Discovering My Authentic Teaching Self

I did not know how to feel when I found out that I would be a graduate teaching assistant teaching a public speaking class comprising of approximately 80 students. I had never imagined that I would teach in any setting. However I come from a family of teachers, so maybe it was something that I would have tried out eventually.

I do not usually consider myself someone who gets overwhelmed, but the week leading up to the first day of classes I was close. We had a weeklong orientation the week prior to get ready for teaching, and while I did not doubt that it would prepare me, it was still an immense amount of information to take in. While other TAs gave advice on the best way to approach teaching, ultimately I knew that I would not really find the answer until I went into the classroom myself.

I have always liked teachers who were passionate about what they were teaching and approachable, yet serious enough to command control of the classroom. I decided that I would take what I could from them, in the end I would have to forge my own identity. I decided to be myself as best I could, corny jokes included.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not just totally act like myself unfiltered in the classroom. There is still a level of professionalism I try to bring to my students. But after I took a deep breath that first day, I was more at ease with trying to do my job. Also, I think students are more understanding than we give them credit for. Most understand when you try to do your best, and displaying the passion you have for your class is a plus.

I have no plans to enter teaching after I finish my masters, but there are many skills that we all gain from working in this profession. In particular, working with others and watching our students grow and develop in their skills. Ultimately however, we find out about ourselves in the way we teach skills to others. I hope to have gotten better at that by the end of this year.

 

 

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Coronavirus (Additional Blog Post #5)

In these uncertain times, the depressing news can get to all of us. I actually believe we have to find a balance in all of it. Of course it is important to stay informed, but also find solace and peace in other things as well. It is good however to see that higher education is playing a role in helping to find the cure to this virus.

https://www.unionrecorder.com/news/university-of-pittsburgh-covid-19-vaccine-successful-in-trials/article_7b46e9a9-8e9c-5e6e-8148-6b137983a47a.html

According to this article, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine announced last week that they had successful trials with a potential coronavirus vaccine when used on mice. The paper was published in a leading British medical journal called The Lancet. The leaders of the project are currently waiting on approval from the FDA on human clinical trials.

I want to stress that although these events are certainly good news, advancements will still take time. Normally, the process to develop a vaccine would take around two years, but as we all know we do not live in “normal” times. So while they will be able to expedite the process a bit, at minimum it will still take months.

However, this article is a good reminder on the impact that higher education can have on society. We have great research universities in the United States, and there is no doubt that they will be a source for trying to figure out how we can solve this crisis. Here’s to hoping they can find solutions sooner rather than later.

Life as a GTA (Additional Blog Post #4)

Most, if not all of us in this class have the luxury of being a GTA. Depending on your position, you will have varying responsibilities. I found an article online from the University of Nebraska that provides a generic sense of the responsibilities that TA’s have, and it pretty much applies to all universities in that sense.

https://www.unl.edu/gtahandbook/ta-roles-and-responsibilities

As a public speaking GTA, I am in a unique position. We have a course director who designs the class content and schedule, but after that the TA’s are the only ones the students see in the classroom. We prepare our own powerpoints, meet with students in office hours, and grade work by ourselves. It has been an incredible experience being on “the other side” after having experienced being a student in undergrad.

This experience has made me appreciate my professors even more. It is not that I did not before, but now I see all the things they have on their plate on top of having to do research at a research 1 university like Virginia Tech. They have got to navigate students demands while doing another part of their job that does not even involve the students.

As TAs, we also have to navigate that line of understanding that we are the ones with authority in our classes but also realizing that on the surface we are not that much older than our students. I have definitely had a few students challenge me in a way that I do not think they would have challenged a professor much older than them. However, the overwhelming majority of students are great to work with and this TA experience has definitely been a rewarding one.

 

The Pressure to Publish (Additional Blog Post #3)

I never truly appreciated how much of a professor’s job research and publishing were until I became a graduate student. In undergrad they were simply my professors who I saw 2 or 3 times a week coupled with the occasional office hours visit. It was not until I met with graduate faculty to discuss their research that I learned about the other aspect of their job as well as the pressure to publish.

https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Stress-of-Academic/241156

The article above has some astounding statistics. In 2013, out of approximately 12,000 manuscripts that were submitted to journals published by the American Psychological Association, over 76 percent were rejected, and some journals rejected as many as 90 percent of manuscripts. The article states this anxiety due to waiting can be tough on not just assistant professors but graduate and doctoral students as well.

I think this predicament shows the pressure that professors feel to publish, especially as they try to attain tenure. With Virginia Tech being a research 1 institution, I have no doubt that professors seeking tenure have to publish x amount of articles in order to get there. Waiting a long time and/or ultimately getting rejected can place much anxiety on them, especially as they juggle doing that with teaching their classes as well. We really need to rethink the pressure we put on professors, and also provide resources to help them deal with stress or other mental health issues that may come about as they embark on this arduous journey.

