Best Practices of University Teaching Today: An American Perspective
By Chris Smith
Visiting Professor Katherine Marshall of the U.S.
returned to UC to offer her insights on the
changing role of professors in today's higher
The University of Cambodia hosted the welcome return of Professor Katherine Marshall as she visited Phnom Penh in the course of her academic duties. Marshall is the former Vice President of the World Bank and a high profile member of the North American academic community. Currently, she works for Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and is a trustee for Princeton University. Given this extensive experience, Marshall spoke to UC students on the topic of “Best Practices in University Teaching Today.”
Following an introduction by Dr Angus Munro, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Professor Marshall admitted that educators across the world are starting to feel
restrictions caused by the downturn in the global economy. Nevertheless, she noted many establishments view the crisis as an opportunity to rethink, retool and renew.
This process includes an ever-accelerating trend towards incorporating IT into the lives of all those associated with the advancement of further education. For instance, Marshall said she makes regular use of social applications such as Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch with her students. She also mentioned she teaches in lecture halls equipped with hand-held communication devices – one for each student – allowing her to conduct swift concept-checking exercises with her students in real time.
While it is likely to be some time before fresh and growing organizations such as UC adopt such technology, Marshall did advise members of the audience to keep abreast of technological change, accepting and adapting that which best suits the demands of the hour.
Marshall also addressed the matter of instilling a sense of “perpetual curiosity” in the minds of students. Recalling her days in the World Bank, she introduced the audience to the ideal of “sequential specialization.” Here, recognized experts in particular fields are also expected to be conversant in an additional area of specialization closely linked to their main discipline.
To play into this notion, Marshall suggested exposing students to a range of different learning styles and settings to effectively encourage the first steps along the path toward lifelong learning. The result is an intelligent, well-rounded individual who will push against the boundaries of society.
Marshall also found that a series of provocative, if not downright controversial, freshmen seminars conducted in the presence of high university authorities fosters a right-thinking approach to academic excellence. When confronted early in her student career with such seminars, her enquiring mind is oriented towards the heady, oxygen-rich environment of academic discourse and naturally led her to contribute to it.
UC is at the forefront of efforts to provide the best education for all. Marshall had this fact in mind when she predicted that in future, the majority of the world’s academics will be female, as is already the case with the student population of her university. She suggested that the acceptance of diversity is an essential aspect of today’s progressive educational establishments. In catering not just to changes in gender balance, but also to diversity of race, religion, attitudes and needs, barriers are lifted and change for the better introduced.
Marshall suggested that the era of the global citizen has not been derailed by current economic uncertainties, and it is, she said, the business of the future to train students to become effective global operatives. This might be achieved by presenting students the opportunity to study abroad, as UC President Dr Kao Kim Hourn’s recent work in establishing links between UC and the European Union and India promises to achieve.
In conclusion, Marshall pointed to classic fields of study such as the law or medicine and asked students to consider how much these disciplines had changed over the course of a decade in response to technological advances. A willingness to embrace advances in applied computer technology is central to the university’s evolution, she noted.