive aspects being more prevalent in future assignments.  For example, if a students provides some good examples in a paper, the number of good examples may increase in future papers if the student is praised for the good examples.


          The professor's role may partly reflect motivating students to reach their potential.  Ecouraging students, as indicated above, may be one way to help motivate students to reach their potential.   Also, one technique I have used is to look for a good point that the student has made on the discussion board in an online course.  I acknowledge that the student has made a good point, and then I provide additional information related to this point.  This may convey that the student has made a contribution to the discussion, and the student gains more knowledge related to the point.   I believe that this may motivate the student to learn more about certain topics and to present more good points.