Monthly Archives: December 2017

Applications Are Open! And What It Means to Be Part of GrATE

Now that applications for GrATE (aka Academy of GTA Excellence) have been open for a few weeks and will be open for a few weeks more, it is time to discuss a bit of the application process and what it means to be part of the Academy.

First, I will focus on the application process. I applied to GrATE as everything was being developed, though the process has been refined rather than changed over the semesters. Whether applying as a Member, and Associate, or a Fellow, a Letter of Application is asked for. Within the letter we look for why someone is applying to GrATE, how it fits within their future career goals, their views on 21st century teaching (contemporary pedagogy) and diversity/inclusion within pedagogy, and what they can bring to GrATE. As a Fellow, I read all of these letters and what stands out to me in particular are why people apply to the Academy and their views on diversity/inclusion in the classroom and higher education. Reading why people apply to GrATE has helped us develop needed sessions for the whole Academy. The CV is important too, though partly to know how long someone might be at Tech and active with GrATE.

When someone is applying to Associate or Fellow, we ask for a letter of recommendation from a faculty member or someone who is aware of one’s teaching experience. We also ask for teaching evaluations. For some people that includes SPOTs and for others peer evaluations or a different version of reviews to indicate about their teaching (e.g., guest lecture evaluations). We ask for this not to judge people on their teaching skills but to see their background in teaching experience or curriculum development.

For Fellow applicants, we also ask for a Teaching Portfolio and an interview. We hope the applicants have been involved in GrATE, whether they have been a Member or Associate, or join for events without applying before. The interviews are generally 15 minutes with current Fellows and a few Faculty Scholars, as well as Dean DePauw or other Graduate School administrators. I personally am very glad I went through the interview portion of GrATE, as it helped me immensely while I have been on the job market. The interview shouldn’t be scary, though it is important. We ask questions about the applicant, follow-up on some ideas presented in the application materials, their views on diversity and inclusion, and their views of being a leader. As we have grown and developed as an organization, we have realized that leadership skills and time management skills are important. So, we ask about those pieces as well as what was clearly asked for in the application.

Overall, people apply to GrATE at the different levels for various reasons. I see the reasons people joining GrATE falling into two categories: 1) to learn more about teaching and pedagogy and 2) to have a community of people who desire to be the best teachers they can be. I do acknowledge that some people only want the CV credit, though there is so much being left on the table if that is the case. For me, though, the greatest benefit is the community I have through GrATE. Before Jordan and I became Founding Fellows together, we were in a class together and just chatting about teaching our classes for the first time. Suggestions she gave then, I still use in my classes today. We have maintained that over the years—sharing stories of what is happening in our classes and helping come up with solutions. Now, we have a bigger community of people to share ideas with. People in our community now come from different disciplinary backgrounds who have pedagogy traditions that we would never think of but would work great. There are those with socio-political backgrounds different than our own. It allows for a broader set of ideas and so many people to get to know and work with.

With the Walk-In-Advising, every week I have multiple people to tell stories with and come up with new ideas for the classroom. For others, the panels and workshops that the Academy does is what they are looking for. Or they come to Walk-In-Advising for assistance on a particular challenge or question. Sometimes it is one event a year that sparks an interest or fills a need and for others, they come to everything and learn as much as they can. Check out our Twitter feed for more of the events we have done recently—there may be something that sparks that interest for you or an idea you have to bring to GrATE!

Fall 2017 Reflection

I am writing about my fall semester today. I am trying to reflect on the fall before moving ahead towards finishing preparations for the spring and before reading my SPOT evaluations. So, these are my reflections, with little outside influence. I am a little nervous to open my SPOTs this fall, though I’m not sure why.

I taught Human Sexuality online this fall. Probably the last time I will teach this course at Virginia Tech, as I am teaching a different majors-only class in-person this spring. I have taught human sexuality multiple times during my years at VT, online and in-person and both for a regular semester and for the short Winter Session. It is one of my favorite classes to teach partly because it is within my area, it is what I have taught the most, and a course I have helped keep up-to-date for the department. I have used a variety of assignments over the years and knew going into this semester being online and a full semester I needed to update my assignments.

I decided to sort of merge some of my regular assignments into a larger semester long project. Instead of every student focusing on certain topics, I gave them an option of five topics to dive deeply into. I also decided that there would be multiple pieces to the assignment to match as closely as I could to the learning objectives, which had just been revised. Overall, this project went wonderfully. I saw so much growth and excitement in the work this semester in a way I don’t remember seeing in any written work I have assigned before. And part of what made it gratifying was due to the fact that I didn’t write some of the questions to guide their assignment until I had read other pieces of the overall project. That helped me tailor the project to the class. I loved this project and hope to keep iterations of it around for a while.

