Thursday, April 29, 2010

Interdisciplinary Graduate Symposium

I spent Saturday at the UC Davis Interdisciplinary Graduate Symposium (IGS). I decided that it was a good venue to talk about the Graduate Teaching Community because the event had so many commonalities with our own group. It is completely run by graduate students, it represents a wide range of disciplines, and it has the effect of empowering graduate students.

I really enjoyed the event, I liked interacting with other graduate students who we
re passionate about their research, and many individuals were intrigued by the GTC. It was a great exchange! But... I must admit I was a little saddened by the lack of attendance. There were less than ten posters, between 10 and 15 ten minute talks, and most people at the symposium were the presenters themselves (although there were supporters filtering in and out to see their friends' talks). One could argue that having many more talks than this would make the event longer and less attended, (and I will agree that I was pretty sleepy when 5PM finally
rolled around) but really, this is a GREAT opportunity to share your research to a general audience. How often does that happen?

I am going to outline my talk for you, and while you read it, I hope you realize that you have plenty to talk about at next year's IGS and that you sign up for it next year as soon as it is announced!
I presented a ten minutes talk on the GTC (ok, I probably went a little over, but it's hard to stop gushing about you guys!) just before lunch so it was reasonably well attended. I explained a little about how the GTC worked, and what you would expect to get out of a typical meeting. Then I went in to the five elements that I think made the GTC so successful:

1) We established "Graduate Student Ownership" of the content, and the format of the meetings. Because the members are the ones that generate the topics, then form groups around these interests, and finally facilitate the meeting where the topics are discussed, we ensure
members are invested in the material, and the success of the discussion at every meeting.

2) We have established "Interdisciplinary Collaboration." The breath of content we have
covered over the course of the year is only possible because we have representatives from
different departments with complementary knowledge and varying experiences. Additionally working in a interdisciplinary environment is refreshing! It gets us out of our departments and discussing the big picture ways we are similar, so that we can more effectively transfer teaching techniques across disciplines.

3) Our meetings model an "Interactive Environment." The weekly facilitators rarely lecture, and when they do, they are always followed by, or spliced with discussions. Instead, we
do a lot of small group discussions and often engage on activities. Also, the weekly facilitators interact with each other and the material when determining how to most effectively pres
ent the content.

4) We have established a "Safe Environment." Members feel comfortable discussing the good and the bad of their teaching experiences, and also feel as though this is a safe space where we can practice lessons and techniques, and get helpful feedback.

5) Finally, we've "Filled a Niche." Up to this point many graduate students who wanted to improve their practice have felt isolated in their research centered departments. Being focused on research is good and important, but isn't teaching also an important part of aca
demia? One thing all graduate teaching community members have in common is that we value
our roles as educators.

So that was the gist of my talk... there were several aspects that I didn't get a chance to talk about, but that only means that there is ample material for another talk to give at next year's Interdisciplinary Graduate Teaching Symposium. In fact, if you'd rather not present about your departmental research, YOU should give that talk. :)

Friday, April 23, 2010

In our discussion on diversity in the classroom, we began by getting to know one another a little bit better. By sharing where we come from and how we identify, we began to get a sense of how our own identities as teachers can affect classroom dynamics.

We went on to discuss some benefits of diversity in the classroom and heard some great points. One strength that many people noticed was that a diverse classroom means that if one or two students understand the example used by an instructor, they can then translate that example or skill to others in the class. Different students understand different things based on their backgrounds, and by fostering a community where students feel free to engage with one another, everyone ends up learning more and students can teach each other.

We also discussed how forming groups for classwork or small-group discussion can be a challenge when students prefer to stay in their comfort zone whether for cultural, linguistic, or other reasons. We brainstormed ways to form groups that sometimes allow students to self-select, but also allow instructors to mix personalities, skill levels, and backgrounds so that students can work with and benefit from their classmates.

Overall, our discussion was very fruitful and really opened a good space to think about how our identities as teachers and students can affect learning.

The following link might be useful if anyone would like more resources pertaining to our discussion:

The topic of the website is Diversity and Complexity in the Classroom:Considerations of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender. They have many interesting information for teaching in cultural diversity classroom; for example, Tactics for Overcoming Stereotypes and Biases, course content and materials, assignment and exam and also extracurricular activities.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Non-Majors in the Classroom

During our discussion of teaching non—majors, we spent much time discussing the various formats of classes.  We started with six basic class types, their purposes, and their audiences:

