As an instructional technologist, I support faculty’s endeavors to incorporate more innovative strategies and technologies into their teaching repertoire. When I first accepted this position, I didn’t realize how much of my work would involve reassuring, soothing, and encouraging faculty. But I quickly discovered that many instructors are downright fearful of exploring new approaches to teaching.
For some, it’s simply a lack of confidence. During graduate school, they were not taught how to teach and so they’re left with reproducing the methods they experienced as students. Many faculty do not know any other way to teach besides lecturing with Powerpoint slides. So opening their eyes to new approaches is the first step. I like to suggest reliable and time-tested methods to these instructors, such as exit tickets or live polling, because there is evidence that these result in greater student engagement and learning. Faculty seem to find that evidence reassuring.
For non-tenured faculty, there is often a perception of risk that holds them back from experimenting. If they try something new and it fails, their student course evaluations could suffer and that data is used for tenure and promotion decisions. For these instructors, providing low risk, high impact options can improve their teaching without requiring a complete transformation. If you’re looking for a collection of empirically-grounded strategies, check out James Lang’s book Small Teaching.
For other instructors, there’s a fear of losing control or credibility. Exploring new pedagogical approaches or instructional technologies requires patience, flexibility, and persistence. For example, when I first flipped my classroom, it was a disaster. My students were frustrated and I was exhausted. But I learned a lot and didn’t give up. After much trial and error, I’m now happy with my flipped classes and my course evaluations reflect students are, too. But getting to that point required I let go of control and risk damaging my credibility as an expert. Not all faculty are willing to do this because we don’t want to be perceived as a novice. Our egos get in the way.
So if you are hesitant to experiment because you fear failure, chaos, poor teaching evaluations, or just looking like a fool, grant yourself permission to be a beginner. Teaching is a continuous process of learning, growing, and challenging oneself. It’s okay to not know how to do something. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable or awkward. It’s okay to make mistakes. We all start at the beginning. And the beginning is a wonderful place to start.
For more affirmations, guided meditations, and research on mindfulness, visit The Peaceful Professor.