APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Wilbert “Bill” McKeachie, author of the classic McKeachie’s Teaching Tips handbook for college instructors, passed away June 12.
McKeachie spent his career as a scientist and instructor at the University of Michigan after earning his PhD there in 1949. He served 10 years as chair of UM’s Department of Psychology, building its reputation as one of the world’s largest and most prestigious psychology departments. And he gained international prominence for his novel educational research and teaching philosophy.
“I became famous without trying because I was the only person doing my kind of work, and it wasn’t a very wide circle of people with whom I was famous — I became well known for being the person in teaching,” he said during an interview at the 2009 APS Annual Convention, where he received his Cattell Fellow Award.
McKeachie was one of the earliest scientists to examine student anxiety in the college classroom, and to document gender differences in classroom anxiety, test anxiety, and interactions with the teacher and material. This research subsequently expanded to the experiences of other minority students.
Over the course of his career, McKeachie studied the interaction of personality variables and teaching methods, cognitive and learning analyses of classroom teaching, students’ perceptions of teachers, and evaluations of teaching effectiveness.
His work demonstrated the importance of teaching approaches to students’ learning. He found that the best way to improve teaching was to give teachers direct feedback on their effectiveness from their students and fellow faculty.
McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, first published in the early 1950s, is considered the preeminent guide for college instructors and is in its 14th edition (now co-authored with psychological scientist Marilla Svinicki). The book offers research-based strategies for specific classroom situations. He also published more than 30 books or monographs, 122 book chapters, and over 200 articles.
McKeachie served as President of the American Psychological Association and the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP). In 1980, STP established the Wilbert J. McKeachie Teaching Excellence Award, which recognizes graduate students for their teaching.
McKeachie remained on the UM faculty until his retirement in 1992, when — at age 85 — the wear and tear of a long career as a fast-pitch softball pitcher resulted in him undergoing a hip and shoulder replacement.