When Samford University psychology professor Stephen Chew wrestled with the question, “What are my students really learning?” he decided to put theory into practice. As a cognitive psychologist, Chew was well-versed in research showing how students learn. So he decided to throw out the notion that being a good professor meant giving out a certain percentage of As, Bs and Cs each semester and instead focused on what his students were taking away from class.
Although Chew had already made changes to how he was teaching and assessing student learning, he said that his goal to maximize student learning was supported when he met former Carnegie president Lee Shulman in 1999. Chew had been invited to be a part of the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and meeting Shulman prompted him to think about teaching in a more sophisticated, comprehensive way. I He began to see teaching as both a complex skill and an area of applied research.
A professor at Samford since 1993, Chew has honed his strategies over the years. “The classroom is my lab,” he said.
Last fall the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named Chew, who is also psychology department chair, the 2011 U. S. Professor of the Year for Master’s Universities and Colleges. It is the only national program to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring, and it’s the latest in a string of awards Chew has received for his teaching.
Chew’s success is not just limited to students in his courses. Since 2005 he has given a lecture to all incoming students about how to study effectively. Most students arrive at college with ingrained strategies that worked in high school but are ineffective in college, Chew says. He assessed what students learned from this lecture and found that its positive effects lessened with time. To discourage students from reverting to old strategies, Chew made a series of five short videos to augment the lecture and posted them on YouTube. He also leads workshops for faculty – at Samford and at institutions around the country.
In the end, he knows that effective studying and learning will benefit the students not just in the classroom but in any learning situation in life.