One of my projects this month is to finalize a syllabus for Psyc 508, a graduate course on the Teaching of Psychology (ToP). I’m very excited to be teaching this course — finally! I first designed a draft syllabus in 2008 (before I was even hired), and then in 2010 I submitted the course to be approved by the university Senate (and all levels in between: the psych department, Grad studies, and Arts). My teaching practice and views on teaching and learning have developed substantially over the past four years, so I took the opportunity to reflect on what kind of course I would have wanted four years ago — and what I know now that I wish I knew. What I have been striving to create is a balance between the practical, nuts-and-bolts everyday mechanics of teaching and the bigger picture goals and process of teaching and learning. Today, that vision changed a bit.
I’m starting to realize that much of what I do as a teacher is make decisions. That’s really what it comes down to. I make decisions about what policies to set and what to do when people push at them or request exemptions, I make decisions about what to teach and how to teach it to have the greatest chance of promoting learning, I make decisions in my lesson plans and in the classroom on the spot, I make decisions about exams and assignments including how much they’re worth, what is required, how they’re graded… I could go on, but you may be getting the picture. This leads me to my latest insight about this course:
I want to empower my graduate students to effectively instill learning in others, while making thoughtful, well-informed decisions about all aspects of their teaching practice.
If I can model, scaffold, and otherwise encourage my graduate students to make well-informed decisions in the interest of student learning (including consulting the literature and thoughtful colleagues), I think my course will have succeeded. Teaching isn’t about “nuts and bolts” on the one hand and a “bigger picture process” on the other. If one has a strong, thoughtful foundation of the bigger picture why of teaching and learning, plus a well-developed toolkit, then those millions of everyday decisions will not only be easier but there will be an authenticity and consistency across them. I look forward to thinking more deeply about these issues as I further plan this course on teaching. I think I have a very meta semester ahead of me!
Hello! Did you know that there’s a better alternative to ratemyprofessors.com? Former students of mine will know the dangers of relying on the website ratemyprofessors.com for information about faculty teaching. One quick example of why it’s dangerous to rely on such data: One time on ratemyprofs I had ratings from a student who had never taken a course from me! That student went on and on about my teaching a course that I’d never taught before! Not exactly a great source of data, eh?
Here is a much more sound alternative: the official UBC results http://teacheval.ubc.ca/results/. Average responses to the first six items are there. These are the six overall items, called University Module Items (UMIs) that are asked about every faculty member on campus (the rest of the questions are faculty or department specific). If you would like help interpreting the numbers, let me know! And rest assured, everyone who had access to rate instructors via this site was a student in that course!
Because I’m working on my book pretty furiously these days, I haven’t yet had a chance to deeply think about and post my results and reflections on this site… but that’s coming! In the mean time, my mean ratings are available on the above website. Happy course-hunting!
This trailer was put together by Michael Wesch, an Anthropologist asking big, provocative questions about education in a digital age.
The Visions of Students Today 2011 Remix One (Trailer)
What do you think? How do you view your education — in class and out?
What? During a workshop about learning goals and assessment at the TAG Institute, we were thinking about what it means to be an expert in a discipline. It occurred to me that expertise comes when a person is aware of what she knows and what she doesn’t know. From there, an expert has enough knowledge of the field to be able to identify what she needs to know to solve a given problem, and is able to locate and evaluate how well that knowledge fits her needs. I thought that this process takes a certain amount of humility to recognize shortcomings. Another participant at the workshop thought this process takes a certain amount of arrogance to seek and evaluate knowledge, and to contribute to the literature when one finds gaps in the knowledge that’s out there. Upon further reflection, I think the process takes a bit of both humility and arrogance.
So What? What this means for me in the classroom is that I would like to convey to my students that it is ok to be wrong, particularly when the educated response was well-reasoned and based on research findings. What is most important, arguably, is the ability to recognize an error and (know how to) seek the truth, however that is defined in a given discipline.
Now What? I’m starting to realize the implications of one of my overarching course goals: Students will to be able to think like a psychologist. This goal is difficult to evaluate: How will I know when a student can “think” critically using psychological research? Part of addressing this objective will involve the use of ongoing, formative feedback as a source of dialogue in the classroom (rather than solely conducting judgemental evaluations involving grades). Including formative feedback as part of the process of learning will give students the space to be wrong, hopefully without the anxiety of formal evaluation. The trick will be to do this effectively in classes of 200-500 students. With this many students, a peer-based system will be imperative for addressing this course goal seriously.