Monday, March 28, 2016

Bonus Post: Research in the Classroom

This week in GTC we discussed how to incorporate research into teaching. One thing graduate students (and academics in general) must navigate is their duality as both teachers and researchers. While we may often consider teaching and research as separate entities, there is increasing emphasis on bringing these two facets of academic careers together in order to better serve students, achieve the broader goals of universities and granting institutions, and increase our own productivity.
We first took some time to think about and discuss our answers to these questions: “Is there a relationship between teaching and research? How would you describe that relationship for you personally?” Although our group generally expressed a positive and synergistic relationship between teaching and research for us personally, the truth is that most studies fail to find any significant correlation between a person’s research productivity and effectiveness as a teacher. If the aim is to have researchers bring something special to the classroom gleaned from their activities in that field, we need to do more than just have researchers teach. Instead, we need to consciously create research-led course design.
As a group, we worked together to brainstorm different ways to incorporate research in the classroom and placed them along a continuum (inspired by some of the material in the PowerPoint presentation linked below).  On one hand of the continuum are teacher-focused activities. Here, students are an audience as the instructor shares information about past or ongoing research, in the field in general or in their own lab. This approach is useful for covering required course material without simply presenting material as immutable facts. Instead, this approach emphasizes the process of science and the accumulation of knowledge through research. The other end of the continuum is occupied by student-focused activities, were students themselves are actively engaged in research. These activities include in-class labs, literature projects, and other experiment-based learning exercises where students gain hands on experience formulating and testing hypotheses, synthesizing information, and presenting their results.
How does this all tie in with this quarter’s theme about job preparation and career development? Personally, I have been interested in this topic since I began developing some undergraduate course material incorporating products from my own research—with some success but lots of room for improvement! However, as we have spent time thinking about teaching portfolios and job interviews these last few weeks, it has become apparent that this is a topic every graduate student interested in an academic job should be able to address. Just looking up some common interview questions is evidence of this: “Tell us how research has influenced your teaching“ or “In what ways have you been able to bring the insights of your research into your teaching at the undergraduate level?“ or simply “How will you involve students in your research?” Although the answers to these questions will (and should) be different for each one of us, the benefits are universal; students in inquiry-based courses leave with increased confidence in course material, more positive attitudes towards research, and a higher interest in pursing future research (compared with a “cookbook” course; see Standford example linked below). For us trying to straddle the teaching-research divide, incorporating research into our teaching can increase our own engagement, productivity, and fundability. For instance, well-planned class projects may lead to publishable results and can be incorporated into major grants as evidence of the broader societal reach of our  academic activities.

PowerPoint about a case-study in Ireland incorporating research into the classroom:

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Week 8: The Teaching Portfolio, Part 2

This week in the GTC, we followed-up on our discussion on teaching portfolios from earlier in the quarter by focusing on the teaching philosophy statement.

Having earlier established what a teaching philosophy is, we spent today’s discussion on the most common mistakes writers make when crafting their statements and how to avoid them. We conducted a quick brainstorming session to identify what we thought might be some common points, supplementing our ideas with pitfalls described in the blunt-but-effective article from Karen Kelsky (author of renowned academic advice blog The Professor Is In) entitled The Dreaded Teaching Statement: Eight Pitfalls. The items on our list included:

  • Too long (or too short): while disciplinary norms vary, 1-2 pages is the most appropriate. As Dr. Karen argues, “everything you actually NEED to say in a teaching statement can be easily said in one page.” Remember, you do not need to cover every single detail of your teaching career in this statement – that’s what a teaching portfolio is for. Rather, you want to be as succinct as possible, while still leaving the reader wanting to know more – a desire which could only be fulfilled by advancing your application to the next round.

  • Tells instead of shows: a teaching philosophy should be less of a story about teaching and more a statement of principles about teaching. This does not mean avoiding the larger picture; indeed, a common trait of effective teaching statements involves opening the essay with a clear statement on how university education serves some sort of larger purpose beyond the classroom itself. With this argument in mind, the remainder of the statement then deals with the multitude of ways that your teaching contributes to the realization of this goal. In other words: start broad, and end specific. According to Dr. Kelsky, “the statement has to articulate a wide general good that can be achieved through university pedagogy at its broadest level. Then the writer demonstrates, in concrete and specific terms, how this good is manifested in specific teaching strategies, with examples. Then evidence is provided to show it was done effectively. Then there is a conclusion.”

  • Over-exaggerates enthusiasm, skills, or effectiveness: nobody is perfect, and rare is the class where every single student expresses glowing joy over their experiences in your classroom. While it is of course important to demonstrate your prowess as an instructor, moving too far in that direction can make it seem as though you feel you have nothing left to improve. Finding a way to balance candor and positivity in your statement is thus one of the most challenging but important processes to manage. One method of addressing this is to use a discussion of “future teaching interests” in order to transition from a section on teaching effectiveness to the conclusion. Something along the lines of, “I feel that XXX university, with its strong commitment to pedagogical excellence and intellectually-curious student body, can provide me with the perfect environment to explore current and new teaching interests. These include experiences with upper-division undergraduate seminars, the chance to work closely with international students, and…”

  • Uses words/concepts without understanding what they mean: buzzwords, when used sparingly, can be very helpful in terms of signaling committee readers that you are aware of current best practices in university instruction. However, a statement jammed full of references to current teaching fashions can seem insincere or disingenuous to readers, especially those who may not ascribe to those practices. On top of that, a professor who is unaware of such terms may feel slightly mystified by what it all means – which is not a headspace you want to encourage in your readers. It would also, of course, be extremely embarrassing if, upon being asked about a practice or approach during a follow-up interview, you were unable to confidently describe what the technique is or when you actually used it.