One thing that I have thought about a bit this fall is how I have grown as an instructor over the last few years. I have always been quite strict when it came to due dates, especially for online classes. It is hard to get to know your students’ true lives and styles when the class is online unless they come to office hours. Thus, for the most part I held firm to due dates. However, over the last year I have tried a new thing of discussing “when life happens” in my syllabus. It is a short paragraph about discussing what is going on in your life as it is happening rather than at the end of the semester or long after something is due. My goal for both holding firm to due dates and being flexible is to help with professionalism. Life happens and it affects our work, whether in college or in a professional position. We have deadlines that we must meet and sometimes when life happens, those deadlines go by the wayside. But it is always easier to work with and around those deadlines when honest with those we are working with. So far, this added piece in my syllabus and understanding of what I am doing and why has helped make fore more pleasant semesters.

Those are two of the big things I have been thinking about this semester. I always worry that I am not fulfilling my own teaching philosophy of being feminist enough. And worry that I could be doing so much more for the online classes. Yet, when I see where I have come from to where I am now, I see the growth and development. I see the changes I have made over the years and the changes I will make in the years to come. And that is when I know that I can worry all I want, but it takes time, and I have the time to make the changes in the future. That is part of the wonderful thing about teaching—it is never boring and you are always adapting.

Teaching Philosophy and Portfolios

Now that we are nearing the end of the semester and the Academy (aka GrATE) applications are open again, it seems like an apt time to write about Teaching Philosophies and Portfolios. I like looking over my philosophy and portfolio after a semester is over. I have been fairly prompt in updating everything each semester, though now that I have taught many more semesters, some of my portfolio could be overhauled. While I have enjoyed doing these updates, as it gives me a chance to reflect on the semester, I have also been required to keep a teaching portfolio thus far in my career through GrATE applications and my department’s teaching seminar.

While I was still in my Master’s, I took a course on college teaching. This was at least three semesters before I would ever teach. I am glad I took the course before teaching since it gave me chance to contemplate who I was as an instructor and my teaching philosophy. It was also interesting since I was at a predominantly teaching intensive institution and am now teaching at a research intensive institution. In this course I was provided a template to creating a teaching philosophy. I started with bullet points answering the prompt questions of: 1) My aspirations/goals/objectives as a teacher and for your students; 2) What methods will I consider to reach these goals/objectives?; 3) How will I assess student understanding with examples; 4) How will I improve my teaching?; and 5)Additional considerations of why teaching is important to me, how I collaborate with others, what is successful teaching, and how I maintain positive relationships with students.

While the first draft of the teaching philosophy focused on the hypothetical style of my teaching, I have slowly updated it each year to what it is now. Since I predominantly have taught survey courses to large classes, online and in-person, with students from every college around campus, my teaching philosophy reflects that. I am sure that as I teach higher-level courses, it will continue to shift. I already see some shifts from my original notes to now, particularly related to group work. I also notice shifts in my teaching to better match my philosophy, such as with what I test students on.

I won’t give too many ideas related to how to write a teaching philosophy, since there are dozens of templates and guidelines available online. For example, through Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, University of Minnesota, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Professor Is In blog and book. Most of them say some elongated version of this: A Teaching Philosophy is a brief essay (1-2 pages) that will give readers (typically hiring/award committees) an idea of what you actually do in the classroom and why. It should be a reflexive, straightforward, well-organized statement that avoids technical terms and favors language and concepts that are easily understood (no jargon). There will be some general statements, but also be sure to include examples that illustrate what you mean.

For Teaching Portfolios, I highly recommend the book, The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions by Peter Seldin, J. Elizabeth Miller, and Clement A. Seldin. The book has numerous examples and styles from a wide variety of disciplines, even my relatively small discipline. It is easy to read and reference, especially for someone first developing a portfolio. I used their guidelines along with guidelines from my department to originally create my portfolio. That has been the basic outline I have used since. In general, a Teaching Portfolio, whether it is digital and fluid, or a single document, helps demonstrate who you are as a teacher. It takes your philosophy and puts additional information to what you claim. You are able to show your teaching strengths and accomplishments, evidence of teaching, and assist in reflections and improvements of your teaching. Some suggested pieces to include in a Portfolio include: 1) Teaching philosophy; 2) Summary of teaching responsibilities 3) Evaluations; 4) Sample syllabi; 5) Sample lesson plans or assignments; 6) Honors, awards, or trainings for teaching; 7) Anything else that shows who you are as a teacher or your identity as an instructor.

I hope as you are developing your philosophy and portfolio, you take the time to reflect on what you want to put forward as your teaching identity. These are dynamic pieces that take time and are constantly works in progress. I have enjoyed working on mine over the years and I hope you do too.