The Best Teachers Institute draws on the research and expertise of Ken Bain and James Lang, two of the leading writers and consultants in higher education today, and on the experience and expertise of our fellows


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Ken Bain is the author of What the Best College Teachers Do (Harvard University Press, 2004), which won the 2004 Virginia and Warren Stone Prize for an outstanding book on education and society, and has been one of the top selling books on higher education.  It has been translated into twelve languages and was the subject of an award-winning television documentary series in 2007.  The sequel, What the Best College Students Do, also from Harvard University Press, won the Virginia and Warren Stone Prize in 2012, and has become an international best seller.   Ken is an historian whose books focus primarily on mid 20th century US political history, and include The March to Zion and the forthcoming Last Journey Home: FDR and Friendship in Troubled Times.  He founded teaching centers at four major universities (Vanderbilt, Northwestern, NYU, and Montclair State), served as a professor of history for more than thirty years (winning several teaching awards), and held various administrative posts, including vice provost and provost.  He has given invited workshops or lectures at over four hundred universities and events--in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia, and has served as a special consultant with schools around the world. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenBain1 and click here for an extended bio.


James Lang is the author of Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2016), a new book that draws on recent research in the learning sciences to help college faculty create dynamic and engaging courses, Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty (Harvard University Press, 2013), which provides an overview of how both institutions and individual faculty members can help create cultures of academic integrity on their campuses, and On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching (Harvard University Press, 2010), which provides anecdotes and concrete suggestions for inexperienced and veteran teachers, keeping them on course as they navigate the calms and storms of classroom life.  James writes a monthly column on teaching and learning for The Chronicle of Higher Education, where he introduces readers each month to new research, programs, and people that support excellence in higher education.  He edits a new series of books on teaching and learning in higher education for the University of West Virginia Press, and is a member of the Fulbright Specialist Roster in higher education.  He has given workshops or consultations at more than fifty colleges or universities in the US and abroad. Follow James on Twitter @LangOnCourse and click here for James's CV.

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Additional Summer Institute Faculty

Melinda Maris is an award-winning teacher and scientist, whose work on evidence-based approaches to education is transforming the way we approach teaching and learning in all fields.  She earned her B.S. in biology from the College of William and Mary and her Ph.D. in genetics and molecular biology from Emory University, and post-doctoral work at Johns Hopkins University.  She has held faculty positions at Johns Hopkins, a medical school, liberal arts college, and a community college, among other places, providing her with insight into the teaching and learning needs of diverse learning environments.  In her career, she has established five new teaching and learning centers at various institutions around the world.  Awards include: Named Biology Scholar by the National Science Foundation and the American Society for Microbiology, Georgia Governor’s Teaching Fellow, and a National Endowment for the Humanities / Arthur Blank Teaching Fellow, highly competitive grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to implement transformative, authentic learning experience-based undergraduate science courses.

She is currently the founding Director of Student Learning and Educational Development and a Professor of Biology, at Vesalius College, a liberal arts college in Brussels, Belgium.  She has been doing pioneering work on teaching and learning, using evidence-based approaches, and has quickly established herself as one of the rising stars on using research to improve student learning.  Her workshop will focus on the use of Eric Mazur’s Conceptest and Peer Instruction as a powerful model of the Natural Critical Learning Environment.  Participants will have a chance to engage in this revolutionary model that won the $500,000 Minerva Prize in 2014.

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Diana M. Thomas is an award winning teacher and the recipient of the Mathematical Association of America’s Distinguished Teaching Award and nationally recognized for her evidence based approaches to teaching and research across mathematics, medicine and the humanities.  She received her Ph.D. from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1996. She then completed a National Research Council funded post-doctoral fellowship at the United States Military Academy and the Army Research Laboratory.   She is currently a visiting professor of mathematics at the United States Military Academy and the director of the Center for Quantitative Obesity Research at Montclair State University in New Jersey.   The Center serves as a unique STEM educational facility housing students from five different departments across campus who work together to develop unique solutions for individuals affected by obesity.  She holds joint research appointments at the Columbia University New York Obesity Research Center and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana and serves on the editorial board for The Journal of Obesity and Metabolic Research, PloS One, and the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.    Her work has been covered by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fitness Magazine, Good Housekeeping, CBS News, and ABC News. She serves as a Principle Investigator on several NIH funded awards one of which is a short course that brings together individuals from the mathematical sciences and clinical fields to develop careers at the interface of several disciplines.

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Michelle D. Miller is the author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology (Harvard University Press, 2014), a guide to enhancing blended, hybrid, and online courses through the application of principles from cognitive and brain sciences. Her academic background is in cognitive psychology, emphasizing memory, attention, and language processing; her current research focuses on evidence-based pedagogy, distraction and learning, and effective college teaching, which she has written about in scholarly as well as general-interest publications including College Teaching, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, Inside Higher Ed, and The Conversation.

