Teaching How to teach
High quality teaching does not emerge from simply having high quality activities that make use of the latest results in the pedagogy literature. Pedagogy techniques are not "recipes for success" to be used blindly. There must be a passion behind wanting to teach if a teacher is to have any hope of making a connection with the students. How a teaching assistant or teacher approaches the course has a significant impact. Each instructor is different, and even if they are new to teaching, they are also not blank slates. The human wiki activity can also be used to gauge instructors' perceptions of their students, like asking the question "What do your students think astronomers do?" I have done this activity with first-year graduate students; an example is shown to the left (compare what the new instructors think their students believe versus what the students actually believed).
The training of future faculty, even research faculty, in the teaching of astronomy is a worthwhile pursuit that many R1 institutions have devalued. I have dedicated much of my graduate studies to running the department's pedagogy course, required of all first-year graduate students. In this course, we focus on personal introspection as well as the practical tools (writing quizzes, implementing group work, etc.) so that teaching can be enjoyable and fun. My course is not what the university thinks that the course should be, which is a course filled with pedagogy literature reading. Twenty papers on the effectiveness of group work will not tell you how to actually implement effective group work. What do you do when you're in the classroom and 30 sets of eyes are staring at you waiting for instruction? The answer won't be found in any academic study. My approach is instead one of "applied pedagogy," which has the new teachers simply try new things and report back through class discussions, online emails, or journaling. For example, one week's homework assignment might be to "Try a new type of group work activity. What worked and didn't work? What would you do differently next time? Journal your experiences and answers to these questions and bring it with you to class next week." And time and time again, without ever having to mention the results from the literature, the course members are able to conclude themselves on what are the benefits and pitfalls of, say, group work, their findings always coinciding with the results from the literature. But since they experienced and discovered these results, the results are more meaningful and therefore more memorable.
It is my hope that more universities will pay attention to the development of future faculty, lest we forget that the primary and original role of the university is to teach.
UC Berkeley Conference on Teaching
The Teaching Conference is held at the beginning of each semester to orient graduate students to their teaching assistant role and equip them to begin. The conference is broken into two sections:
- Discipline-Cluster (D-C) workshops for graduate student instructors working in similar kinds of courses, led by experienced graduate students. The D-C workshops address pressing questions such as how to get started as a GSI, what to do on your first day of teaching and beyond, practical strategies to enhance learning, time management, and more.
- Focus sessions address specialized teaching topics such as giving oral presentations, using bCourses or bSpace, facilitating effective discussions, and grading.
I have taught both the discipline cluster and a focus session on designing lesson plans. I'm happy to share my materials if you contact me. Eventually I will put this material on a media page.