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Cottrell Scholars Author ‘Teach Better’ Book

It’s no secret -- when it comes to science teaching, new faculty at the college and university level spend an inordinate amount of time re-inventing the wheel.

While there are numerous books about teaching, many seem aimed at complete novices, or, on the opposite end of the scale, at instructors steeped in “pedagogy” and its insider’s language.

That’s why, when three Cottrell Scholars decided to write a brief guide to help new faculty overcome the frustrations inherent in first-time teaching assignments, “We were looking for the middle tone,” said Penny J. Beuning, associate professor of chemistry at Northeastern University.

Beuning and her coauthors – Dave Z. Besson, a physics professor at the University of Kansas, and Scott A. Snyder, associate professor of chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute – have created Teach Better, Save Time, and Have More Fun: A Guide to Teaching and Mentoring in Science. The 142-page book, published by Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA), is available in paperback at or by downloading a PDF (2 MB).

Reading Teach Better is akin to absorbing the first-hand wisdom of an experienced peer or a perceptive mentor only a few years up the academic hierarchy – people who remember precisely what it was like to step into the classroom for the first time.

Noted scientist Martin Gruebele and educator Arthur Ellis have praised Teach Better as a rich source of information for beginning faculty.

“This was a great experience” Beuning said of writing the book, “because we got to see people’s best ideas for teaching, some of which I actually implemented right away in my own courses.” 

Much of the content was collected through a survey of Cottrell Scholars and includes selected quotes and wisdom from a number of the recipients of this award interspersed throughout the text.

The coauthors contributed in areas where they had the most experience, as well as the overall work. For example, while they all have experience teaching large classes, Scott has developed certain efficiencies in that area and has a unique perspective on large classes, so he contributed the majority of that section.

The basic message of the book, Beuning said, is, “It’s ok to experiment and let your courses evolve.”

Another message, she added, is that it’s important “to let students know, explicitly, that you want them to learn and you believe they can, and that’s why you are teaching the way you are, to make teaching and learning a collaborative process.”

The Cottrell Scholar Collaborative, a network of academic scientists who are past recipients of the Cottrell Scholar Award, will be using the book at its New Faculty Workshops for new Chemistry faculty. In addition, Snyder noted, Northeastern and Scripps hosts several Future Faculty Workshops each year for graduate students and postdocs, and the book has already been distributed to some of these workshop participants, with more planned for the future.  

Besson said the book merits periodic updating, in electronic form at least, to stay current with education innovations such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) and flipped classrooms.

Teach Better, is just one example of the worthwhile projects the Cottrell Scholars Collaborative accomplishes,” said RCSA Program Director Silvia Ronco. “Through the Collaborative the Cottrell Scholar program nurtures an interdisciplinary community of outstanding scientific/academic leaders, and fosters synergy among research universities and primarily undergraduate institutions. It’s a great way to advance science.” 

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