College professor with students. September 7

Learning to Teach: Are We More Like Our Students Than We Think?

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How did you learn how to teach? By trying to teach like those who taught you? Through trial and error? By looking for feedback on course evaluations? As an experienced educator, what methods do you now rely to continue your growth as a teacher? Do you read articles and blogs? Talk to colleagues? Attend workshops?

Let’s get specific about some of these approaches to developing ourselves as teachers. Say you’re attending a workshop on some new pedagogical approach. The presenter moves through the slides quickly and you don’t quite see how the examples could work in your field or large intro course. Some concepts are familiar; others aren’t. Some of the central ideas—metacognition or pedagogical content knowledge—are new and it’s not clear how they relate to each other. A group activity is announced but what you really want is time to think on your own. You were looking back through your notes and not listening to the instructions, so you aren’t exactly sure what the group is supposed to do. Someone in your group tells a long story. The discussion wanders around. The presenter’s debrief doesn’t really clear up your confusion. In the end, you learned a thing or two but you leave the session disappointed.

Or perhaps you’re not big on workshops and prefer to stay current and learn new approaches by reading. An article with an intriguing idea captures your attention. Maybe it’s on using clickers to check conceptual understanding, cold calling to increase student participation in discussion, or some other teaching technique that the author swears is nearly foolproof. You skim the piece during a lunch break. It gives you the germ of an idea, which grows into an outline of an activity. You spend some extra time to prep the details. You’re enthused about what you’ve put together but worry about how much content won’t get covered. You think about asking a colleague, but you’ve left the prep to the eleventh hour and there’s no time to bounce ideas off someone. Besides, sharing a new strategy before you use it feels rather risky, so you test it out in class. The activity goes pretty well. Students don’t jump in with great enthusiasm but by the end they’re engaged, even your most quiet ones. You tell yourself to remember to give clearer instructions in the future and persuade yourself the other rough spots will smooth out the second time around.

Or here’s one of my learning experiences. I was working with two younger colleagues who suggested modifying a course the three of us teach. We all thought we could be more intentional in teaching students how to use primary literature. My colleagues were eager to try something they’d read about; I was eager to support them. However, committee assignments kept me from participating as fully as I would have liked. After several meetings, one of which I missed, my colleagues presented a model for the project. I didn’t entirely understand it, but since I missed a meeting I simply went along. I expected that with my long-time experience I could make it work. I couldn’t. My students were confused; I was confused. Conversations with my colleagues helped me figure it out, but I still wasn’t happy with the quality of my students’ work. In the end, I wished I’d understood the proposed model more deeply before launching the assignment.

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faculty development meeting July 10

Creating Sustainable Engagement for Faculty Development Initiatives

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As a faculty member working in educational development, there is a question at the forefront of my work—how do we drive and maintain engagement in faculty development initiatives?

In the book The Four Cultures of the Academy (Bergquist, 1992), those in academia who identify with developmental culture can be seen as idealistic and unproductive; they are busy imagining what things should be like as opposed to the more pragmatic colleagues in the collegial and managerial cultures who focus on plans and strategies that are often easier to implement and produce quantifiable impacts. With these competing forces and priorities, it can be easy for initiatives related to faculty development to get left behind or relegated to the compliance box of the checklist of things we simply must have. So how do we move away from this and promote a culture of sustainable engagement for faculty development?


faculty mentoring June 13

A Case for Coaching in Faculty Development

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I recently spent a rainy afternoon watching the semi-finals of the Madrid Open and noticed how often one of the players looked to his coaching box for reassurance about his strategy. Coaches are not just for players trying to make it into the big leagues; “even Rafael Nadal has a coach. Nearly every elite tennis player in the world does. Professional athletes use coaches to make sure they are as good as they can be.” (Gawande, 2011)

