Faculty trade tools for teaching

Photo by Molly Robinson-Kelly

By Gelsey Plaza

Lewis & Clark’s Teaching Excellence Program (TEP) offers resources to faculty members that help develop teaching techniques that are engaging, inclusive and innovative. It was enacted Fall 2016 and hosts events such as workshops and lunch meetings to spread pedagogical practices.

While serving as the 2014-15 Interim Dean, Director of TEP and Professor of Psychology Jerusha Detweiler-Bedell noticed that faculty were seeking additional opportunities to engage in conversation and receive feedback about teaching practices.

“I saw a great deal of faculty enthusiasm for opportunities to talk about pedagogical development,” Detweiler-Bedell said. “Faculty are really eager across their careers to figure out best practices, how to learn something new that will reinvigorate their teaching or how to get feedback on new classes they’re teaching.”

Due to interest from faculty to construct a teaching program, Detweiler-Bedell started TEP by drafting a proposal for a grant from the Mellon Foundation. The foundation gave the College of Arts and Sciences a four year grant to kick start the project. During this time, Detweiler-Bedell hopes to identify the most effective aspects of TEP and what is most helpful to faculty and students.

During the TEP’s bi-weekly pedagogy lunch on Nov. 13 in J.R. Howard Hall 302, a total of 14 faculty and staff discussed group work and group-based projects. Faculty are often inclined to assign group projects to students because they see it as a way to expose students to the benefits and skills associated with collaboration and teamwork.

In the meeting, they discussed how to make group work a more universally positive experience for students.

Detweiler-Bedell typically leads the meetings and circulates a couple of brief articles a few days in advance to get the faculty thinking about the meeting’s agenda. Discussion begins with some questions from Detweiler-Bedell or Assistant Director and Visiting Assistant Professor Daymond Glenn, and then proceeds with faculty sharing experiences, asking questions and seeking advice.

Common topics discussed during the bi-weekly lunch meetings include strategies for beginning and ending classes as well as how to initiate and lead classroom discussions, handle difficult classroom conversations, improve assignments, help struggling students and write letters of recommendation.

As the two Distinguished Teaching Consultants (DTC), Associate Professor of French Molly Robinson Kelly and Detweiler-Bedell provide faculty-to-faculty peer mentoring. The DTCs offer in-depth, collaborative consultations with faculty on one or more courses. According to Robinson Kelly, the teaching consultants work with faculty on their syllabus and course design, assist faculty with interpreting feedback received from student evaluations, help faculty create mid-semester evaluations and provide them with continuous mentoring and in teaching.

Robinson Kelly enjoys working with TEP because it gives her the opportunity to work closely with her peers in attaining the core mission of LC: teaching.

“TEP is unique in that its focus is purely supportive and developmental,” Robinson Kelly said via e-mail. “The work I do as DTC is truly collaborative: I get to act as an observer, a listener, an analyst and supporter. It’s important to remember that teaching, and working to grow in your teaching, needs to come from a place of openness.”

According to Associate Professor of History and TEP Pedagogy Fellow Ben Westervelt, TEP is an asset for the faculty due to the fact that many professors do not receive explicit instruction on how to teach in graduate school. For Westervelt, graduate school felt more like an apprenticeship with a “watch and learn” kind of environment.

“I basically tried to do what my good instructors did and avoid what I didn’t think worked so well in my experience as a student,” Westervelt said. “I never had any explicit training or even any sustained reflection on teaching. The closest thing was weekly meetings of the faculty in the then-Core course after I arrived at LC. I would have welcomed a TEP-like program and I find it valuable even now.”

Detweiler-Bedell sees potential for growth on both the faculty and student sides.

“I feel that no matter what your experience level is, in terms of teaching, there’s always so much to learn,” Detweiler-Bedell said.

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