learning about pedagogy

Apr 23 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

This semester I've been taking a class on teaching at the college level which has been very eye-opening.

I'm a good teacher and have been for years.  I don't think, necessarily, that I was born with the skill; rather I'd say it's due to the environment I grew up in.  My dad is a professor and my mom also teaches, and I think I instinctively adopted their ways of relating to other people.  And of course, over the years, teaching experience polished and refined my skills to what I thought was a peak.   But I was acting on instinct, or tweaking my technique based on other people's instincts.

Now I'm learning the theory, and boy has that made a difference.

For example, I would always try to incorporate the "why" into a lecture.  I knew, instinctively, that understanding why we studied something would help motivate students to learn it.  But I didn't always put the "why" at the beginning; frequently it was at the end.

As part of this class I am taking I was asked to do a presentation incorporating the skills we'd learned.  I chose to do one on a chemistry topic I'd taught before as a TA--twice in lab, where the students were asked to use a skill they hadn't been taught in lecture yet, and once in lecture, when Dr. Sharp let me lecture for her.  I'd never been satisfied with my presentation of the topic before so I wanted to tackle it again.

In preparation for this presentation I looked back at the lecture notes I'd made up when lecturing for Dr. Sharp, and I was appalled.    I talked about the concepts in a relatively logical order, but the "why" was buried in the middle of the lecture.  (In fact, I remember that it wasn't until I got to that point--about 30 minutes into a 50 minute lecture--that the students really sat up and paid attention.)

This time I structured my lecture around the Kolb cycle:

  • Why
  • What
  • How
  • What If?

And it really pulled together.  I wish I'd learned this stuff years ago.

Interestingly, this semester my department has  been in the process of hiring an instructor.  The top candidates were all asked to present a sample lecture, and grad students were invited to attend.  The hiring committee actually did solicit our input on the instructor candidates, which was nice.

During this process I found that the way I viewed candidates had changed.  Yes, I had some of the same reactions as other grad students:  "He seemed condescending," for example.  But I was also hyperaware of the candidates' pedagogy (or lack thereof).  One of the candidates, in particular, talked  afterwards about his teaching philosophy and about incorporating technology in the classroom.  But it was clear to me that he was tossing out popular buzzwords--he didn't know how to actually use these things in a lecture.

I feel like this class has been incredibly useful for me, even right now.  And I'm hoping it will be even more useful when I hit the job market.  I don't want to be one of those candidates about whom people say:  "OMG, she wants to teach?"

One response so far

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    Many years ago, a very gifted student of mine went to a pretty good university to get a PhD. In one of the exams along the way, his committee asked him what he wanted to do. He said he wanted to teach. His committee responded in such a way that he dropped out of the PhD program and got a MS in community college administration. Then he got a job with state fish and game and ran a research program for about 20 years. He eventually got a position teaching in a small university and was so happy to be there.

    I had an excellent course on the history of biology, and have remained interested. I try to organize presentations so the students learn how we came to know what we know, why we thought it important to learn, and what some of the stumbling blocks were along the way. Hopefully students understand that science is done by humans, with all that implies.