Summer reading – bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress

The days are longer, travelling on the Tube has become unbearable, and City has become empty and quiet – this can only mean one thing: summer has arrived. Whilst I’m sure many of you will be using the summer to catch up with your research and writing, or to have a well-deserved break, this might also be a good opportunity to take some time to do some reading about teaching.

One of my favourite books about teaching was published 25 years ago, but the issues it raises are still very relevant today; it’s Teaching To Transgress, by bell hooks (Routledge, 1994). We have a hard copy available in the library, and you can also access the PDF online from the University of Texas. It’s a fairly short read, but very thought provoking. If you’re not familiar with her, bell hooks is a black, female, American academic who has spent her career thinking and writing about how our current system, a white capitalist patriarchy, can be critiqued and challenged – she’s possibly most famous for her book Ain’t I a Woman? which highlighted the ways in which feminism excluded black voices, which current debates about intersectionality are indebted to.

Teaching To Transgress takes this critical stance about the ways in which our world is structured, and considers how this applies to teaching at university. hooks talks about the emancipatory possibilities for education, and how:

The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom. (p. 207)

She discusses the ways in which a learning community can be constructed instead of the traditional classroom with its hierarchies and power structures that privilege the lecturer and often act to silence students. She demonstrates ways in which students can be empowered to have a voice in the classroom (especially those who often feel silenced, perhaps due to their race, gender, or other identity), through simple activities such as asking students to write a personal response to a topic before a seminar and have the rest of the class listen while they read it out. She argues that this doesn’t mean relinquishing your authority as a teacher, but instead demonstrating how the more analytic knowledge that you are sharing can be expanded through a consideration of experience.

One of the things I really like about this book is that she argues against a traditional separation of mind/ body in academia, where the mind is what’s focused on at the expense of bodily reality. Instead, she contends that a space should be made for emotion in the classroom:

When we bring our passion to the classroom our collective passions come together, and there is often an emotional response, one that can overwhelm. The restrictive, repressive classroom ritual insists that emotional responses have no place. Whenever emotional responses erupt, many of us believe our academic purpose has been diminished. To me this is really a distorted notion of intellectual practice, since the underlying assumption is that to be truly intellectual we must be cut off from our emotions. (p. 155)

This is something that I’ve been thinking about more recently, as I’ve become interested in how we can teach in ways which acknowledge emotion and create a pedagogy based on compassion.  She also discusses the benefits of teaching connected to how we can all learn from our students, suggesting that:

The classroom should be a space where we’re all in power in different ways. That means we professors should be empowered by our interactions with students. In my books I try to show how much my work is influenced by what students say in the classroom, what they do, what they express to me. Along with them I grow intellectually, developing sharper understandings of how to share knowledge and what to do in my participatory role with students. This is one of the primary differences between education as a practice of freedom and the conservative banking system which encourages professors to believe deep down in the core of their being that they have nothing to learn from their students. (p. 152)

As you might be able to tell, I find the ideas in this book really inspiring, and I think she has a particularly effective way of articulating some of my beliefs about teaching: that it should be inclusive, that it should be a collaboration, and that its purpose is to challenge received ideas and injustices. I don’t think I always live up to these ideals – indeed, she reminds us that this way of teaching is often harder than a traditional approach, and if students are not used to it, they may find it demanding or perplexing, and difficult to adjust to initially:

Students do not always enjoy studying with me. Often they find my courses challenge them in ways that are deeply unsettling. This was particularly disturbing to me at the beginning of my teaching career because I wanted to be like and admired. It took time and experience for me to understand that the rewards of engaged pedagogy might not emerge during a course. Luckily, I have taught many students who take time to reconnect and share the impact of our working together on their lives. Then the work I do as a teacher is affirmed again and again, not only by the accolades extended to me but by the career choices students make, their habits of being. (p. 206)

One final idea that she advocates is that there should be a space for fun in the classroom: ‘the first paradigm that shaped my pedagogy was the idea that the classroom should be an exciting place, never boring.’ (p. 7). This is another aspect of teaching that I’ve got more interested in lately – the extent to which we can encourage playfulness in the classroom. These kinds of ideas have inspired, for example, my use of Lego on the Establishing a Teaching Persona course, and last week I went to a conference which explored different aspects of playful learning for adults.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I do – I’d be interested in your responses to the arguments and ideas, and what practical use you might put these to in your own teaching next year and beyond.

