by Diana Senechal
Binghamton, New York—At Novum Organum College’s annual faculty meeting, President Murphy Murgatroyd announced that 100 percent of the college’s materials and teaching methods would be research-based by 2014.
“This means everything you do must be backed by science,” said Murgatroyd. “We won’t use a seminar format, for instance, just because we happen to believe it leads to higher level thinking. If we keep the seminar, it will be because research has shown its effectiveness. And if research does not show its effectiveness, we will replace it with something research-based. Simple as that.”
A professor asked where the research was supposed to come from.
“From you, of course,” said Murgatroyd. Every professor and instructor, he explained, was now a researcher-practitioner and would complete one “action research” project per course per semester. “This may sound like a lot of work,” he said, “but it goes quickly once you get used to it. You pose a question, gather about a week’s worth of data and draw a conclusion. Boom. You’re done.”
“But what if our research shows that class discussion benefits from a bit of wine?” asked Henry Lake, a renowned and surly professor emeritus of history. “Do not take this as a suggestion that my students have ever consumed alcohol in class. They have not, to my knowledge. But suppose, for the sake of argument—”
“I see your point, Henry, and it’s a good one,” said Murgatroyd. “Any research finding must be reviewed by the staff of the Center for Best Practices here on campus. The CBP, which will get its own new state-of-the-art building next month—go ahead, you may clap—has collected thousands of research studies that pertain to your teaching. If your conclusions don’t match up with best practices, you will be asked to re-envision your research.”
Several hands shot up. Damiana Portnoy, a young Italian instructor with a nose ring, spoke up: “But if you already know what the best practices are in our respective disciplines, why do we have to conduct these studies? Isn’t that just a lot of paperwork?” Other faculty members nodded vehemently; a few seats creaked.
“This is your opportunity to join the research consensus,” Murgatroyd replied. “That’s powerful. It’s about taking ownership. You will have weekly meetings in the Crystal Palace—I mean the CBP buiding, which is modeled after the original Crystal Palace and equipped with some of the best technology we’ve ever had. Construction’s almost done. They’ve kept it under a tarp, so it would be a surprise, but I’m letting you in on it now. I am proud of this new building, and you will be, too. This is our future.”
Murgatroyd took a handkerchief out of his pocket, wiped his forehead, and descended from the stage. A mild patter of applause followed; after a few business items, the meeting came to a close.
Each faculty member, upon leaving the hall, received an CBP tote bag full of free goods: a slim paperback titled Best Practices: We Know What Works, an article on action research, a box kit titled 100 Fun Ways to Engage Your Students, a pad of observation forms, two pens, and a lollipop. The observation form consisted of a two-column table with the headings “What I Saw My Students Do in Class” and “What I Think About What I Saw.”
“That’s just to get the faculty warmed up to the process,” explained Shelly Picard, director of the CBP. “The forms will get more intricate after that.”
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