If coaching is a proven strategy for ensuring that athletes perform at their best and is used at the highest levels in the business world, why shouldn’t faculty turn to coaching to ensure continued growth and peak performance? In a piece in The New Yorker magazine, renowned surgeon Atwal Gawande recounts his experiences in hiring a retired surgeon to coach him to even higher degrees of professional excellence than he had achieved on his own. Rather than coasting at mid-career on his accomplishments, Gawande stretched his skills further, reduced his complication rates, and concluded that “coaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance.” (Gawande, 2011)

Coaching as a professional development strategy is beginning to take hold in the education sector. In the preface to his text, “Instructional Coaching” Jim Knight recounts an experience all too familiar to those of us working in faculty development in higher education. At the conclusion of a workshop, he invited participants to send him an update after they’ve had a chance to experiment with some of the evidence-based instructional strategies discussed during the session. “At the end of 2 years, I had not received one postcard. The reality was, I suspected, that inservice sessions just did not provide enough support for most people to implement what they had learned.” (Knight, 2007)

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tired teacher March 1

Waking up to Tired Teaching

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I have been wanting to do a blog post on tired teaching for some time now. Concerns about burnout are what’s motivating me. Teachers can reach a place where teaching does nothing for them or their students. They don’t just wake up one morning and find themselves burned out; they’ve moved there gradually, and it’s a journey that often starts with tired teaching.


faculty development meeting February 13

Let’s Practice What We Teach: Flipping Faculty Development

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Faculty everywhere are flipping their classes, but can we flip faculty development? That’s the question I asked myself when I flipped the pre-conference workshop at the 2016 Teaching Professor Technology Conference. What I discovered is that we can “practice what we teach” and design faculty-centered learning experiences much the same way we design student-centered learning experiences.

In this article, I provide a few recommendations for flipping a faculty development workshop. For further inspiration, the article concludes with a showcase of the work created by the participants in my workshop last fall.



teaching professor conference attendees May 23, 2016

How to Get the Most out of a Professional Conference

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An initial look at a conference program can lead attendees to become (in the words of a former colleague) “paralyzed by the possibilities.” There are just so many sessions we’d like to attend that it’s hard to choose. At a recent conference, a new faculty member asked me for advice about negotiating the labyrinth. Here is a collection of strategies that I have developed over the years to help me make the most of the conference experience—before, during, and after the event.


faculty development June 1, 2015

Flexible Faculty Development Opportunities

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One of the most persistent challenges for instructional designers is finding a convenient time to schedule faculty development training sessions. If scheduled during the summer, the workshop is subject to poor attendance because faculty are preparing for the fall. If it is scheduled in the fall, teaching responsibilities and committee work can impede professional development attendance. The same holds true for the spring semester.


September 22, 2014

Articulating Learning Outcomes for Faculty Development Workshops

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The use of student learning outcomes (SLOs) is commonplace at regionally accredited colleges and universities in the United States. I have been working with SLOs in one form or another for the past decade, even before they became fashionable. Many years ago, while I was an instructor in the US Navy, SLOs were called Terminal Objectives. After the service, I taught GED classes and at that time SLOs were referred to as Learning Goals. Regardless of the latest trendy technical name, SLOs are clear statements that describe the new skills students should be able to demonstrate as a result of a learning event such as a college course (Ewell, 2001). Whether teaching online, on-ground, or via a blended environment, the importance of defining the intended outcomes, before instruction takes place, cannot be overstated because SLOs identify fundamental and measurable student skills, help outline needed curricular content, and define appropriate assessment.


May 2, 2014

Developing a Framework for a Customized Faculty Development Evaluation Plan

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Faculty development programs exist, at least to some degree, to help faculty become better teachers, better scholars, and better members of the campus community. Schools invest in faculty development in different ways and at different levels. Yet increasing calls for accountability in higher education are demanding evidence of return on investment. In other words, colleges and universities that are spending time, money, or other resources on faculty development need to determine and show what is working—and improve or abandon what isn’t. Hence the need to evaluate faculty development efforts and to determine their impact