Best of the Classroom

One of the things I love about my job is being able to witness some of the most innovative, creative, transformative teaching around. Every year, I learn about courses being taught at UMW or elsewhere that are using digital technology to push the boundaries of the classroom, and it’s what I see in those instances that inspires me to keep pushing forward.
At Mary Washington, every year Faculty Academy is an effort to locally celebrate the work that faculty are doing along these lines — in particular, by asking them to take the stage and present their triumphs and challenges. But, lately, I’ve been wondering what it would be like if we had a way of focusing that recognition while, at the same time, making the stage a bit larger.

So here’s an idea I’ve been mulling over.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to formally recognize the best-of-breed classes each year across all of our institutions? I would love to see some kind of initiative coming out of a national organization (EDUCAUSE, ELI?) that recognized and rewarded the most innovative classes of the year, with a particular focus on how technology is being used to catalyze new approaches to teaching and learning.

One of the dilemmas that I think many of us working in edtech or instructional technology face is how to make the work we do seem more relevant and important (on a strategic, mission-level) to our institutions. I’ve also heard people wondering how to more effectively empower and expose faculty voices at the regional and national conferences and meetings we all attend.

I can imagine how a program like this could achieve both these goals, by visibly and powerfully recognizing individual faculty who are pushing boundaries and taking risks. By making that recognition visible (and rigorously competitive) we also may be able to send the message back to those faculty members’ (and our) home institutions that what’s happening on this front matters deeply and deserves institutional recognition and reward, as well.

There also might be a wonderful opportunity to highlight student voices in a project like this — asking them to expose and share their experiences in these exemplary classes as further testimonial to the innovation that’s occurring.

I can think of at least half a dozen classes I’d consider nominating this year. At each of our own institutions, I’m sure we do our best to recognize the faculty who are behind those classes, but sometimes I fear that their efforts go largely unnoticed by our local institutional communities as well as by our national organizations. Can we change that? Could changing that catalyze something bigger?