The Pedagogy of University Teaching

Rosalind R. Scudder, PhD

Rosalind R. Scudder, PhD
Professor and Graduate Coordinator
Wichita State University
Coordinator, SIG 10: Issues in Higher Education (2003–2005)

As I began to think about an article on the pedagogy of university teaching, I was faced with several questions that I then sought to answer. For example:

  • What has changed about university teaching in the past several decades and why do doctoral programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders include teaching experiences for their students?
  • Is it worthwhile to also include a didactic course on teaching? What would such a course include, and how could the value of the course be assessed?
  • Finally, what are differences among university settings, student populations, and faculty teaching styles that would foster individualization of course content, method of delivery, and assessment of student learning?

I also reflected on my teaching career-over 30 years! I certainly wish I'd had some instruction in teaching when I began at the university. Now, even with those years of experience, I continue to learn new ways to teach certain content and assess student learning. Additionally, there are always new challenges and discoveries every semester!

A Focus on the Scholarship of Teaching

In 1985 Earnest Boyer delivered a keynote address marking the occasion of Wichita State University's centennial. As I listened to the presentation of his work, Scholarship Reconsidered (Boyer, 1990) , I felt he was speaking directly to me. His ideas not only influenced me but are said to have shaped the debate about academic work, and the roles of teaching, research, and service in higher education.

I was particularly struck by the "scholarship of teaching" and began a search to learn more. That search led to a focus in my academic work on teaching, the founding directorship of The Center for Teaching and Research Excellence at Wichita State University (WSU), and a doctoral-level course on University Teaching in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

Why Teach the Pedagogy of University Teaching?

Many students learn teaching from their teachers. It goes without saying that all college students can talk about which professors they like, those they don't, and why! Students can also remember what and how they learned in various classes and are said to appreciate that learning long after they graduate.

New faculty members, likewise, often pattern (or try to pattern) their first teaching experiences based on former professors' teaching methods, with the goal to be an effective teacher and respected and liked by their students. New faculty members may have been told by university administrators to expect to have their teaching role and classes "developed" during the first year of employment-that they will then need to shift their attention and energies to the development of their research plan and publications for tenure and promotion.

The first concerns in a new teaching assignment often include the content to be covered, the method(s) of delivery, assignments, and grading. Often, new university teachers are most concerned about getting through the class lectures, of being understood by their students, and "escaping" after class to the quiet of their office. Advice from more experienced faculty members and mentors may not be frequent or extensive enough to really help.

Broadening our view of teaching to the scholarship of teaching means that we no longer can think of teaching as only subject-matter expertise plus generic methods. We know that effective teaching is also a matter of transforming our knowledge of a subject in ways that promote student understanding and learning (Edgerton, Hutchings, & Quinlan, 1993).

In addition to a renewed focus on teaching brought about by Boyer (1990), the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching was influenced by the interest in teaching expressed internationally and began a cultural exchange with China's key educators. That movement has spread to include many other countries where teaching and learning centers have been established, as well as the proliferation of meetings, journals, and books about university teaching.

In the United States many colleges and universities either had or have established centers to support faculty in their teaching endeavors. The movement toward a focus on teaching and learning excellence has led many institutions to value teaching equally with research in reviewing faculty dossiers for promotion, tenure, and merit pay.

Additionally, accreditation of higher education institutions has increasingly reflected external pressures for accountability. Accrediting bodies are asking for documentation and demonstration of student learning at the institutional, programmatic, and course levels. Certification standards of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) have changed dramatically in the last several years and the Knowledge and Skills Assessment (KASA) has become the standard measure of student learning and performance (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2005).

Suggested Structure and Topics in a Course on Teaching

The literature on university teaching has proliferated with the renewed interest in the topic. There are textbooks, journal articles (indeed, entire journals), web sites, and conferences devoted solely to university teaching. Many begin with a description of pedagogy and the university setting. The doctoral students at WSU use Boyer's Scholarship Reconsidered (1990) as a required text for the course. They then visit our campus teaching and research center to borrow a second text on teaching from a list I provide. As we discuss each topic, students can contribute what "their author" has written. Many times there are similarities, but in other instances different treatment by the various authors adds useful information to our conversations.

I have found that the following sampling of topics/chapters has helped structure the course I teach, but the list is by no means complete or absolute! We often change the topic assigned for a particular class to talk about immediate experiences and concerns presented by the students.

Preparing a Course. Often the preparation of a course takes place in a short period of time for new faculty members. Consideration of the course content and the acquisition of knowledge may be partially or wholly determined prior to the assignment for teaching the course. New faculty need to know what questions to ask, how to develop a course, and what information to cover. Doctoral students can begin to think about knowledge and skills (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2005) objectives to be met, the level of the course and where it fits in the sequence of courses and how student learning will be assessed. Helpful references include chapters in Mentor in a Manual: Climbing the Academic Ladder to Tenure (Schonefeld & Magnan, 1994) and Charting Your Course: How to Prepare to Teach More Effectively (Pregent, 1994). These texts are often chosen by the doctoral students as their supplementary text for the course, and include information on conceptualizing and planning a course.

First Day of Class. The first class meeting can establish the expectations for both students and faculty. A course on pedagogy could include a discussion on what expectations new faculty members may have for their courses. Suggestions in the literature include determining how faculty establish rapport; clarify expectations for the class, and get to know their students.

Another helpful discussion is what our students expect of us that first class meeting. An informal survey of undergraduate students in my classes included comments such as, "Listen, be friendly and be available when the student needs help" and "Be on time and have an agenda. Be an "expert" in your subject; don't always be reading out of a book for the lecture. Be open-minded and aware of the class's opinion".

