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On March 19, I attended an inspirational presentation by Ken Bain who is the author of What the Best College Teachers Do. The program was co-sponsored by the Wake Forest University Schools of Business and the Teaching and Learning Center. Bain observed that students take three approaches to their learning: surface (trying to remember stuff); strategic (trying to make good grades) or a deep approach (trying to make meaning). It is the last approach where instructors can work to create an environment where deep learning can occur.

In the afternoon session, Bain focused on this question: “Can a change in the syllabus stimulate deeper and more enthusiastic student learning?” In his research, Bain discovered that highly successful teachers “usually produce a certain kind of syllabus.” He broke us up into small groups and asked us to think about the syllabus for one of our courses and to invent one “that makes promises rather than demands.” After a brainstorming session with a partner, he asked the audience to share ideas. One person suggested developing a course around Hurricane Katrina. In her brief presentation, she included a story and questions that could be used in a syllabus to stimulate interest in the course. The session also focused on what students will do to achieve the promise and how students will assess their own learning.

During the session, Dr. Bain exhibited many of the characteristics of what makes a teacher great. His enthusiasm, knowledge of the subject, and sense of humor kept me engaged throughout the session.