  • Over-emotional, over-general, hyperbolic, too personal: Dr. Kelskey is particularly adamant about this point, saying that an over-emotional tone can be especially damaging to women (though the general concept applies to all). As she notes:

“Teaching at the tenure track level is not about being nice. It is about being a professional….
Those who are competitive in the tenure track market…. articulate a teaching persona that is completely consistent with their researcher persona: serious, intellectually hard-hitting, disciplinarily cutting edge, demanding, and with high standards and expectations.”

The other major danger to overly personalized rhetoric is that, in many cases, such talk does very little to separate your statement from the other candidates’. A statement like, “I have had a passion for teaching for most of my life; it is by far the most rewarding part of being an academic, and I love the opportunity to connect so deeply with my students” might seem sincere, but it’s one that could theoretically open every single teaching statement in a reader’s pile. So in this case, the best way to communicate your enthusiasm for teaching is through your actions: the multitudinous ways you’ve tried to improve your teaching methods, the extra opportunities you’ve taken to gain teaching experience, and the overwhelmingly positive feedback you’ve gotten from students as a result. Again: show, don’t tell.

  • Excessively critical of other teaching approaches: remember, your rant about the evils of lecturing might not be received so well by a senior faculty member who has found lecturing perfectly acceptable for three decades or more. Try and learn as much as you can about your audience, and if you do feel the need to offer critiques, do so in as respectful a manner as possible.

While there are, of course, many other possible critiques we could offer, these form a good base from which to approach your own teaching statement. In the end, what works best for every person and every job posting will be quite unique, so any and all “standard” advice should always be absorbed with that in mind. In the meantime, additional resources (including statements from successful job applications!) are provided below. Good luck, and good writing!

Link to Cornell University collection of resources on Teaching Statements:

Link to The Professor Is In blog:

General resource guide for teaching, research, and academic success (access the site using UC Davis’s institutional membership):

Week 7: Team-Based Learning

“When it’s not about teaching but about learning…”

This week we explored an active learning strategy -- Team-based Learning (TBL).  Although new to all of us, TBL was developed in the 1970’s.  For a recent meta-analysis of the literature on TBL:
Haidet, P., Kubitz, K., & McCormack, W.T.  (2014).  Analysis of the Team-Based Learning Literature:  TBL Comes of Age. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 303-333.

Team-based learning is a highly collaborative and structured learning system, perhaps a variation of the flipped classroom.  TBL operates as a 3 part cycle:  preparation, in-class assessments, and application focused exercises.  It seems to be rather prevalent in professional schools such as medical, law, or business schools.

As articulated by Michaelsen, Swee, and Parmalee in their book, there are four underlying principles to Team-based Learning:
  1. Groups must be properly formed and managed
  2. Students must be accountable for both individual and group work
  3. Students must receive frequent and immediate feedback
  4. Team assignments should promote both learning and team development
(Adapted from Chapter 1 of Michaelsen, L., Sweet, M. & Parmalee, D. (2009)
Team-Based Learning: Small Group Learning’s Next Big Step. New Directions in
Teaching and Learning, 7-27.)

In exploring the strategy, we watched a short video ( where practitioners and students shared their perspectives.  We also discussed that the strategy is being implemented on our own campus.  As well, personnel from the Center for Educational Effectiveness is also able to provide support for any instructors who wish to embrace the instructional strategy.

Week 6: Information Interviews

Informational Interviews

In this workshop we reviewed the benefits of realizing your own worksite values and the importance of informational interviews.

Worksite values are aspects of the jobsite that you wish to have in your career. They consist of creativity, helping others, independence, and working alone to name a few.  Further explorations of worksite values and how they align with the career you believe you would like to obtain can be found at the following link.

Informational interviews are a great way to learn about a potential career, without the time investment of testing it out or even interning. They are also a structured way to start developing a network of professionals, for most jobs are obtained not solely by replying to a job posting, but through the network you have developed. Additional information initially provided by the FUTURE program can be found below.  

Week 5: Guest Speaker, TAC

TA Consultant

Newly promoted TA Consultant Coordinator Laurel Richardson presented on the benefits of requesting a TA consultation. If you are interested in bettering your teaching or demonstrating that you have reflected on your teaching for job applications, a teaching consultation may be for you.

The UC Davis Center for Educational Effectiveness offers free, confidential consultations to faculty and graduate students at UC Davis. The consultations consist of general consultations, classroom observations, video recordings, teaching philosophy reviews, and presentations skills. More information and the ability to request a consultations can be found at the following link