The following five professors come from a range of disciplines, but all have game-changing perspectives on teaching and issues within higher education.
John Boyer, Virginia Tech, Geography
Websites: The John Boyer, The Plaid Avenger
John Boyer has worked to engage students in his World Regions Class in every innovative way imaginable. His students send pitch videos to world leaders requesting Skype interviews, and they have successfully communicated with King Abdullah of Jordan, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and Burmese Politician Aung San Suu Ky. His students have run fake Twitter accounts for Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He’s even streamed classes live from a semester at sea. His class textbooks take the form of comic books and graphic novels about his alter-ego, “The Plaid Avenger.” A section on his website entitled, “New Education,” presents a list of suggestions regarding incorporating Facebook, music, videos and podcasts into large classrooms. While his class, which includes up to 3000 students worldwide, could not be more dynamic, his teaching philosophy is simple and effective: “Make it accessible, and make it relevant.”
Kevin Werbach, Associate Professor of Legal Studies, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania
Professor Werbach, known for his popular Coursera MOOC on Gamification, relays his thoughts on how we assess student comprehension and teaching effectiveness in the digital age. His post on “Teaching and Performance” points out that a professor’s pedagogical success is not necessarily correlated with his public speaking or stage performance. He offers other valuable tidbits of wisdom, such as that “Good courses are well-designed interactive narratives, like good video games,” and that “We live in a digitally connected world of ubiquitous access to information. Teaching that pretends otherwise will fail.”
Michael Wesch, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Kansas State University
Website: Mediated Cultures
In Michael Wesch’s post, “Why Good Classes Fail,” he explores why “disinterest and disengagement” reign even in the best college classes. Despite exploring groundbreaking content, employing digital media integrations, and interacting with students in a participatory style, many excellent professors still have a limited impact. Wesch’s post encourages professors to be more authentic, and to have empathy. He points out that techniques for engagement come off as affected, and that students can see right through them. He instead suggests that as professors adapt new teaching styles and technologies, they should choose those that facilitate their own interaction with the course materials. It is this way, he stresses, that their students will have a more natural attraction to learning.
Matthew Thibeault, Professor of Music Education, University of Illinois
Website: Matthew Thibeault, Homebrew Ukelele Union
Matthew Thibeault’s website links to the numerous articles, research papers, and YouTube videos he has produced about music education and the place of technology within it. His posts cover the value of music in general education, how music cognition has changed because of recording, and the benefits of “participatory ensembles”, where musicians of different levels, abilities, and ages play together. He criticizes educators who suggest that attending live performances are the only way to truly experience music, and examines the phenomenon of the “virtual ensemble.” Fundamentally, Thibeault argues to make music listening less abstract and instrument practicing more accessible.
Cedar Riener, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Randolph Macon College
Website: Cedar’s Digest
Cedar Riener’s blog boasts frequent updates on education reform and teaching in higher education. In one post, he takes on the PayScale college rankings, which evaluated the ROI of degrees at American universities. He points out that, students entering the lowest ranked universities generally already have the cards stacked against them because of their ethnicity or their financial background. He also reasons that arts colleges and engineering schools should not be ranked on the same scale, especially since students attending them tend to have completely dissimilar financial goals and career plans. Another post evaluates if student perception of learning is a valid measure of individual comprehension. Riener suggests that rather than encouraging a student to strategize based on his learning styles, we should tell him that “You might have to work a little harder, but you can still learn this just as well.” Riener’s interpretations are compelling because of his considerations of measurement scales, and because of his understanding of psychology plays into motivation and ability to achieve.