  • Major Introductory Class, Introductory level class required for the major and associated majors (e.g., PHY 9 series, GEL 50, etc.); students with strong interest in pursuing the subject (although occasionally used as a general education class)
  • Major Core Course, core requirements for the major and sometimes elective options for closely associated majors (e.g., GEL 109 – for geology majors and civil engineering elective choice); students in the major or with strong interests in the subject (can also sometimes be used as a GE course)
  • Major Elective Course, course that meets elective requirements for students in the major, course requires significant prerequisites (e.g. practical courses); students are often upper division majors
  • General Elective Course, course that meets general education requirements, usually not assuming any (or much) knowledge in the discipline (e.g., astronomy, dinosaurs, etc.); students are often not in the major (or associated major), but can be, and are often interested in the material, and no students are assumed to be taking the specific class because it is required. 
  • University Core Course (math, writing, etc.), courses that are requirements of most every degree in a college, regardless of the major; students are often mixed among many majors in the class and are taking it because they are required, but unlike General Electives, their programs expect them to learn the material. 
  • Service Courses, courses that are required by another major in a different department (e.g., PHY 7 series); students do not include majors in the department offering the course

As we discussed these groups, we talked about how to include non-majors in the course.  How can we help them to understand the material?  When is it more appropriate to use specific examples to their background? 

An interesting discussion was on the benefits and detractions of diversity between non-majors and majors in a class.  Thanks John for leading a great session!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Commuter Survey

Calling all Commuting Grad Students and Post-Docs!

If you are a grad student or post-doc and commute to UCD or UCDMC - this survey is for you!

Being successful as a graduate student or post-doctoral scholar is demanding enough, and commuting adds another layer of tension to the mix. This survey, part of a Professors for the Future project, will help elucidate the challenges commuting grad students and post-docs face at UCD. The results of this survey will be used to create recommendations for the university and tools for commuters with the aim of addressing some of their needs.

If you are a commuting grad student or post-doc, please take some time (about 20 minutes) to fill out this survey. At the end, you may enter a random drawing for one of five gift certificates to the UCD Bookstore.

Here's the link:

If you have questions, please email Trina Filan, Ph.D. candidate in Geography and PFTF Fellow, at

THANK YOU for your help!
Happy Commuting!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spring Workshop Series for Improving Teaching!

There is not one, but two workshop series available this quarter for graduate students and postdocs who would like to improve their teaching skills. The first I mention is a 6 workshop series focused around building academic communities. If you attend 4 out of 6 of these workshops this quarter you can get a certificate of completion that will look very nice on your CV. :) However, you may take any number of the six workshops, so read the descriptions and see if any look interesting to you! An in depth description of each workshop in the series follows below...

Visit for more information about 'Collaborative Connections' and to register your interest.

The second series is intended to support graduate students and postdocs seeking the development necessary to teach their own courses and to make the transition from TA to professor with full teaching responsibilities. Graduate students and postdocs completing all five workshops will receive a certificate of completion. See below for full description.

Please go to for more information and to register your interest for 'Beyond the Basics.'

Full description of both workshop series:

Collaborative Connections: Develop a Community of Learners in Your Classroom and Beyond

Improve your enjoyment of and effectiveness in teaching! UC Davis graduate students and postdocs are invited to join us for an engaging and informative workshop series on creating community in your classroom and beyond. Participants attending 4 or more workshops will earn a certificate of completion.

Visit for more information about 'CollaborativeConnections' and to register your interest.

Workshop location: Earth and Planetary Sciences Building (EPS), map here:

Active Inclusivity: Benefit from Diversity in the Classroom
Workshop #1
EPS Building, Room 1309
Monday, April 19, 2010
3 – 5 pm
Many of the techniques used in university classrooms were developed during a time when campuses were composed almost entirely of the same type of student. Today classrooms are much more diverse. Do you want to see how you can use the diversity that exists in your classroom to the mutual benefit of you and your students? The goal of this workshop is to construct a framework for understanding in what ways we are all different, how this difference affects us and our relationships, and how we can benefit from this difference. Participants will leave this workshop more aware of what being inclusive means, and how to frame their contribution to diversity.

Developing Your Teaching Persona
Workshop #2
EPS Building, Room 1309
Monday, April 26, 2010
3 – 5 pm
Have you ever wondered how much and what aspects of your personality you should show to your students? Bringing your identity into the classroom has the potential to transform your students’ learning and their relationship to course material, as well as to improve your evaluations. In this workshop expect to develop clearly articulated student learning goals, and then based on these goals determine your role in the classroom.

Building Community in the Classroom
Workshop #3
EPS Building, Room 1309
Monday, May 3, 2010
3 – 5 pm
Are you interested in establishing a fun and dynamic community in your classroom? Developing a sense of community with your students can contribute to a positive learning environment and improve the effectiveness of your teaching. In this workshop we will establish a foundation for building your classroom community. Participants will develop strategies for managing your classroom environment, setting the desired classroom tone, and encouraging student participation both in and out of the classroom.

