Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?

By Maryellen Weimer, PhD
This article was retrieved from Faculty Focus.

Some thoughts about change—not so much what to change, as the process of change, offered in light of its slow occurrence.

Change is harder than we think. We are so vested in our teaching, and like our students, we are error-averse. Try something new, and there’s a risk of failure. There’s risk with what we do every day, but it feels safer to go with the tried and true. And most of the time, what’s new has to be revised, tweaked, and further refined.

Faculty tend to underestimate the complexity involved in changing teaching. They approach it with a Nike “just do it” attitude. That can-do attitude is spot-on, but the approach to change is too often piecemeal and reactive. The hodge-podge infusion of new techniques, interesting ideas, and promising strategies circles around effective teaching rather than moving toward it with a map and designated route.

We make change harder by going it alone. Do we discuss details with anyone beforehand? Do we contemplate the possibility of a coach or mentor? Do we solicit feedback from students? I’m thinking that more often we implement and assess changes in isolation.

Uncomfortable with the implementation and disappointed in the results, we give up on the change, which rounds back to how vulnerable failure makes us feel.

How we make changes isn’t the only reason so much of what’s done in the classroom stays the same, but it’s a reason we can do something about.

Goffe, W. L., and Kauper, D., (2014). A survey of principles instructors: Why lecture prevails. Journal of Economic Education, 45 (4), 360-375.

Wieman, C. and Gilbert, S., (2015). Taking a scientific approach to science education, part II—changing teaching. Microbe Magazine, 10 (5), 203-207.