Thursday, August 26, 2010

First Day of Class Links

Are you getting energized? Having butterflies? Experiencing that sinking feeling? All of the above? Some of these links might help:

Things to do on the first day of class:

How to avoid being a jerk in class (not that this would ever apply to any of us :)

Remembering to breathe in class:

Forthcoming TLI Event

Dear colleagues,
Thanks to all of you who turned out yesterday and helped make the Faculty Conference such a success! If you have feedback, a sound-byte you'd like to share, or any comments, feel free to contact me.

I wanted to remind you of a forthcoming event I mentioned yesterday. Ken Bain, author of What the Best College Teachers Do, will be coming to speak at Ursinus on Thursday September 16, 10-12, at the Lenfest Theater in the Kaleidscope. You'll be receiving further reminders, and I look forward to seeing you there.

Also, please don't hesitate to contact me if you are interested in the Student Consultant program. I'd be happy to forward you more information.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Credit for Teaching--Archives for Peer Reviewed Classroom Innovations

May 26, 2010

At many colleges and universities, the tenure trinity of teaching, research and service is widely viewed (at least by those coming up for tenure) as a myth. A new book (or articles in the right journals) will trump a great teaching idea every time, say many professors. Classroom innovation doesn't get any credit.

The American Sociological Association on Tuesday announced a new effort that -- organizers hope -- could change that. TRAILS -- the Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology Web site -- will be an archive for peer-reviewed classroom innovations, including syllabuses, class activities, individual assignments, bibliographies and Web sites -- all focused on teaching. A two-level peer-review process is being created to vet entries, and association officials promise that plenty will be rejected, or, as with journal submissions, sent back for revisions.

The idea is that by adapting a rigorous peer review process, successful items on TRAILS will be granted the respect on a tenure dossier that good teaching evaluations or a portfolio might never garner.

TRAILS will not be the first effort at peer review in teaching, which happens when senior faculty observe classes and in broader efforts such as MERLOT and the Peer Review of Teaching Project. Where TRAILS may be significant and successful, some experts say, is in its broad disciplinary focus. Junior faculty members win tenure based on publishing in their fields' top journals, the thinking goes, and the way to see teaching ideas actually get credit may also be to have the imprimatur of the discipline.

"I think there is power in having the discipline take it on," said Mary Taylor Huber, senior scholar emerita and consulting scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which has long promoted the idea of "the scholarship of teaching," advanced by the late Ernest Boyer when he headed the foundation. "I think there is a long way to go before there is a wide enough understanding and acceptance of this kind of pedagogical work as a serious intellectual enterprise, and I think this is a step forward."

Huber said that some disciplines and departments have made it possible for people to receive credit for teaching ideas in tenure and promotion by writing up scholarly articles about their teaching ideas and then publishing those ideas in key journals. While the basis for those articles may be teaching, they are ultimately being evaluated as research -- based on their publication. What she likes about the sociologists' idea, she said, is that the emphasis is on rigorous evaluation of and (where appropriate) "full credit for teaching as teaching."

How TRAILS Will Work

To get a resource accepted on TRAILS, a scholar will have to submit documentation that the learning tool meets a series of criteria -- and that assessment has been done by the professor to show that the idea actually works. The tool must also be demonstrably useful to others and explained in a clear way. Then the submission is reviewed by an "area editor," a professor selected by the association either for a focus on a type of teaching (introductory course, capstone course, research methods, etc.) or for sociology subject matter (from policy analysis to animals and society to stratification to immigration to biosociology). The area editor can approve the proposal for a second level of review (by the association's office or later by other panels), reject it, or ask for revisions.

