Shortly after we started the PhD program Alyse Larkin and I attended a workshop on writing a teaching statement. One of the activities to get to know your neighbors was to discuss a set of questions we were given on a handout. One of the questions was, in your career, what would you like the balance of research and teaching to be. I had written down Teaching>Research. It was time to share and Alyse and I went first and second. We both said “teaching greater than research.” Well. The looks on the faces of our two other group members was shock, horror, terror, confusion and anything else that encompasses the thought “You’re CRAZY!” Alyse and I were pretty upset after this workshop. Our other two group members continued on to proclaim that “Undergraduate students hated numbers” and that “No teacher could change that” and the general sentiment of, I really don’t want to teach (but they were at a teaching statement workshop?), and what was even more horrific to Alyse and I, I don’t think teachers can make a difference. At this point we were looking at our group members in shock, horror, terror, confusion and anything else that encompasses the thought, “You’re CRAZY!”
Yesterday Alyse and I attended the 10th Annual Elon University Teaching and Learning Conference and as we walked down the stairs to the final talk of the day I found myself leaning over and saying “I think these are my people.” I’m 100% sure that if any one of the people at the conference yesterday were in our group at that teaching statement workshop that they would have all supported us in our quest to teach, they would have said, “Right on!”
The workshop was full of interesting, thought-provoking and incredibly useful presentations and Alyse and I went to the full range. We started with a thought-provoking lecture on “The Intercultural Dimension” by Michael Paige. My takeaways from this presentation were that everything has a cultural context and it is important to take time to reflect on cultural dynamics and how culture matters in a given context. Dr. Paige also supported something I try to do in my lectures, to use a diverse set of examples, texts, authors and methods while delivering content and interacting with students. So my goal after having attended this talk was to continue to keep diversity in mind while I lecture, whether that be trying to incorporate an example from another country or part of the United States, or incorporating ways to deliver content to students with different learning styles.
The next two presentations we attended were on Authentic Assignments and Collaboration. Authentic Assignments was run by Deandra Little from the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning and Paul Anderson from the Writing Across the University Program at Elon. In this session, we discussed creating assignments that actually have students do, in my case, what scientists do. This was a theme from both this session and the final session we attended and resulted in my #elontlc tweet. We should give our students assignments that give them the opportunity to be scientists. So what might that mean? We might give students the opportunity to respond to a Request for Proposals, or write an an Op-Ed related to our field of study, to create an outreach or education material about a certain topic, to create and design experiments that test certain hypotheses. We spent a lot of the time developing an idea for an assignment and mine was to have students produce a Scientific American “60-Second Science” podcast like this one on dolphin signature whistles.
The next session Alyse and I attended was on “Easy Strategies for Encouraging Better Collaboration” by Rebecca Pope-Ruark. My take-away from this presentation was “I’M DEFINITELY MAKING A SCRUM BOARD!” But seriously, we learned about ways to get our students to collaborate better. And one key to this is to have students actually talk about collaboration with their peers, to discuss their horror stories, because we all have them, and their hero’s tales and then to discuss why certain groups didn’t do so well and why others succeeded with flying colors. Then the next step would be to talk about the lessons learned from these groups and to have students come up with a set of rules to govern their collaboration. We also learned about Scrum boards and Agile’s Epics, Stories and Tasks. I won’t go into it too much here but the idea is that students in a group (or say a PhD student with a lot on her plate) creates a Scrum Board where you put every task and story that is part of your epic, in my case it might be “Graduation” and then I have all the tasks and stories I need to complete to achieve that epic. I make the board with a “to-do” column, a “WIP” (work in progress) column and the most satisfying of all the columns, the “Done” column and watch as the little cards move across the board. You literally watch the progress you make march across the Scrum Board. Let’s just say I think I’ll making one of these with my 35% off coupon from Michael’s!
We had lunch and chatted about using Tablets in the classroom and then wrapped up the sessions with one on Engaged Learning by Kate King and Megan Isaac. This session had us start by thinking about our most meaningful experiences in formal education. And I’ll give you a hint, our answers were not a specific lecture in a specific class in Sophomore year. They were internships, TA-ships, field and travel courses, dissertation research, etc. This got us thinking about how to engage our students and to help give them these types of meaningful experiences. They even provided us with some principles for engaged learning. One of the principles was using authentic problems and experiences (Hey! I know about that!) and incorporating reflection as part of the learning process and to focus on big questions and enduring concepts.
At this point we had a lot to think about and Robbie Kendall-Melton gave us more! We wrapped up the day with her presentation on some of the latest technological innovations and advances in mobile devices and apps. Robbie showed us apps you could use in the classroom to do a frog dissection, she showed us Nearpod, an app that I was already familiar with but I am encouraged to actually use it when I get the chance. She also showed us computers that rolled up into something half the size of a yoga mat, blood pressure cuffs that hook right into your iPhone, and extremely inexpensive ($69) document cameras that double as microscopes and telescopes. It is amazing what technology can do and just encourages me to continue to think of ways to incorporate it into my teaching.
We ended the day with a trip for Mapleview Ice Cream and continued our reflection on the conference on the 3.5 hour drive back to Beaufort. And that was one of the best parts of the day. Alyse and I had set aside a full day to think about teaching, to learn about new developments and tools. I hope that we (and even more Duke Marine Lab PhD students) continue to attend this conference. It was extremely valuable and a great way to spend the day with a supportive and engaging group of people.