In the Classroom: What Do Great College Profs Have in Common?

by Claudio Sanchez

In a year in which we’re exploring great teaching, it’s a good time to talk with Ken Bain. He’s a longtime historian, scholar and academic who has studied and explored teaching for decades, most notably in his 2004 book, 
What the Best College Teachers Do

You focused on 100 college professors in a wide variety of institutions and disciplines. What do the best professors know and understand about teaching?

They certainly understand their discipline. They often understand the history of their discipline and know that everything that they believe can be questioned. They are accomplished scholars, artists and scientists. They know how to simplify and clarify complex subjects. They may not have studied human learning but they grasp important insights into how human beings learn and how to foster that learning through practice.


Dr. Ken Bain | Photo Mike Post

How do the best teachers prepare?

They prepare by thinking about the intended outcomes [of their instruction]. They treat their lectures and discussions as serious intellectual endeavors. The best teachers use a much richer line of inquiry to design a class and every encounter with students. Then they think about how they will help students achieve.

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2 Comments for “In the Classroom: What Do Great College Profs Have in Common?”

  1. How about the idea that faculty are not so much “student pleasers” as engaging course facilitators? One implies that faculty are “bribing” students and the other puts the focus on student-centered learning, right?

  2. Nowhere does he say that we should be student pleasers, or that we must keep the customer (student) satisfied. Do we want to please students to get better end of course evaluations? Or should we rather help students in a developmental sense, helping them to learn on their own?
    Do we over-guide students with detailed instructions for assignments? Or do we allow for student self-direction, creativity while grading them accordingly?
    Some will be frustrated w/o detailed direction but learn to appreciate this later on.
    The institution demands student satisfaction and enrollment numbers; the instructor know that true satisfaction takes time, even longer time amounts than one course can allow, that some students fail a course and yet continue to learn in spite of failure.

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