Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Best Teachers Summer Institute: Summer 2017

Twenty years ago I began my academic career as the Assistant Director of the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University.  I was hired by then-director Ken Bain, who at that time was finishing up the research for his now best-selling classic, What the Best College Teachers Do, and getting ready to write. My three years at the Center launched my interest in teaching and learning in higher education, and have continued to inspire my thinking and writing to this day.  That happened in large part because of the work of Ken, who taught me what a fascinating and complex challenge it was to help human beings learn, and whose approach has resonated with so many faculty members around the world.  Ken also taught me that it was possible to write clearly and elegantly about higher education--something I didn't see very much of in the work I was reading at the time.

During those years at the Center, I had the opportunity to assist Ken with a summer institute that he was developing based on his research on effective college teachers.  It was still in its infancy at that time, but essentially it invited faculty members to spend three days taking a deep dive into their approach to teaching, and emerging with a new understanding of their work.  The institute encouraged people, for example, to re-capture what they found so fascinating about their disciplines, and determine how best to stir up that fascination in their students.  It invited them to think deeply about everyday teaching practices that we take for granted, such as lecturing or grading or policies on late work.  The institute did not champion any one approach over another; it brought interested colleagues together into a room, presented them with ideas and research and models, and encouraged them to think creatively and work with each other to build dynamic new learning experiences for their students.  It was an intellectually invigorating experience, one that I looked forward to every year.

I left Northwestern in 2000 in order to pursue my tenure-track dreams, and Ken brought the summer institute with him through his various position changes over the next dozen years. In 2012 I was able to join him and a handful of award-winning institute faculty for the first time in many years, and found the institute much evolved and improved, but still the same in the most essential way: it brought committed faculty from around the world together into a room, introduced them to new research and ideas and models, and let them get to work. It remained a profoundly fascinating and invigorating experience for this college teacher.

For a variety of reasons the summer institute has been on hiatus for the past couple of years, but I am so pleased that it will be happening again this summer, and especially pleased that Ken has invited me to help him re-launch it.  The 20th Annual International Best Teachers Institute will take place from June 20-22, 2017 at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in New Jersey, just a few miles from Manhattan.  Registration is now open, and you are cordially invited to join us.  We welcome both individual faculty members and faculty groups from the same institution, and we welcome participants from anywhere in the world. I think faculty have an especially rich experience at the institute when they can grab a colleague or two or four from their own campus and have this experience together--and then take their new ideas back to campus and spread them to their colleagues.

What I can promise you about your experience in this institute is that you will emerge from it with a new understanding of how to build an effective learning environment for your students, a new or renewed commitment to the craft of teaching, and plenty of practical new ideas for how to pursue that craft most effectively. The plentiful opportunities you have to work on your own courses in conversation with your peers ensures that you will also leave the institute with a host of new friendships and contacts in higher education. We hope that you will join us this summer, and spread the word to your colleagues. We do limit the number of participants each year, and most years in the past have had a waiting list. Sign up as early as you can.

Don't hesitate to contact me or Ken with questions about the institute. See you this summer in Jersey.