Category Archives: Classroom Practice

Are You Using Think-Pair-Share Correctly?

Do you use think-pair-share in your classes? Are you doing it right?

Recently, I (virtually) saw Eric Mazur speak on Peer Instruction, his teaching technique that incorporates a variation of traditional think-pair-share (Mazur, 1997). This reminded me of key aspects of think-pair-share that I had either forgotten or haven’t always implemented. Thinking back to my experience as a student, I think instructors often miss key aspects of think-pair-share, reducing its effectiveness.

You may be thinking, “Really? Isn’t the process fully explained in the name?”

Sort of, but there is surprising nuance involved in well-executed think-pair-share, especially the highly effective version used in Peer Instruction.

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Second Chances at First Impressions

[Author’s note: I had nearly finished this post in January 2020, but during the ensuing pandemic chaos, I pushed it aside until now. This is essentially a pre-COVID time capsule, though I’ve added a post-COVID epilogue.]

A few years ago, I underwent peer evaluation of my teaching as part of a reappointment review. While being observed by a colleague, I was quite thrown off my game as he frequently stood up in the back of an auditorium full of seated students. I was baffled about what he was doing. Later, he explained that he was standing to see how many students were using their phones. Most of them, apparently. How did my course arrive at this point?

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When This Is All Over, Keep Recording Your Lectures

How will the successes and failures of your online pivot change the way you teach?

The year 2020 was awful for so many in academe, so I refuse to talk about the “silver linings” of Covid-19. That framing insults those who have struggled or lost loved ones. As educators, however, many of us have learned some valuable lessons from our foray into online teaching, and I hope that when things return to “normal” — summer 2021 at the earliest at my institution — we will apply those lessons to our in-person classrooms. Personally, I plan to continue recording and posting all of my lectures.

In my field of ecology, large-scale, controlled experiments are often infeasible, so we sometimes rely on “natural experiments” — that is, the occurrence of certain events, like wildfires, that allow us to study their effects observationally. My natural experiment with recording my lectures actually began just before the pandemic but turned out to be very helpful afterward in shifting my courses to a virtual classroom.

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Reflections on a Philosophy of Teaching

Teaching philosophies are unique documents. They are incredibly personal and thus quite challenging to write. They also behave a bit as a diary, reflecting ourselves from a very specific place and time. It’s been over a decade since I wrote my first. I’m not quite sure where that original document lives, which is all the better, as I imagine a re-reading would involve a fair amount of cringing. I’ve revised my philosophy a number of times, usually for job applications but most recently for my tenure package. I (somewhat facetiously) made a graphic of this revision cycle.

This figure aims for a laugh, but at a deeper level, I appreciate having a document that grows and changes as I do. Each revision is an opportunity to reflect on that growth.

I’ve never shared my philosophy publicly, but I’m now feeling brave enough to do so. I can’t imagine any of this document will surprise colleagues or readers of this blog, but hopefully it will give readers some food for thought as they reflect on their own practice. Here we go:

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An Online Field Course: Establishing an Asynchronous ‘Presence’

Because my upcoming course will be almost exclusively asynchronous (due to a 15-hour time difference), I’ve been exploring how to establish my presence in the course. After the COVID-19 pivot in my spring courses, I posted weekly announcements in which I gave course info but also wrote frankly about the challenges we were facing. That seemed okay, but it was really just maintaining my existing relationship with students that had been established in the face-to-face portion of the semester. Continue reading

An American in China Part 2: My Teaching Practice

Now that I’ve given some context about my teaching in China, I can talk about how I adjust my teaching practice when I teach in China (and when I teach Chinese students at UBC).

The foundation of my teaching practice is compassion and empathy for my students. This doesn’t mean I don’t hold my students to high standards, but I consider the background of my students and teach with kindness, fairness, and respect. I recognize the incredible challenge of learning in a foreign language and in a very different cultural context. This perspective serves my ultimate goal, student learning. Continue reading

I’m going to learn their names

Okay. That might be an overly optimistic goal, but I’m going to give it a shot.

I’m bad with names. Depending on how much sleep I’ve gotten, I periodically call one of my children by the other’s name. Last semester I had 225 students between two classes. These were new classes for me, so I was mostly concerned with keeping the ship afloat. I knew there was no chance I would learn 225 names, so I made no concerted effort. (I picked up a few names, but only students I had frequent interaction with).

Frankly, it was a bit embarrassing. I could recognize many of my students, but I didn’t know their names. I recently attended UBC’s graduation. I recognized many students (and they recognized me), but few names came to mind.

I need to do better.

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What Academic Twitter Has Taught Me. Part 1 – Empathy for Students

Two years ago, I reactivated my long-dormant twitter account. It consumes more of my time than it should, but the thoughts of other faculty and students have fueled a re-evaluation of my teaching practices and my role as an educator. Most significantly, I have changed my thinking and teaching practice with regard to compassion and empathy for my students.

Compassion and Empathy

I had a relatively easy time as an undergraduate. My parents and siblings were all college graduates, so I had sources for advice. I never had any personal crises or traumatic experiences, significant physical or mental illness, nor did I face food insecurity or anxiety over how to pay rent or tuition. I was also confident in speaking to my professors and asking for assistance when I needed it. Because of this, I was initially ignorant of many challenges students might be facing outside of class. Though I was conscious that my experience was not representative, this first really struck me several years ago when listening to the episode ‘Three Miles’ of This American Life, which focused on the experiences of first-generation minority university students. I was really affected by the story of Jonathan, an African American man from the Bronx who was attending Wheaton College on scholarship. Jonathan was unable to afford his textbooks, so he did not buy them, and did not tell anyone he could not afford them. In the episode, Jonathan recounted his experience:

I didn’t do the homework… And I’m the only black kid in some of these classes…So now I’m embarrassed to be the only black guy that doesn’t do the work and fulfill that stereotype. So I’m not going to class. It’s a catch-22 because now I’m still the black kid now that just doesn’t come to class and doesn’t do the work on top of that, you know? But for me, it was– I mean, what am I going to say to these teachers?

That last part really got me. This probably could have been solved by Jonathan talking to his professors or an advisor, but he didn’t, and he failed out of Wheaton. Because I was comfortable asking for help when I needed it, it is hard to internalize that many of my students are not.

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