Nilson’s Teaching At Its Best is essentially an encyclopedia for college teaching. Nilson covers history, theory, application, and everything in between. I especially appreciated the first two parts of the book which discussed several issues that are routinely ignored in the teaching and learning literature. For example, syllabus construction, coordination logistics between faculty and teaching assistants, and copyright guidelines are not frequently discussed in teaching and learning texts. Nilson however, explicitly offers advice and practical suggestions in these areas. Furthermore, the sections which examine preparation and procedures for the first class session and how to deal with a variety of incivility issues are both uncommon themes within the literature. While my current experience is at the K-12 level, I am willing to contend that classroom management is just as important in the college classroom as it is in the K-12 classroom. In any setting, it does not matter how well an instructor knows the content if the classroom environment is not conducive to learning.

In the remaining parts of the book, Nilson briefly visits learning styles and typologies, then explores an extensive collection of teaching and assessment strategies. In particular, I enjoyed the chapters discussing the discovery method, making the lecture more effective, leading discussions, and questioning techniques. These chapters served to reinforce the tactics I currently use as effective research-based strategies and exposed me to many new strategies that I am excited to implement in the near future. I would also encourage anyone aspiring to be a faculty member in the future to thoroughly read the chapter on test construction. Some of the suggestions offered will not always be practical (e.g. having a colleague review the test for clarity and content) but overall, the advice Nilson offers here is sound and easily implemented in most circumstances.

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much and am happy to add it to my ever-growing library on teaching and learning. In fact, I will likely purchase the most recent edition (I accidently ordered an older edition) somewhere down the road. I did find myself wishing there were more traditional introductions and summaries for each chapter instead of the dive in – dive out approach Nilson employed. Also, many of the sub-sections were extremely condensed and could have been entire books in and of themselves. I applaud Nilson’s effort to include these topics, but found much of this content to be an inch deep and a mile wide. Furthermore, some of the historical information could have easily been omitted or replaced with more pertinent information. For example, I found the background information on Socrates and the Socratic method to be an enjoyable read, but ultimately unnecessary relative to the overall purpose of the text.

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3 thoughts on “Teaching At Its Best: A Must Have for Novice Instructors

  1. Hi Matthew,
    Thanks for your review of Nilson. Her text is getting a pretty mixed review from our group, so I’m glad to see that you found it a useful resource.

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  2. Hi Matthew,

    I think you have make a great point regarding having this book as part of your bookshelf. I also think it is a great book to have especially for future teachers to read beforehand. There is very useful information from beginning to end. The graphic syllabus was one of my favorite chapters. Nilson gives useful information on how graphics are used to enhance students learning, while also giving instructors great insight on how to improve their syllabus to help and motivate students.

    ~Empress

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  3. Hi Matthew,

    Thanks so much for your post, and I’m really glad you liked the book. I’m sorry to hear you accidentally purchased an older copy, but I hope your new purchase of the most recent edition is as enjoyable as the first. 🙂

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