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  Rethinking the Classroom

AS Perspectives / Summer 1998

Two years ago, Michael Brown approached the podium in Kane Hall to teach an introductory geography course. He stared out at a sea of faces—about 500 of them—and wondered how he would hold their attention for ten weeks.

Things went downhill from there.

“It was just a nightmare,” recalls Brown, assistant professor of geography, who had recently arrived at the UW. “My smaller classes were going great, but the lecture course . . . it was awful. At the end of the quarter, students rated me in the bottom one percent of all faculty. I could only go up.”

When Brown was assigned to teach the course again two quarters later, he knew he had to do something to improve the course and his attitude. He contacted colleagues and campus resources for guidance and returned autumn quarter with a substantially revised course. It paid off.

"Not only were my student evaluations very high this time, but I enjoyed teaching the class,” says Brown. “The students learned more, and so did I.”

Brown’s successful efforts to improve his lecture course are inspirational but not unique. Across the College, many faculty struggle with the questions, “Can I improve my teaching? Is there a better way for students to learn this material?” Sometimes the changes they make are subtle and incremental. Other times they rebuild a course from the ground up. Either way, the goal is to help students learn more effectively.

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Michael Brown: Ditching the Textbook
Geography Professor Michael Brown's first experience teaching a large lecture course was "a nightmare," so he transformed both the content and his approach to teaching the class.

Monty McGovern: Getting to Know Your Audience
Mathematics Professor Monty McGovern says he waited years to get help with his teaching because mathematicians "feel like we should be able to work out our problems ourselves." When he finally sought guidance, his teaching improved dramatically.

Merrill Hille: A Natural Evolution
When Zoology Professor Merrill Hille found that a certain assignment encouraged students to think independently, she altered her course design, making such assignments a key component of the course.

Lisa Coutu: Shrinking the Class with Technology
Speech Communications lecturer Lisa Coutu was faced with a large lecture class and no funding for discussion sections. Using technology, she created "virtual discussion sections" that make the class seem smaller.

[Related Stories]

Gill Found His Own Voice--and a Talent for Teaching
When Political Science Professor Anthony Gill began teaching at the UW, his teaching evaluations were poor. But soon he found his own style and received a Distinguished Teaching Award in 1999.

Transforming the Curriculum to Reflect Diversity
Through the Curriculum Transformation Project, faculty and students work together to incorporate the study of race, class, gender, and ethnicity into UW courses.

[Winter/Spring 2001 - Table of Contents]