Michelle is a Professor of Psychological Sciences and President’s Distinguished Teaching Fellow at Northern Arizona University. At NAU, she co-created and currently directs the First Year Learning Initiative, a program that supports faculty in redesigning foundational courses in ways that promote student success. She also co-created the award-winning Attention Matters!™ module, an educational resource that uses interactive online activities to teach students about how divided attention affects learning, and offers strategies for fighting digital distraction. Follow Michelle on Twitter at @MDMillerPHD and click here for her Minds Online blog.  She will join the Summer Institute as our remote "Ask the Cognitive Scientist" expert on the second day.

The Best Teachers Institute fellows include a range of other experts in the specific areas in which you might be seeking help for your institution.  We work to put together a team that will meet your individual institutional needs, drawing on award-winning faculty in multiple disciplines and leading thinkers and visionaries in the field of higher education teaching and learning.

The Best Teachers Institute has also provided its consultation and workshop services to a limited number of secondary institutions that are striving to meet the highest standards of excellence for their students.


Jeanette Norden (Ph.D, Vanderbilt), Professor of Neurosciences in the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Cell Biology in the School of Medicine at Vanderbilt University and one of the subjects of the Best Teachers study. She was the first holder of the University Endowed Chair of Teaching Excellence (1994-1997) and also the first recipient of the School of Medicine's Excellence in Teaching Award (2000). She is an extraordinarily gifted educator who has also received numerous awards from students for her teaching. She has been named Best Lecturer in the Medical School, and she has been a multiple recipient of the Medical School's Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award (1993, 1994, 1995,1996) and the Jack Davies Award, presented in recognition of basic science professors who uphold the highest standards of teaching excellence (1992, 1994,1997, 1999). Even early in her career, she was recognized by the students by being awarded the Shovel by the graduating seniors as the professor who had the most positive influence on them in their 4 years of study. Most recently, she received the Robert J. Glaser Award for Outstanding Contributions to Medical Education, a national award from the American Association of Medical Colleges and the medical honor society Alpha Omega Alpha. Her course in Neurosciences to second year students is considered a model course. She has presented invited programs throughout the United States on education reform and acts as a consultant to many different kinds of schools. She maintained an active and NIH-funded research laboratory for twenty years before taking the position of Director of Medical Education in the Department of Cell Biology at Vanderbilt. In addition to her teaching in the medical school, she teaches a highly lauded course in the neurosciences for undergraduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences at Vanderbilt. We have explored and analyzed how she creates a natural critical learning environment in both a large lecture class and a smaller seminar.

Ann Woodworth (M.A., Northwestern) is Associate Professor of Theatre and the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University, and one of the subjects of the Best Teachers study. Her work on the stage and in directing have won strong praise in the theater, but she has also been one of the most successful and highly acclaimed teachers in the United States, especially recognized for her general insights into the art and craft of teaching and for her work with other faculty members in helping them achieve impressive improvements in their ability to communicate with students. She has conducted a master class for the institute on improving communication techniques in the classroom, in public forums, and in conversations with students.  But she has also dissected her own approaches and developed deep insights into what works best. Professor Woodworth has been a Fellow of the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence since 1993.  In recent years she had taught internationally at the Northwestern campus in the Middle East.


Andrew Kaufman (Ph.D. Stanford University)  An innovative, award-winning scholar and instructor of Russian language, literature and culture at the University of Virginia, Dr. Andrew Kaufman (Ph.D., Stanford University) has spent the last twenty-five years bringing alive classical literature to diverse audiences. He is the creator and director of the community-based literature program, “Books Behind Bars: Life, Literature and Leadership,” where university students have life-changing discussions about Russian literature with incarcerated youth at juvenile correctional centers in Virginia. The program has been featured in the Washington Post, on Katie Couric, and on Russian national television, and will be the subject of a forthcoming documentary film.  Dr. Kaufman’s research focuses on pedagogical innovation in the humanities, the intersection of literature and practical ethics, and the relevance of classical literature to the social and spiritual challenges of the twenty-first century. An internationally recognized Tolstoy scholar, he is the author of Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times (Simon & Schuster, 2014; paperback 2015), Understanding Tolstoy (Ohio State University Press, 2011; paperback 2014), and numerous scholarly articles published in the U.S. and Russia. He has spoken about his scholarship and teaching innovation at TEDx, the Aspen Institute, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and at colleges and universities across the country, and he is frequently invited to appear on national and international radio and television programs. To learn more about Dr. Kaufman, please visit his website: