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September 27, 2007

Faculty book discussions set

Once again, faculty from across the University will gather for a book discussion on teaching. The popular event, a joint initiative of the Center for Instructional Development & Distance Education (CIDDE) and the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence (ACIE), is in its third year.

This year’s book is Ken Bain’s award-winning “What the Best College Teachers Do.” Bain is vice provost for instruction, professor of history and director of the Teaching and Learning Resource Center at Montclair State University.

His book, which won Harvard University Press’s 2004 Virginia and Warren Stone Prize for an Outstanding Book on Education and Society, is a summation of a 15-year study focused on the qualities of good teachers.

“What the Best College Teachers Do” looks at stellar professors in light of six broad questions: what they know about how people learn; how they prepare to teach; their expectations of students; how they conduct class; how they treat their students, and how they evaluate their students and themselves.

Joanne Nicoll, CIDDE associate director for instructional design and faculty development, said the book discussion concept is simple: Enrollees are provided with a copy of the selected book — which is chosen by ACIE faculty development committee members based on recommendations from prior years’ book discussion participants — then come together to discuss it in an informal 90-minute session.

“Faculty seem to be interested in applying the science of learning, learning theory, in practical applications,” she said.

Previous books for discussion have been “How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School,” by the National Research Council committee on learning research and educational practice, and “The Art of Changing the Brain, Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning,” by James E. Zull.

One of the key components of the discussion is that it brings together faculty from a range of disciplines. “They like the diversity,” said Nicoll.

The sessions are led by faculty members, who read the book and select the chapters they’d like to emphasize. Participants are informed ahead of time which portions will be covered in the session in which they’ve enrolled.

“You can’t talk about a whole book in an hour and a half,” Nicoll noted.

To facilitate conversation, session sizes are kept small — limited to about a dozen participants. Two discussion sessions have been scheduled and more can be added if a waiting list develops, Nicoll said.

Discussions are set for noon Oct. 23 and 3:30 p.m. Oct. 24. Registration is required by contacting Michelle Lane at or 412/383-9729.

This is the final year for the faculty book discussion program under its current Provost’s office funding, but Nicoll said she hopes the program will continue, adding that she will collaborate with ACIE’s faculty development committee in submitting a proposal seeking renewal.

A similar faculty discussion group based on the article “Applying the Science of Learning to the University and Beyond: Teaching for Long-term Retention and Transfer,” by Diane Halpern and Milton Hakel also is being offered this fall.

The article is available online at or by requesting a copy from Lane.

Enrollment for the article discussion sessions, set for 3:30 p.m. Oct. 25 and noon Oct. 26, also is limited. Contact Lane for reservations.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 40 Issue 3

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