Reflecting on your teaching: ten questions to ask at the end of the year

Your teaching has probably come to the end for this year, and you might be feeling a mix of sadness at not seeing your students on a weekly basis, and relief that you can spend the summer making some more progress with the thesis. But while your experience this term or year is still relatively fresh in your mind, it’s useful to take a step back and think about how things went, and make a few notes for yourself to refer back to in September or the next time you teach (I find Google Keep is quite useful for this as it’s easily accessible on my phone and I can search for the relevant note when I need it later on).

Here are ten questions to ask yourself to enable reflection on your teaching this year:

  1. What was my favourite part of teaching this year? What can I do to replicate this in future?
  2. What was the most challenging part of teaching? Would I do anything differently if this happens again?
  3. How do I know that my students are learning?
  4. What do I do when students aren’t learning in my classroom? Is this effective?
  5. Are the relationships that I have with my students helping or hindering their ability to learn? Is there anything I might change about these in the future?
  6. How am I encouraging my students’ curiosity?
  7. What kinds of activities do I often use, and why do I use these?
  8. How has my thinking about teaching changed this year? Why?
  9. What were the most stressful times of the term/ year in my teaching? Is there anything I can do in future to alleviate this?
  10. What one aspect of my teaching do I want to work on next year?

You can think about these on your own, but it’s often useful to talk them through with a friend or colleague, or perhaps your module leader or supervisor. Hopefully you’ve had at least one peer review this year – this might be a good time to review this as well. If there are things that you’d like to work on but you’re not sure how to, or if you’re not sure how to respond to some of the challenges you’ve experienced this year, then you’re also very welcome to contact me (email: jessica.hancock at city.ac.uk) or one of my colleagues in LEaD’s academic team if you’d like to talk things through. Or you might want to post a comment or question below!

Teaching advice videos from City PhD students

Concerned about classroom behaviour? Not sure how to prepare for your teaching, or worried about those tricky questions your students might come up with? Whether you’re currently teaching, or if you think you might start teaching in the near future, you can benefit from advice from other City PhD students (from a variety of schools and disciplines) all about the experience of teaching as a research student.

Five videos look at the following subjects (and can be accessed directly by using the links, or by scrolling down this page):

Many, many thanks to Abeer Elbahrawy, Alex Gilder, Lee Jones, Alex Powell, Marianna Rolbina and Deanna Taylor for providing the excellent tips and discussion in the videos, and to my colleague Fariha Choi for the recording and editing work!

Come to City’s Learning and Teaching Forum

City runs regular Learning and Teaching Forums on a range of different subjects – these are open to anyone who’s interested, so PhD students are very welcome to come along. The format is usually a combination of presentations and activities. To give you an idea of what happens, you can take a look at the blog post I wrote about the most recent one which addressed the topic of classroom management. Here, we discussed something that’s a concern to people with all levels of experience of teaching, but can be a particular worry when you’re starting out, especially if you’re not sure if your status as a PhD student might affect how seriously students take your attempts at discipline (I know this is something that worried me). You might want to take a look at the slides that we used, or the Padlet where we shared solutions for common scenarios. I think the slide about ‘learned optimism’  provides a useful concept to think about if you might have a tendency to get into negative thought patterns about student behaviours (such as ‘everyone looks bored so I must be a boring teacher’ or ‘people are talking so I’m rubbish at controlling a class’). It’s similar to some of the things we talked about during the Establishing a Teaching Persona course – challenging the veracity of these generalisations or catastrophisations so that you can step back from the situation a little and reflect on a more balanced view of what went well and badly, which should mean that dealing with classroom issues becomes a bit more manageable.

The next Learning and Teaching Forum will be on the subject of play-based learning, 12-13:30 on Thursday 4th July – more details here. If this is something you think you might want to start doing in your teaching (or perhaps are already doing) then please do come along – it also involves a free lunch which is never a bad thing! Hope to see you there.

 

City PhD videos: preparing for teaching

Where better to get advice about teaching at City as a PhD students than from other current PhD students or postdocs who have been teaching for a while? They have experienced  the same issues and concerns as you have, and so you can learn from their experiences. In this first video, Abeer Elbahrawy, Alex Gilder, Lee Jones, Alex Powell, Marianna Rolbina and Deanna Taylor discuss how to prepare for teaching.

The advice includes what the participants wished they’d known before they started teaching, covering aspects such as:

  • thinking about how you come across to students
  • how to cope with worries about starting teaching and asking for help (including distracting yourself before a class and shadowing others)
  • not needing to know everything, but anticipating student questions
  • the importance of rehearsing and knowing your material
  • and that teaching does get easier with time, and that the students do want to learn from and with you!

City PhD videos: classroom authority and engagement

In the second video with teaching advice from PhD students, Abeer Elbahrawy, Alex Gilder, Lee Jones, Alex Powell, Marianna Rolbina and Deanna Taylor discuss how to establish authority in the classroom, and how to engage students – key concerns that many people have around teaching.