Only after the second review would the resource be accepted and included on the Web site. To submit or to have full access to the materials submitted, sociologists will need to subscribe to TRAILS ($25 for association members and $100 for others). Those who join TRAILS will also be able to use any of the materials in their courses, with the only condition being that they give visible credit to the scholars who created them. So instructors will gain access to resources without any permissions process. Among the samples provided by TRAILS are a syllabus for a course on the sociology of the body, and a class module on AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

Margaret Weigers Vitullo, director of the ASA’s Academic and Professional Affairs Program and the creator of TRAILS, said she was under no illusion that the application of peer review would make teaching innovations be seen as identical to research innovations. "I don't think that publishing a class activity is the same thing as publishing a journal article," she said.

But if sociologists believe that teaching innovations matter, she said, they should consider why current systems for evaluating teaching don't end up getting much weight in tenure reviews. "Measuring excellence is very difficult," she said. Teaching portfolios may not be reviewed by people with expertise in teaching that subject, student evaluations of instructors are widely questioned, and in-person observation by senior colleagues is "a snapshot of a day."

The TRAILS idea is to provide "meaningful evidence of teaching accomplishment" that could earn the respect of tenure and promotion committees. Vitullo noted that Boyer argued that teaching would get real respect in academe only when reward structures reflect its importance, and added that she hoped this project would move the field of sociology in that direction.

While TRAILS "can't magically undo" a century or more of institutions giving relatively little credit to teaching, Vitullo said that she hopes review committees will pay attention. "We are showing that we can measure high quality teaching in a way that is public and peer reviewed and scholarly," she said.

Further, the effort asserts -- in the face of calls for accountability to be demonstrated through testing -- that a discipline takes teaching seriously, but doesn't want to rely just on testing. "Rather than say that we know a university does a good job of teaching because we are giving all of our students a test that may or may not measure what we want," the individual reviews of teaching techniques and tools (all accompanied by evidence of success) speak "to the push for accountability" and show that it is "something we take seriously," she said.

Scott Jaschik

Course Planning for the Fall

Dear colleagues,

If you're thinking about your courses for next fall (which we all are, right?) you may wish to check out the following link, forwarded to me by Leah Joseph:

It's a tutorial for designing courses in the geosciences, but its emphasis on articulating and setting goals, knowing one's students, and course planning, and follow-through could be useful to many of us.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Conversations about Difficult Topics

For anyone who can take a break from grading, the following link might be of interest. And for anyone who's ever struggled with handling a conversation about diversity, this author offers some ideas. Of course, there are many sources on this subject out there, but I appreciated this author's perspective after feeling the challenges of facilitating such discussions recently.

The project Stephanie discusses below contains an inherent connection to those "difficult conversations." How do we talk about the physical or intellectual differences of our student body at Ursinus? How do we foster these conversations among our students?

Next year, the TLI will be sponsoring a series of discussions about pedagogy and diversity. Please stay tuned, and feel free to send feedback/comments/questions along.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Update on TLI Small Grant for Curriculum Innovation

Earlier this spring semester, I applied for and was awarded a Teaching and Learning Initiative small grant to help me develop course materials. This post is an update on my progress with my proposed project, "Going Beyond the Banality of Education-Speak: Bringing Disability Theory to the Education Curriculum." Before I provide an update, however, I have provided an excerpted (slightly revised) version of my proposal.

Overview of Proposal: At present, the Education Department is under pressure from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to incorporate more material about what educationalists call “exceptional learners” into all of our courses; this includes study of gifted and talented students and students with disabilities (physical, emotional, intellectual). The purpose of my project is to add readings to my courses and to create a library of disabilities studies materials that my department colleagues can use in their courses.

While there is a wealth of ready-made material on these topics, our department prefers to take a more liberal arts approach to education, going beyond the banality of much of the discourse in our field to help students think in complex ways about topics for which there are not always easy answers. We tend to prefer primary sources over textbooks, and as a philosopher of education, I prefer to incorporate texts from the humanities into my classes in addition to the more applied social scientific research that is prevalent in Education.
As such, my work on this project has involved delving into the wealth of literature within the humanities and social sciences that problematizes the ways in which we define what it means to be an "exceptional learner" (disabled/able, normal/abnormal etc). Such work, which falls into the fields of literary theory, history, philosophy, anthropology, and disability studies takes a more contextual look at such definitions, considering the ways in which our definitions reflect underlying social, historical, and political values.

