Moving forward

Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned about inclusive pedagogy and case-/project-/problem-based learning. As we move to another professor and another section of the class, it’s time to reflect and figure out how to use what we’ve learned so far.

For inclusive pedagogy, the biggest thing that has stood out to me is the idea of fixing the system, rather than fixing the student. As a teacher, when I see a student struggling, my first instinct is to reach out to them and see what I can do to help them work past whatever barriers they are facing. But as long as those barriers still exist, they (and others in the future) will still need help. In addition to helping individual students improve, we must also critically examine our teaching and the larger academic system, identify barriers to student success, and work to dismantle them. One way that I would like to do this in my own teaching is to ask students to fill out a short survey at the beginning of the semester, with questions about their experiences in other classes, including what obstacles they have encountered, what (if anything) helped them overcome and/or helped remove those obstacles, and whether there is anything specific that I can include in my teaching and class design to help them prevent these same things from becoming barriers in my class. I also plan to ask what they have found helpful in other classes for their own learning. At the end of the semester, I would like to have a similar follow-up survey focused on their experiences in my class and what they would recommend changing for the next time that course is offered.

For case-/problem-/project-based learning, I am really excited to take advantage of the resources offered by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, and to  use some of my own research experience to create useful case studies. During my time as a graduate student, I have collected lots of data and studied specific questions in great depth, and I imagine that I will continue to do so  if I stay in academia. Using actual data from my work seems like a great way to get students involved and excited, and make sure that these studies continue to make a difference long after the research is completed. For example, my dissertation research is on predator ecology and interactions with a threatened prey species in a highly human-altered ecosystem. This work is directly relevant to several different courses in the undergraduate curriculum, and could be used to create case studies on predator-prey interactions, population dynamics, endangered species management, and other key topics in wildlife conservation. For our PBL assignment, I am working to create a case study based on my dissertation research, and hope to use the finished product in an undergraduate guest lecture.

Overall, I think that the biggest barrier to implementing these ideas and others that I have scribbled in the margins of my class notes is my fear of going too far outside the teaching norm. It’s easy to write about how I’m going to design the most inclusive, interactive class ever, but the reality of planning and executing such a class is much more difficult, especially if you are a relatively new teacher trying to prove yourself to both your colleagues and your students. I want to go beyond the traditional Powerpoint lecture-based, passive learning approach, but there is comfort in knowing that I can hide behind clearly organized slides and the steady one-sided stream of information that many students are used to.  What if my case study is boring? What if my plans for a wider variety of assignment types to cater to different learning styles means that none of my students can learn effectively? What if nobody talks during class discussions? As I continue on my teaching journey, I aim to build the skills and confidence to take these chances and embrace the unknown.

4 Replies to “Moving forward”

  1. I have learned a lot from your PBL draft and your post on the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. Unfortunately, they are not any PBL method available for mechanical engineering courses. It means so many works have to be done. I am glad that we discuss your plan in PBL/CBL. Although your field is totally different, it gave me an insight into the structure and application of PBL/CBL in an engineering discipline.

  2. Applying a new technique and preparing a new lecture from scratch sound very exhausting. However, we should start from somewhere right? As future instructors, we should take the challenge and improve the classroom teaching. It will take maybe a decade to adapt but it will be your success at the end. Nice post!

  3. Your way of asking your students to fill a short a survey at the beginning of the course is really innovative. This way may assess the students’ excitements and hesitations about their coursework so, then, you can find a middle way to maximize the excitements and minimize the hesitations among students. In addition, it may help the student, when they share their feeling about a course, have a positive attitude toward your course as they have in their mind that you have read their responses and you are open to modify your way of teaching to accommodate their desires.

  4. I can definitely relate to your back and forth between introducing new teaching methods and sticking to powerpoint, especially as a new faculty. I think the concepts of preparation and feedback could help initially and even in the long run. I think being prepared to discuss the main principles in an easier-to-follow way isn’t easy to do. I’ve observed in teachers I liked that it takes a lot of examples and understanding from the instructor’s side for the students to start to engage. Best of luck in your pursuits in academia.

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