Advancing Community in the Classroom
Workshop #4
EPS Building, Room 1317
Thursday, May 13, 2010
3 – 5 pm
Undergraduate students are used to an educational system where they are handed information that they need to regurgitate back to the instructor. Would you like to break this cycle and have your students take more of an active responsibility for learning? This challenge can be met by fostering community in the classroom in a way that empowers students to see themselves as active participants in their learning process. In this workshop, participants will learn how to increase collaboration between students and how to break down the hierarchy in the classroom, thus encouraging students to take more ownership of their education.

Setting Sail on the Mentorship
Workshop #5
EPS Building, Room 1309
Monday, May 17, 2010
3 – 5 pm
Are you interested in developing one-to-one learning relationships with your students? Do you want to develop your skills as a future faculty mentor? Join us for a discussion about the qualities that make for a successful mentor-mentee relationship. In this workshop you will develop your mentoring philosophy and explore the various resources available for emerging academic leaders.

Feel Good Beyond the Classroom!
Workshop #6
EPS Building, Room 1317
Thursday, May 27, 2010
3 – 5 pm
Do you occasionally feel stifled by academia? Are you interested in working with the community beyond the classroom? Participate in the final workshop of the Collaborative Connections series to redefine what we think of as the classroom. Explore how academics can go beyond the classroom and nurture their enthusiasm for their discipline and teaching.

Sponsored by the TA Consultants ( <> ) and the Teaching Resources Center.

Beyond the Basics: Course Design, Syllabus Creation, and Advanced Teaching at the College Level
This workshop series is intended to support graduate students and postdocs seeking the development necessary to teach their own courses and to make the transition from TA to professor with full teaching responsibilities. Thus, thefive workshops in the series emphasize the creation of an effective syllabus as well as other important aspects of course design. Graduate students and postdocs completing all five workshops in the series will receive a certificate of completion.

Please go to for more information and to register your interest.

Developing Course Objectives
Workshop #1
Wednesday, April 28, 3-5 pm
Location TBA

What do you want students to learn in a course? How do you choose what teaching methods are most appropriate to employ? By what standards do you assess student knowledge at the end of a course? Are your students always aware from the start of a course what your expectations are? This workshop, the first in the Beyond the Basics series, emphasizes the importance of developing course objectives for effective teaching and assessment of student learning as well as how to frame clear and concise course objectives for student comprehension.

Syllabus Strategies
Workshop #2
Wednesday, May 5, 3-5 pm
Location TBA

Are you a graduate student teaching a class this summer or in the fall? Do you need to develop a syllabus for a proposal for a class that you would like to teach or as part of your job application? If yes, then come to this workshop,the 2nd in the Beyond the Basics series, to learn strategies for developing an efficient syllabus and using your syllabus as a teaching tool. Workshop #5 in the Beyond the Basics series will be a hands-on peer review session where you and your graduate student colleagues will have an opportunity to bring a working copy of a syllabus and receive as well as give feedback to strengthen your syllabus.

The First and Last Day of Class
Workshop #3
Wednesday, May 12, 3-5 pm
Location TBA

What will you do on your first and last days of class? The first day of a course is important for setting up classroom expectations and atmosphere, outlining course objectives, developing rapport with and among students, and introducing the course. Yet, instructors often overlook this day as significant for setting up how the rest of a course will develop. The last day of a course is important for assessing student learning; yet, by the end of a course, instructors are often too tired to plan this day meaningfully. This workshop will offer concrete strategies and simple activities that teachers can employ on both the first and last days of class to advance student learning.

Hands-On Practice with Interactive Teaching Techniques
Workshop #4
Wednesday, May 19, 3-5 pm
Location TBA

What are the most effective teaching methods that enhance student learning? What teaching methods do you want learn about and employ in your classroom? Lecture is the dominant teaching method employed at most universities, and especially at research institutes such as UC Davis. However, lecture is not necessarily how most students learn well. Most students, particularly women and other minorities, learn best through a combination of interactive teaching methods. Come to this workshop and learn how to effectively employ interactive teaching methods in your classroom. This workshop will also include an opportunity for hands on practice with at least one teaching method.

Syllabus Peer Review
Workshop #5
Wednesday, May 26, 3-5 pm
25 Wellman Hall

Are you a graduate student teaching a class this summer or in the fall? Do you need to develop a syllabus for a proposal for a class that you would like to teach or as part of your job application? Do you already have a syllabus that you would like to revise to develop as an effective teaching tool? If yes, bring a working copy of a syllabus to this workshop. Expect to work with your graduate student and postdoc peers to receive and give feedback to strengthen your syllabus.

Please contact for more information about "Beyond the Basics."