Update on progress: At this point, I am about halfway through my project. I have reviewed the following books and selected (or decided against) readings from within them: The Disability Studies Reader, Crazy Like Us, Manufacturing Depression, Foucault and the Government of Disability, and Healing Logics. I am currently in the process of acquiring and reviewing the following works: The Incomplete Child: An Intellectual History of Learning Disabilities, On the Margins of Citizenship: Intellectual Disability and Civil Rights in Twentieth Century America, Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation, Shyness : how normal behavior became a sickness, and Why are so Many Minority Students in Special Education? I am also still looking for more sources, so if anyone knows of any, please drop me a line.

What next? I managed to incorporate three brief readings from The Disability Studies Reader and Crazy Like Us in my “Foundations of Education” course late this spring.Students responded well to them, so I will likely use them again. I will also incorporate a few more readings into this same course when I teach it again in the fall and hope to use more of these readings next spring when I teach “Intro to Education” and possibly an upper level seminar. Once I have finished reviewing the above texts, I intend to spend my grant money to purchase the ones I think will be most valuable to my department and will create a library of readings in our office area for all to use.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Introducing the Student Consultant Program at the TLI

My name is Nicole Gervasio, and I’m a senior majoring in English and Growth & Structure of Cities at Bryn Mawr College. I’ve been helping Professor Goldsmith put together a Teaching and Learning Initiative (TLI) at Ursinus this semester, which is my second as a student consultant.

Before I get into what being a TLI student consultant entails, I’d like to say a bit about what our TLI at Bryn Mawr looks like. Now in its third year, our program has hosted thirty-nine student consultants with an average of seventeen faculty-student partnerships a semester. The TLI seeks to help professors improve their courses by pairing them with student consultants. At Bryn Mawr, faculty also often enlist in a weekly pedagogy seminar that discusses broader issues related to higher education and teaching.

Student consultants attend one session of their faculty partner’s class each week, handwrite or type up observations and reflections from monitoring that class, share those notes with their partner, and give their partner feedback in one-on-one consultations once a week. Although the logistics of these tasks may shift based on the needs and preferences of each faculty member, they are four of the five essential duties of the job. The last would be attending a weekly meeting with fellow student consultants and the TLI coordinator. The meetings provides opportunities for consultants to get to know one another and mull over issues that may be going on in their partnerships together.

Many student consultants share some key traits: a genuine interest in education, a love of learning, insightfulness, a proactive, constructive attitude, compassion, and sensitivity, among many others. If you’re applying to be a student consultant, you probably exhibit many or all of these attributes. Central to the application process are two letters of recommendation, one from a professor and another from a fellow student. It should also be noted that students are not always placed with a discipline with which they are familiar—in fact, coordinators often place English students with physics professors, for example, to give both students and professors entirely new perspectives on learning.

Admittedly, the job isn’t ideal for every college student. It requires intense self-reflection, stamina, and dedication, which can seem daunting on top of your regular coursework. However, most students I know in the TLI (myself included) find that the program offers an inimitable opportunity to think deeply about education, develop ourselves as better learners, and forge some very empowering ties with faculty members in the process.

That said, the TLI also may not be ideal for every faculty member. Having an outside student come into a course and observe a professor’s teaching style, behavior, course structure, and students can be a very challenging experience. There are many times when both students and faculty members may feel vulnerable in the partnership, but that level of discomfort is completely normal—it constantly encourages further dialogue and a mutual willingness to make positive changes happen. Most partnerships also usually overcome this hesitation and evolve into strong, mutually beneficial collaborations.

I would be happy to answer any questions you might have about the TLI. Please feel free to contact me via email at