learning, teaching, learning teaching
August 19, 2019 10:11 AM   Subscribe

How do you continue to grow and improve as an instructor? (Note this is not a question about collecting feedback or pedagogical recommendations so much as the meta-cognition around reflecting, assessing, and growth).

Pretty much what it says on the tin!

But for background: I teach in a kind of specific niche - applied data science for researchers. I really enjoy it, and want to keep growing. Over the past couple of years have learned a lot more about pedagogy, learner theory, some of my strengths and weaknesses, setting clear learner goals, etc. I have increasingly prioritized collecting feedback (albeit without a theory behind what feedback I collect). I try new things. I have an intuitive sense of what works and what doesn't, but more recently I've realized that my emotional responses aren't necessarily calibrated to what's actually happening inside of learners -- I can feel pretty crushed after a workshop only to learn, oh hey, learners seemed to really run with this idea. There's some balance of "genuine areas to improve," "imposter syndrome", and "need to systematically gather feedback rather than rely on emotions post-instruction" going on here, though I'm not sure of the exact percentage split.

So! I would like a clearer framework/reflective practice with how to think about my growth and learning targets as an educator. I know that curriculum design is something I'd like to improve further, for example, as well as my strategy around collecting feedback. Is journalism effective for that kind of process? Seeking out a mentor? I wouldn't mind identifying a few good books that could guide me in this, podcasts to follow, etc. Any thoughts on this would be wonderful and very helpful, thank you in advance!
posted by elephantsvanish to Education (8 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am a college instructor. I don’t keep a journal, but I do keep a (public) education blog where I keep track of my professional development (among other things): I post links to ideas I want to try, links to resources, teaching ideas, sample assignments I’ve developed and want to share, and reflections on my own teaching. Before each semester begins, I’ll often post something about a new thing I’m trying, and after the semester is over I post a reflection on how each course went—what went well, things I’d change, etc. I have found this structure of pre- and post-semester reflection to be very helpful in improving my teaching.

It’s just a simple Wordpress blog, but it’s 7 years old now and I post 2-3 times a month on average. I don’t have a huge following but I do get lots of hits; judging from the search terms, it’s usually other educators looking for ideas or lesson plans. I like the blog format because it’s easy to manage, it encourages me to post regularly and thus to keep thinking actively about my own teaching. Plus I follow other education blogs that show up in my Wordpress reader and I find I get ideas from those blogs too.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:11 AM on August 19, 2019

Best answer: Sent you a MeMail
posted by nkknkk at 11:45 AM on August 19, 2019

Best answer: Talk to other instructors! I’m also an instructor teaching very similar material. I get a lot of ideas from my colleagues, when we informally have coffee and discuss teaching, what works and didn’t work.

I keep up to date in Science Education research, my spouse is heavily involved in the science education community , so I keep up through them. Twitter seems to be where the data people hang out and post links to articles. Since you’re also data science, Jenny Bryan and Hadley Wickham are the people to follow. Also, investigate the software carpentry / data carpentry folks for lots of pedagogically sound data teaching techniques. I think they even offer instructor training.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 11:46 AM on August 19, 2019

Best answer: Came here to suggest connecting with the Data Carpentry folks and data science Twitter, but I see Valancy Rachel beat me on both counts! Also: R Ladies is a fantastic organization with lots of very supportive people thinking through all the same things. There is a very active slack channel.
posted by shelbaroo at 12:11 PM on August 19, 2019

Best answer: Does the institution where you work have a teaching center? The university I work for has one, and they include some downloadable handouts and a course design manual with exercises for faculty who are (re)designing courses. That might sound childish but I think they are helpful, and you can pick and choose what works for you. This is something google-able and free. You could even compile resources from different universities if you want. Another institutional research may be IT/instructional designers.

I think it's a good idea to keep a journal/scratchpad after class about what worked, what questions students had, new resources, etc. I do this really informally and not particularly organized (a google doc), but it helps me when I go back and teach the class the second time.

