Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Optimizing review sessions

Contributed by: Marc Pollack

What makes a great review session? As TAs, we are meant to go over days of material in a much shorter period of time, convey that information to a diverse audience, and generally provide preparation for exams. However, we don’t want students to just walk out of a review session with the tools to get an A and then toss the information aside. We want what they learn to last. Balancing the need for exam preparation with the goal of deep learning is no easy task, and there are many views on how to do it. TAs have to balance the need to cover every topic in the class with student concerns and interests, managing both the breadth of those topics and the depth of more difficult issues. We have to meet the expectations of both students and the professor, becoming knowledgeable in all the topics of the class.

So, what do we do to make this process work? A good review session is one well-prepared for, with notes and extensive conversations directing much of what goes into it. Preparing to adapt to student demands is also important, and to student needs. Emailed questions can provide a strong basis for a successful review session. Provide meaningful opportunities for students to process the information by pushing them to interact and think in the review session – use active learning to stimulate thinking. TAs should also learn from their experiences, receiving feedback on how well students are learning from them during and after the session. There are also opportunities to improve review sessions by altering the way we think about them, using strategies to push students to write out exam questions, then critique and collectively answer them. We have opportunities to innovate with our review of the material, and strategies like this can help engage students without just teaching to the test.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Utilizing Reflective Teaching Practices

Contributed by: Marisella Rodriguez, PhD Candidate, Political Science

The first session of the 2018 winter quarter focused on promoting and utilizing reflective teaching practices. The objectives of this session were to better understand the definition and qualities of contemplative pedagogy and discuss how we can apply these practices in our own teaching. Contemplative pedagogy “uses forms of introspection and reflection that allow students to focus internally and find more of themselves in their courses” (Barbezat and Bush 1995, 9). There are a wide range of contemplative practices that can be used in and out of the classroom to the benefit of both teachers and learners, including yoga, deep breathing, journaling, purposeful listening, and reflecting thinking (see “The Tree of Contemplative Practices” below). Contemplative practices are deeply rooted in the long-practiced traditions of religions and cultures, such as Buddhism and Indigenous cultures. The ancient traditions of contemplation and reflection have been shown to significantly improve attentive capacities, immune systems, empathy, and self-compassion, all leading to increased learning capacities (Chugh & Bazerman 2007; Pace et al. 2009; Lutz, Dunne & Davidson 2007; Birnie, Speca & Carlson 2010).

In our session, we practiced contemplative pedagogy by reflecting on our time and experience as graduate student instructors at UC Davis. The objectives of this activity were to take time for quiet, individual self-reflection on our experiences in and out of the classroom and to examine how our capacity to instruct undergraduate students can be improved. We spent time free writing on the following questions:

What has enhanced your ability to instruct undergraduate students effectively?

What has hindered your ability to instruct undergraduate students effectively?

To make our reflections a productive process, we discussed the importance of developing measurable and realistic strategies to improve our future teaching experiences at UC Davis. We organized ourselves into small groups of 2 or 3 and responded to the following question:

What suggestions do you have for UC Davis as an institution to improve your ability to enhance undergraduate student learning?

As a group, we collected and discussed a wide range of recommendations for how our respective departments and/or UC Davis can facilitate the development of our teaching skills as graduate student instructors. Our recommendations include department-specific courses on instruction and teaching pedagogy, opportunities for team teaching and/or teaching mentorship, establishing consistent expectations for Teaching Assistants across courses and departments, and abolishing grading as a primary responsibility for Teaching Assistants to permit practice with alternative instructional skills.

Barbezet, Daniel P. and Bush, Mirabai.1995. Contemplative Practices in Higher Education.

Birnie, K., M. Speca, and L.E. Carlson. 2010. “Exploring self-compassion and empathy in the context of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).” Stress and Health, 26(5): 359-371.

Chug, D. and Bazerman, M. 2007. “Bounded Awareness: What you fail to see can hurt you.” Mind and Society, 6: 1-18.

Lutz, A. ,D. Dunne, and R.J. Davidson. 2007. “Meditation and the neuroscience of consciousness: an introduction.” In P.D. Zalazo, M. Moscovitch, and E. Thompson (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pace, T.W.W., L.T. Negi, D.D. Adame, S.P. Cole, T.I. Silvilli, T.D. Brown, M.J. Issa, and C.L.

Raison. 2009. “Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress.” Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34(1): 87-98.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Welcome to the Winter 2018 Graduate Teaching Community!

This quarter we will focus on the theme of "Evidence-based strategies for teaching and learning". Meetings will be in Surge III, Room 1310B from 12:10 - 1 pm on Wednesdays. Specific topics for each meeting date are listed below.

January 24th:
Utilizing reflective teaching practices
January 31st: Optimizing review sessions
February 7th: Teaching effective hybrid and online courses
February 14th: Helping students overcome academic challenges
February 21st: Dealing with gender biases as an instructor
February 28th: Encouraging participation in large classes
March 7th: Promoting effective instructor-TA interactions