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Now More Than Ever: The need for data-driven decision-making about teaching and learning

Posted on: June 2, 2021

In this blog Kimberly Williams, author of Doing Research to Improve Teaching and Learning: A Guide for College and University Faculty, discusses the importance of collecting data to improve teaching and learning in higher education.

Now more than ever, we need to make evidence-based decisions about teaching and learning. We need to collect data about the student experience and student learning. We are in a time in our history when we need to learn what we can from data (broadly defined) to inform the near-future reality--particularly as teaching and learning in higher education is changing dramatically and rapidly. When I wrote the first edition of my book Doing Research to Improve Teaching and Learning: A Guide for College and University Faculty, improving teaching and learning in higher education was becoming increasingly popular and pressing. More and more colleges and universities were investing in centers andprograms to work with faculty and teaching assistants in an effortto be more intentional about instructional practices to makethem more effective.The investment in and enthusiasm for suchprograms has ebbed and flowed over the past few years. Some larger universities decentralized these organizations to place them within individual schools and colleges, while some programs became more centralized. Smaller institutions have continued to support these centers and programs.

COVID-19 pandemic and the mad scramble to virtual instruction

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the professionals working in these programs and centers proved essential as faculty were forced to quickly shift to online/virtual instruction with very little warning. So many professors rose to the occasion and continued to push for reasonable, high standards for student learning in the new reality. They continue to this day as I write this. Many if not most classrooms moved online (at least temporarily). Colleges and Universities have been forced to grapple with the question on a daily basis--How do we make learning as effective as possible in a variety of contexts?

The New Edition

This book is meant to serve to guide you into that uncertain future with strategic ways to make data/evidence-based decisions about teaching and learning. This new edition is expanded and reorganized around the four steps to the process of doing research on teaching and learning that serve as the outline to this book:

Learn your historical context→
Know your students and the goals for the learning environment→
Know and use your best methodological options for collecting data→
Know the meaning of your data and use to improve

The hope is to make the process as streamlined as possible--ideally so you can gather data using information what you already have such as classroom assessments, observations, demographic data, but there are also ways to collect.

The Goal: Creating the Best Possible Learning Environments

There is no doubt that in this new teaching and learning environment, many are struggling to create the best possible learning environments. Using data to inform and improve teaching and learning is as important as ever so that we can continue amidst these dramatic changes to create positive and productive learning spaces. This new edition of this book is designed to do exactly that--to help you navigate this new teaching and learning environment, asking good research questions about teaching and learning, and collecting data to revise and improve. Teaching is a constant striving toward excellence--as is learning. We are never done learning or improving our teaching. The more systematic and intentional we can be in our approach, the better for everyone involved--the teachers and the
learners.