Syllabus Construction. Distribution of the course syllabus is often one of the first interactions faculty have with students. It helps us and the students focus on the content and requirements of the course. Many consider the syllabus to be a negotiable agreement that can support teaching and learning. Individual university, college, and department requirements will dictate some of the content of the syllabus. Beyond those requirements, however, are questions of what text to use (or whether to use a text), resources such as guest lecturers, special equipment, etc. needed, and dates assignments are due and tests given. Policies on absences, extra credit work, test re-writes, and other features should be articulated. New faculty learn that syllabi are usually "works in progress".

Lectures/Class Discussions. Beyond the syllabus design, students in a college/university teaching course should spend time discussing the various ways to cover content, whether through lectures, class discussions, or class projects. Many new faculty struggle with how to deliver effective lectures and how to make those lectures more participatory. The new teacher may be so focused on "information delivery" that she/he forgets to look at the students, read body language, and provide time and opportunity for student questions and discussion. The development of Blackboard/Web CT technology has provided another dimension for content delivery and active participation by students.

The Professor in the Classroom (The Master Teacher, 2001) is a series of publications devoted to different teaching topics. Nine Skills to Put More Coaching into Your Teaching (The Master Teacher, 2001) provides suggestions for improving communication skills and developing good teaching/coaching in the classroom. In addition to discussing the various skills, the pamphlet provides points to ponder, such as "Why is attitude important in the learning process?" and "What must you do to prepare lessons so all students can be better learners?".

Classroom Dynamics. Another important area for discussion is that of classroom dynamics and challenges. Beyond the content, delivery, and assessment of information, the complex interchange between students and the faculty often poses special challenges. In his book on "Teaching Tips", McKeachie (1999) includes a number of excellent suggestions for handling students who sleep in class, have excessive absences, and present challenges and questions. A course in university teaching should provide resources and support for prospective teachers who will often feel that the classroom can be hostile or extremely challenging.

Diversity in the classroom should be acknowledged and discussed. Future faculty need to have a full appreciation for the student differences they will experience in their courses. Much has been written about racial, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, and learning differences.

Assessment: Classroom and Student Learning. Doctoral students need to understand the differences and uses of formative and summative assessments. Many students are aware of summative assessments from their undergraduate and graduate experiences. They have also participated in student evaluations of faculty and courses. A thorough discussion of assessment leads to Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) as presented Angelo and Cross (1993). Assessment approaches will differ with the complexity of the educational process and the diversity of our learning environments. We need insights into who our students are, how they learn, and what their epistemological beliefs are. Formative assessments help us understand and improve our students learning and our teaching (Scudder & Apel, 2005).

Reflective Practice/Journaling. Teaching support is provided to help faculty engage in thinking about and developing practices for engaging students in the learning process. Reflective practice takes the step beyond thinking about our teaching (a "good" class day versus a day when things don't go well in the classroom) to reflecting and writing about one's particular strengths and strategies that work well. The Center for Support of Teaching and Learning at Syracuse University describes a beginning process for reflective practice and provides additional resources to help faculty develop beyond reflection into conduction of a systematic inquiry of teaching and learning experiences (

Discussion of journaling can be taken a step further to "blogging" or online journaling. It has been described as having the possibility to revitalize the idea of online communities. As such, the implications for academe are numerous. Faculty could encourage students to use blogs for extending their learning experiences to lively class discussion. This online discussion could allow more quiet or shy class members to contribute by expressing themselves in writing. Faculty members could create "teaching blogs" to discuss pedagogy and their personal development as teachers. Faculty members could also discuss their research as it relates to classroom concepts, allowing their students to see the connection between the two.

Assessing the Value of a University Course on Teaching

A doctoral level course on University Teaching will most probably work best in a seminar setting. A structure that includes the topics above (and more) can help students explore avenues for information and support, and give opportunities for active discussion. The course at Wichita State University is a two-semester sequence where topics are outlined for discussion the first semester, and the second semester is devoted to more "hands on" experiences. During this time we develop a "teaching philosophy", a statement of our beliefs about university teaching and our work in the classroom. We visit classes outside our discipline, viewing large and small classes taught by award-winning professors to see first hand some of the principles we've discussed the first semester. We also target a research question regarding the pedagogy of teaching and design a study to answer the question(s).

The value of these two semesters cannot be easily measured with traditional course assessment instruments. I've found that reflection papers will often capture personal growth and learning better than other measures. The following statement illustrates such a reflection: "I have to say that teaching in higher education is an art. When I took undergraduate and graduate course I observed the professors' teaching methods and skills. I only saw their performance in the classes, but I never knew there were so many theories to backup their teaching methods".

In summary, resources and suggestions for excellent, effective college and university teaching are numerous and very helpful. Doctoral programs that prepare future faculty can help their students study the pedagogy of teaching, and promote discussions, assignments, and mentoring of our future faculty. It is a worthwhile and interesting journey!

Note: An excellent compilation of Web and print resources for teaching and learning can be found in Let's Talk About Teaching and Learning.


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2005). Speech Language Pathology Certification Standards.

Angelo, T. A. & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Edgerton, R., Hutchings, P., & Quinlan, K. (1993). The teaching portfolio: Capturing the scholarship in teaching. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

McKeachie, W. J. (1999). Teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Pregent, R. (1994). Charting your course: How to prepare to teach more effectively. Madison, WI: Magna Publications.

Schonefeld, A. C. & Magnan, R. (1994). Mentor in a manual: Climbing the academic ladder to tenure. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.

Scudder, R. R. & Apel, K. (2005). Assessing Learning: Classroom Assessment Techniques. Rockville, MD: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: Perspectives on Issues in Higher Education, Special Interest Group 10.

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