From an assessment/"continuous improvement" model, if your point is to continuously grow and improve as an instructor, the general cycle would be to
1. Set some (not too many) goals or outcomes for yourself ("I want to incorporate more of Kolb's learning theory in my lesson planning this year" or "I want to introduce updated readings and assignments related to X topic"...)
2. Determine how you will know if you achieve your goals (some of it you may have to know through reflection, some of it you may be able to ask students, or compare grades on assignments or something). There's no single "right" way to do this--you're smart and can draw reasonable conclusions from evidence.
3. Do your thing (teach the course)
4. Collect the evidence (however you conceived it in Step 2)
5. Reflect on the evidence, maybe through journaling, blogging, tweeting, or whatever to make it usable to improve (your) teaching and inform your goals for next time.

So I would suggest spending a little time thinking about how to take a small piece of "improve as instructor" (setting SMART goals is a common acronym you've probably heard for this) --that could mean lots of things to different people--and focus on your targeted goals for the semester/term.
posted by kochenta at 1:16 PM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’ve been reaching undergrad and MA/PhD students for 23 years now. I’m devoted to it and consider it the heart of my academic practice, perhaps unlike some of my R1 tenured colleagues, but like more of them than the stereotype suggests.

My students keep me engaged with the world. I learn from them. And I try to remain in contact with as many as I can for as long as I can. I’m still close to two who took the very first class I ever taught. And dozens more. It has been watching their lives unfold after their formal educations that I have acquired what feels like wisdom as an adviser, more than anything else. I’ve been DUS and DGS for my department (am the former now) and I have run a special undergraduate major program I created for 17 years now, so I do a lot of advising, too. I can tell students stories of their predecessors who faced similar questions or challenges and dilemmas, how they solved them, how life turned out when the decision went one way or another, and at scale. Nothing creates more motivation than a narrative in which a student can place themselves. I’ve also learned more and more to see students as whole people first, learners of whatever I am teaching in the moment second. I’m gentle and generous now in ways I felt I couldn’t be earlier in my career for reasons of ambition or bullshit ideologies of discipline and excellence. I now care first and foremost how a student feels about their own work and themselves and whether I can help make them feel better about it, wherever they’re at. I demand hard work, but I cut slack easily. I reward effort as much as accomplishment in my grading and pedagogy, on purpose and explicitly so. I try to assess each student based on where they are starting from, not against abstract standards or each other, which runs contrary to the philosophy of elite higher education settings. I’ve also been singularly successful as a mentor over the years, for example advising the highest number of PHD students in my field for my generation, and sending 90% of them on to tenure track careers. And I have a particularly strong record in my field for mentoring minority and working class students. So I’ve reached the point where, when people question my softness of touch and non-prescriptive encouragement of students’ specific personal interests, whatever they are, I can point to a record and say, “you want to tell me how to teach better? Show me your better results?” I’ve had an incredibly lucky and privileged path to the top of the profession as a white male from an academic family background, and I love the feeling of disrupting the system that nurtured me so that privilege gets spread around better in the generations coming behind me. But mostly I just really love knowing young people so intimately and participating in their journeys, and I can never understand colleagues who find teaching boring or a chore. To me it’s just the best part and always has been. I’m approaching retirement and counting up my legacy as I do, and nothing feels more important than having had a role in shaping so many young and questing students and then seeing the vast majority of them go on to thrive in such diverse ways.
posted by spitbull at 2:02 PM on August 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Valancy Rachel's suggestion to talk to your colleagues. I get very energized when I can talk with colleagues who love teaching as much as I do. I work in a very collegial department and we frequently check in with each other about what we are doing in class. My office is also in a hallway with instructors from many different disciplines who are always chatting with each other about our teaching practice, because some of it is not content-specific but more general pedagogy stuff.

Along the same lines, if you are afforded any funding for professional development, see if you can attend teaching conferences. I try to attend one every few years or so and I find that energizing too. I find the best ones are specifically identified as teaching and learning conferences rather than discipline specific ones, which are usually focused on research and not on classroom practice. The good T&L conferences will have streams for different disciplines (and for different educational levels--I seek out the ones with a higher ed focus because I teach in a college, so e.g. elementary school stuff is generally irrelevant to me), but honestly the best workshops are not always discipline specific.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:51 PM on August 19, 2019

Best answer: This is a great thread. Thanks for starting it. I was just re-reading Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do and really enjoying it again. You might find some useful ideas there.
posted by 6and12 at 5:19 PM on August 19, 2019

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