Educational Research and Methods Division Plenary Lecture
1999 Annual ASEE Meeting, Charlotte, NC, June 23, 1999.


Richard M. Felder
Hoechst Celanese Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering
North Carolina State University

If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job. (Donald D. Quinn)

[Cartoon: People in lab coats waving arms frantically. Caption: "Scientists trying to describe the size of the big bang."

[Cartoon: Scientist looking up from his experiment with a broad smile: "Eureka—I just thought of another way to get a grant.]







(teacher-centered instruction)

Active/cooperative learning
(student-centered instruction)



Professional advancement

Personal fulfillment

Why, a four-year-old child could understand this. Someone get me a four-year-old child. (Groucho Marx)

Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein. (H. Jackson Brown, Jr.)

  • But setting that point aside, let’s look at the balance issue. How do you do both, and how much of each?
  • Let me first dispose of the ever-popular Research vs. Teaching dichotomy. Most of you have heard the conventional wisdom on this topic: for example,
  • "Everyone knows that if you’re not doing research you’re not up on new developments in the field and so you’ll be teaching obsolete material."

    However, for those of you who have been in the profession for less than ten minutes, I want to get your more seasoned colleagues to summarize the CW for you.

      1. If you are doing world-class frontier research in your discipline, you’re automatically qualified to teach anything to anybody, including freshmen
      2. If you’re not doing world-class frontier research in your discipline, you’re not qualified to use the faculty rest room
      3. Elmer Dinwiddie in Electrical Engineering is in the National Academy and won an outstanding teaching award last year, which proves that research ability and teaching ability go hand-in-hand.
      4. Everyone on the faculty can be Elmer Dinwiddie if they work hard enough.

    Absurd on the face of it. Most of you can think back to one or two outstanding teachers you had—teachers who made difficult concepts clear to you, and more importantly, who motivated and inspired you to want to learn what they had to teach. Some of you may even be in your current careers because of one of those master teachers. If I collected their names from you and we made a list, many of those teachers would not be world-class researchers, or researchers at all.

    That one’s also easy to dispose of. Think back to your college professors again—you won’t have any trouble finding examples of great researchers who should have been barred by law from ever standing in front of undergraduates.

    People who offer this argument should know better. It’s like saying that you can’t be a good statistician unless you’re a good skier and pointing to someone they know who is both and thinking that the case has been made.

    I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. (E.B. White)

    [Cartoon: Two professors at funeral, looking sadly at the grave, and one says to the other "Poor Finchley—published and published, but perished anyway."]

    It can be said unequivocally that good teaching is far more complex, difficult, and demanding than mediocre research, which may explain why professors try so hard to avoid it. (Page Smith)