Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Learning from each other

Reading Higgins’ book has made me think more about teaching as a practice and our relationship to other educators as a part of that practice, which has been timely, as I recently organized a teacher development workshop for the numerous adjuncts teaching our Introduction to Philosophy course. This is the second time I’ve run such a workshop. I’ve been very preoccupied in running these meetings not to waste the adjuncts’ time and they are not required to attend in order to teach the course. Fortunately, I was able to secure some money from the Office of Undergraduate Education to pay the adjuncts for their time and our department pitched in for food and coffee, but I did feel at the end of the meeting unsure as to whether we should continue to have these every term.

Since we leave it up to the adjuncts to choose their readings, come up with the syllabus, and design the course, one goal of the meeting is to make sure that we are all on the same page with course requirements, learning objectives, etc. This is particularly helpful for new adjuncts. However, we have a whole bunch of adjuncts who are quite experienced and have taught this course for us many times. Since I wanted to make this meeting useful for them too, I focused a significant part of the meeting on pedagogy—sharing handouts, class activities, ideas for how to organize paper assignments, how to give feedback, etc. Though we did share a fair number of ideas about how to teach the course, I ended up feeling that those ideas could have been shared over e-mail, the course website, or an internal blog. And yet, I do have a sense that talking in person with each other about teaching is valuable.  I think in order to run a meeting like this in the future successfully I need to be clear about what is that added value. Ideas?


  1. Jennifer, you ask about added value: I'm not sure there is any 'added value' from face-to-face versus the alternatives. I tend to think that gatherings like these can be immensely valuable. One of the oddities of teaching, especially in higher ed, is that we do it essentially alone, with no one watching, and as a result, we know little about others teach. I wonder if you might arrange for them to pair off, do some classroom observations or SGID's etc.

  2. Michael, that is a good idea, unfortunately, we are very limited with respect to what we can ask of the adjuncts and their already overburdened schedules. I do think that encouraging the building of a community will help to some extent and that is one of the goals of these meetings. Perhaps during the term more of that kind of community building can happen informally.


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