 

Tenure in Higher Education (Additional Blog #2)

I never really heard about the idea of tenure until I became a grad student and had discussions with faculty about the process. The AAUP website does a good job breaking down exactly what tenure is: https://www.aaup.org/issues/tenure

According to the AAUP (American Association of University Professors), tenure is defined as an indefinite academic appointment that can only end in extraordinary circumstances. It allows for academic freedom to live on, as professors don’t have to worry about losing their jobs because of what they decide to publish or their research findings.

It is interesting that this article gives a S/O to Dr. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech. For those who don’t know he did much of the groundwork in discovering that there were high levels of lead in the water in Flint and created a website to share what he found with the public and call on the Government to be accountable to the situation. AAUP argues that if Edwards did not have tenure he would have risked being fired and silenced for having offended a powerful interest.

This is all interesting to read about especially since we talked about taking a stand in higher education last class. Here is one conclusions I had not thought of before: Tenure gives professors the ability to take a stand without fear.

Transition to online classes (Additional Blog Post #1)

Well we live in interesting times, don’t we? The coronavirus crisis has converted Virginia Tech and schools across the country into Zoom University. Classes have had to transition to online to keep with social distancing. Although it is only the first week, it would be nice to talk about how it has gone for me in the first couple of days.

I teach public speaking, and it has been interesting transitioning the class online. I feel that it has actually added on a bit more work because we have to set up zoom meeting and make sure everything from a technological perspective is working. We have to create assignments on Canvas to submit pretty much anything. We have zoom meetings as a team to prepare for those classes.

That’s not to say we did not do all of those things when we met in person. It just makes you appreciate the things we take for granted. Our discussion in class about that work/life balance is also been jumbled in the middle of all of this. We’ve had to at times throw that out the window due to this pandemic.

Biggest take-way from all of this: don’t take what we have for granted.

Future of the University Blog Post

Virginia Tech has done a lot for me in terms of being able to pursue higher education. I am incredible lucky to be able to receive a scholarship to have school paid for in addition to getting a stipend for my assistantship. I have great faculty who encourage the grad student to pursue research interests that we like. From a personal perspective, I could not be happier about my higher education experience.

However, there are some changes that the university needs to make in regards to higher education. To begin with, make it more accessible and affordable to everyone. There is no reason that if a student wants to pursue a masters degree they shouldn’t be able to at a well reputable school like Virginia Tech. We need to provide an opportunity for more grants and scholarships that can bring students here.

We also may need to prepare long-term for the effects of the coronavirus crisis. The university should be prepared to assist its graduate students in this effort. How do we ensure the students we TA for are getting an equitable learning experience? How do we make sure our technology is up to speed to handle this crisis? How do we allow for research opportunities to continue moving forward?

It will be interesting to see how Virginia Tech handles the future. After all our old motto was “Invent the Future.”

 

 

 

 

Technology and Innovation in Higher Education Blog Post

For this week’s blog post I looked at a relatively recent article published by University World News titled “MOOCs fail in their mission to disrupt higher education.” https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20190123080937857

The acronym MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses. The authors highlight how the goal of these programs was to allow for more access and initially it did. From 2012-18 there were 12.7 million course registrations from over 5.6 million students.

However, the challenges that were found in the study demonstrate the drawbacks that I believe this approach can have. To begin with, will students still be interested after the initial buzz? The study found that 2nd year return rates fell at substantial margins every year. Another thing to consider is will students actually learn? Often times it is hard enough already to learn in a big lecture setting. Doing that online when the student has to stare at a screen for 3 hours which is often the length for graduate classes is even tougher.

Finally, are we making MOOCs available to everyone? Or just to the select few that can pay for it? The article mentions this topic as well. What if people do not have access to wifi and/or are unable to afford paying for an online program? How will they be able to partake in something people consider a necessity like online education?

These are questions we are experiencing now at Virginia Tech transitioning to Zoom. Will it work? Will all students be able to receive this education fairly? Only time will tell if MOOCs and other forms of online education will be successful in the long run.

 

 

 

 

 

Open Access Blog Post

As a communication graduate student, I chose to look at the International Journalism of Communication. The goal of the journal is to provide a reputable platform for communication work all over the globe. It was created in 2007 and its editor-in-chief Larry Gross is located at the USC (Southern California) Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

According to its website, IJAC does not charge for either processing or submission of articles. They hope by establishing a credible journal they will start a movement to create more open-access journals in particular for sub-fields in communication. I believe this statement is great news for liberal arts fields such as communication that might have a stigma of not having relevant research compared to STEM fields.

We have to have opportunities such as IJAC that can provide communication scholars with a forum to publish their work. Also, we have to continue to make research available to the public. Especially if it is something that could benefit them, why would we not make it public to show to them. Open access should be the route moving forward in the higher education and research fields.