Back to School

It’s freshman move-in day on our campus, signaling the end of summer and the start of classes. Today’s post offers some resources for instructors as the semester begins.

Empty lecture hall, tiered with wooden seats.The Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker Blog post from August 13, 2015 by Natalie Houston (associate professor of English, University of Houston), From the Archives: Getting Ready for the New Semester, offers tips on getting ready to teach. Whether you are new to the profession or a practiced professor, there are links to articles with suggestions on learning student names, being prepared for medical emergencies in class, and routines to help you get organized.

In the The First Day of Class: A Once-a-Semester Opportunity (Teaching Professor Blog August 19, 2015), Maryellen Weimer, (professor emerita, Penn State Berks) writes, “There’s only one first day of class. Here are some ideas for taking advantage of opportunities that are not available in the same way on any other day of the course.” She suggests using the opportunity to tell students why the course is important, why you are committed to teaching it, why they should be committed to learning the material. Take the time to learn about your students and begin building relationships with them. “[G]et students connected with each other and the course content.”

Students often complain of poor presentation methods in lectures where instructors use PowerPoint (or other presentation software applications). A common mistake is to attempt to make your slides serve two purposes by being both lecture notes and lecture slides. This leads to too much text on the slides and reading from the slide. Both practices lead to student inattention. Bryan Alexander, in Giving a great presentation: notes on using PowerPoint, (July 27, 2015) tell us, “Your argument…is the essential thing.  The slides enhance your essential argument.  They amplify it and render it easier to understand. Make and use slides accordingly.” While the focus of the article is on presentations in general, there are some good things to consider for your use of presentation software in teaching!

Thinking about flipping your course? Check out Robert Talbert’s post Four things I wish I’d known about the flipped classroom (June 5, 2014), from his blog Casting Out Nines.

Or, perhaps you are considering implementing active learning strategies in your classroom. A recent article in Nature, Why we are teaching science wrong, and how to make it right (July 15, 2015) by M. Mitchell Waldrop, examines the problem of persistence in undergraduate STEM education. “Active problem-solving confers a deeper understanding of science than does a standard lecture. But some university lecturers are reluctant to change tack.” Waldrop stresses the importance of active learning, while analyzing the factors and challenges that contribute to slow adoption. For specific active learning strategies, see Cornell’s Center for Teaching Excellence website page on Active Learning. If you are going to be using an active learning classroom, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Education Innovation offers advice.

New to teaching or looking to brush up on your pedagogical skills? The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) is re-offering the 8 week-long MOOC: An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching, starting September 28 and running until November 19, 2015. Having taken the course last year, I highly recommend signing up. Here’s the description from Coursera:

“This course will provide graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) who are planning college and university faculty careers with an introduction to evidence-based teaching practices. Participants will learn about effective teaching strategies and the research that supports them, and they will apply what they learn to the design of lessons and assignments they can use in future teaching opportunities. Those who complete the course will be more informed and confident teachers, equipped for greater success in the undergraduate classroom.”

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Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Preparing Future Faculty: An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching

Our next couple of posts will address the preparation of graduate students who plan to enter the professoriate. Many universities offer training and other resources to prepare future faculty, and we’ll cover some publicly available options for those who are looking for additional opportunities for themselves for their students.

Screenshot of Coursera course description page for An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching.First up: a seven-week long MOOC, starting on October 6th: An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching. This course is offered by the CIRTL Network. Funded by the National Foundation for Science, the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning is a consortium of 22 research universities whose mission “is to enhance excellence in undergraduate education through the development of a national faculty committed to implementing and advancing effective teaching practices for diverse learners as part of successful and varied professional careers.”

CIRTL embraces three core concepts, which it calls Pillars: Teaching-as-research, Learning Communities, and Learning-through-Diversity. Johns Hopkins is a CIRTL member, but even if your institution is not part of the consortium, there are resources on the CIRTL website that are available to all. The MOOC is open to everyone. Further, although CIRTL is specifically “committed to advancing the teaching of STEM disciplines in higher education,” much of the information it makes available is applicable to teaching in any field. Likewise, the MOOC, offered through Coursera, will “start by exploring a few key learning principles that apply in all teaching contexts.”  The syllabus notes topics such as Principles of Learning, Learning Objectives, Assessment of Learning, Lesson Planning, Inclusive Teaching, and Writing to Learn that provide foundations to good teaching for any subject.

The course description provides more detail:

This course will provide graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) who are planning college and university faculty careers with an introduction to evidence-based teaching practices. Participants will learn about effective teaching strategies and the research that supports them, and they will apply what they learn to the design of lessons and assignments they can use in future teaching opportunities. Those who complete the course will be more informed and confident teachers, equipped for greater success in the undergraduate classroom.

You can watch the intro video as well.  Then, sign up and start preparing yourself for your first teaching assignment.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Screen shot https://www.coursera.org/course/stemteaching