Chapter 1: Defining the best. What the best college teachers do. Bain, 2004.

Berkeley, Wednesday October 17, 2018 10:55 AM

Chapter summary of chapter 1 of the book Bain, K., 2011. What the best college teachers do. Harvard University Press, pp. 1-21

Chapter 1. Introduction: Defining the best

My take-aways

  • Bain evaluated defined the best college professors not based on their performance in class, neither in the course evaluations, but based on their alumni performance. Who are those personalities, who were their students. Why does students said that they own their current views to their professors, and are grateful with them.
  • Bain defined as the best professors to those who promote critical thinking and deep learning, beyond promoting to do well in the final.
  • Often best professors, in his study, were those who broke traditional definitions of courses by acknowledging that human learning is a complex process, and facilitating that learning process to the students.
  • Bain included in his study, as best professors, those who showed strong evidence of helping and encouraging their students to learn in ways that would usually win praise and respect from both disciplinary colleagues and the broader academic community.
  • Teacher who had the ability to make their students to think about their own thinking.
  • Students ratings, while important, do not necessarily provide answers to the questions that Bain was looking for. Ratings would depends on how the evaluation was designed. For example, if the questions lead to how is the professor performance in class, does not necessarily means that the professor is excellent. The evaluation can ask how clear was the professor, how engaging, and enthusiastic, but it might miss how the material, logistics, and what the professor said influenced in the current thinking and learning of the student. They ran a case of a class with a hired actor, with a fictional academic CV. The actor followed all the instructions well, to engage the audience. However, the material covered did not promoted deep learning. While the actor would great high student ratings, as some evaluations will focus on that, here the point is that it is OK, but great professor challenge more students pushing them to expand their own thinking.
  • Good professors understand well their material. They are avid readers and productive writers as well.
  • Best professors prepare carefully their lectures, discussion sections, problem-based sessions, and other elements of teaching as serious as intellectual endeavors as intellectually demanding and important as they research and scholarship. This preparation, just put a high level bar of goals and expectations from the students as well.
  • Best professors expect more from their students.
  • Best professors try to create a natural critical learning environment, which is defined as an environmental where people learn by confronting challenging problems, which make them rethink in their ideas, assumptions, and constantly examine their methods and mental models of reality.
  • Best professors put or allow themselves to put trust in their students.
  • While best professors, as any other human being, also make plenty of mistakes, and not always follow their best habits and practices, they had three particular carasterics:
    1. Self-criticism. Acknowledge failures and learn from mistakes
    2. They do not blame to their students for the difficulties the student face. Best professors adapt to a range of different learning methods, and diversity of individuals.
    3. They have a strong sense of commitment to the academic community, and I would say are well aware of society needs, and do not only focus to personal success in the classroom.


Bain, K., 2004. What the best college teachers do. Chapter 1. Introduction: Defining the best. Harvard University Press. pp. 1-21

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