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Teaching Excellence

Is good teaching like pornography in that we know it when we experience it, but we struggle to define it? This post considers teaching evaluation and prods (well, maybe more like fumbles around) the topic of classroom excellence.

My first thought, working in publishing, is peer review. Alexander Sidorkin writes in the introductory issue of Syllabus,

“[t]his journal is an attempt to recognize teaching by publishing the best syllabi, those that often go unrecognized.”

The journal peer reviews syllabus and its first Table of Contents include seven from across the humanities and liberal arts. The American Sociological
Association has also launched Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology, a peer-reviewed database of activities and syllabi.

My next thought turns to how students see the evaluation, indeed the educational, project. Naturally anthropologists have answers: They have studied the evaluation (as
Alicia Blum-Ross does in her article on “Teaching Evaluation”) and the undergraduate student, as done by Michael Moffatt in Coming of Age in New Jersey and Peter Magolda in “Life as I Don’t Know It.” These anthropologists describe how students view learning and campus life and how professors might engage students in evaluation experiences beyond the fleeting RateMyProfessor soundbyte.

A last lens of excellence might be prizes. The AAA/Oxford University Press Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the SMA MASA Graduate Student Mentor Award both honor teaching. Probably closer to home, most colleges and universities have several teaching awards and probably most anthropologists do not think to pursue
these badges, but probably they should.

The AAA’s Resource Development Committee raised the funds to build a Teaching Materials Exchange to help anthropologists locate new ideas about readings, assignments, and topics to keep their students’ interest in anthropology piqued and their classrooms vibrant. Add your materials to the discipline pool our best knowledge and ideas. Collective learning might comprise another dimension of teaching excellence.


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