Illustration by Katie McBride

A book editor recently asked Joe Ben Hoyle, who has taught accounting since 1971, to reflect on what he wished he’d learned in graduate school. Here’s an excerpt:

For the first 20 years I taught in college, I believed my role was the conveyance of information. I poured hours into creating beautiful lectures. Students transcribed every word. Class evaluations were good. I won teaching awards. And I was so dissatisfied that resigning was an ever-present temptation. Student learning seemed stuck in low gear. My efforts appeared to accomplish nothing more than helping bright young people become stenographers.

In 1991, I took a desperate leap of faith and switched to the Socratic method. I no longer conveyed information. Instead, I asked questions every day for the entire period.

I never ask for volunteers. I award no points for participation. I call on everyone every day and expect students to be prepared. “I don’t know” is not acceptable. “Figure it out” is my reply to a weak response. The questions are the key. They form puzzles that must be analyzed and solved. “Why is it done this way?” “What would have happened if the facts had been reversed?” I constantly search for questions that force students to think more deeply. That sentence is worth repeating:  I constantly search for questions that force students to think more deeply.

What do I wish I had learned in graduate school? I wish I had come to understand that good questions create puzzles that lead students to think deeply, more deeply than anything I could possibly tell them in a lecture. If I had understood all that, I could have made better use of those first 20 years in the classroom.

You can read his reply in full on his blog,