The advice covers:

  • the power of anecdotes, cultural references and asking students questions
  • thinking about room dynamics – where are you placed in relation to the students?
  • how to balance helping students with valuing your own time – perhaps through the use of office hours
  • sharing your passion about a subject with students

City PhD videos: answering students’ difficult questions

One of my big fears when I started teaching as a PhD student was my students asking questions I didn’t know the answer to – I was worried about my level of subject knowledge and thought that students would be eager to catch me out and expose me as a fraud who wasn’t good enough to be instructing them.

In the third video with advice from PhD students, Abeer Elbahrawy, Alex Gilder, Lee Jones, Alex Powell, Marianna Rolbina and Deanna Taylor provide some solutions for dealing with this situation if it arises – although I can assure you that the vast majority of the students who you will teach will not be deliberately attempting to find the gaps in your knowledge!

The video suggests:

  • being honest when you don’t know something – it’s normal and fine to not know everything
  • looking into the answer after class
  • showing the student how they can find the solution – modelling your process for this will be really helpful for them and is often a more useful thing for them to learn than the answer itself
  • referring students to a colleague who might specialise in the area

City PhD videos: relationships with students and teaching personas

A key aspect to consider when you start teaching is your teaching identity. What kind of teacher do you want to be, and what kind of persona will you adopt? Will you be similar to those who have taught you, or other teachers in your department, or different? What’s the connection between your personality, and other identities you have (such as a PhD student, researcher, professional, friend, carer), and your teaching identity? This idea of who you are as a teacher, or your persona, is also closely linked to the kinds of relationships you have or want to have with the students you teach – for example, will you treat them as peers, or create a hierarchy?

There’s no one right answer to these questions, or one correct persona to adopt – I firmly believe that education benefits from diversity in teaching identities. Nevertheless, I also think this is an important aspect to consider, and is something that we examine in detail during the Establishing a Teaching Persona course at City.

These issues are discussed in the fourth video with advice from PhD students about teaching. Here, Abeer Elbahrawy, Alex Gilder, Lee Jones, Alex Powell, Marianna Rolbina and Deanna Taylor elaborate on the process of establishing their own teaching personas, and the kinds of relationships they construct with the students whom they teach. They talk about being:

  • relatable – through having been in their students’ position very recently
  • friendly (but professional) and supportive
  • an advisor
  • informal – but also maintaining boundaries
  • authoritative through a professional presentation
  • firm but fair – balancing praise and criticism

There’s also an exploration of the rewarding nature of teaching students, and the pride that is gained by seeing students learn.

City PhD videos: balancing teaching and PhD research

Teaching was a really rewarding part of my PhD experience, but it wasn’t always easy to juggle preparing for classes with all the reading and writing I had to do for my thesis, attending and organising conferences, commuting and trying to maintain some part of my life that didn’t revolve around the university!

The balancing act that is teaching whilst undertaking a PhD along with all the other existing commitments you have is addressed in the fifth video with advice from City PhD students. Abeer Elbahrawy, Alex Gilder, Lee Jones, Alex Powell, Marianna Rolbina and Deanna Taylor have some suggestions that might help. They talk about:

  • dividing your week into teaching and research days
  • being strict about how much time you set aside for teaching
  • knowing when to say no
  • making the most of non-teaching time in the summer
  • being realistic about what you can do – perhaps finishing in four years rather than three
  • the benefits of teaching – seeing good exam results, gaining confidence, inspiring students’ interest and importantly, having some human interaction!

LearnHigher: teaching your students about learning

It’s the end of the autumn term, which means my office has a tin of Roses and cake available, and last week I came in dressed as a Christmas pudding. But for the students you’re teaching, the university closure period might entail stress about January assessment deadlines and exams as well as catching up with friends and family or seasonal indulgence.

Often, as a teacher, you notice the worries your students have about how to prepare themselves for exams, or how to research or write their assignments. It’s not always easy, however, to work out what you can do about it. It’s also common to assume that students might have come to university fully cognisant of what it means to revise or write a report or essay – but they will only know how to do these things if someone has explicitly explained to them, so it’s best to discuss this in class.

The website LearnHigher can help with both of these things – it includes an array of free, peer-reviewed resources for teaching students about different aspects of learning in Higher Education. LearnHigher has got a whole section on assessment. This includes items that focus on exams: such as a revision podcast that you could recommend to your students, or slides that you could use to teach your students about memory and revision. It also has lots of useful material on writing assessments: from teaching your students how to interpret their assessment questions, to brainstorming ideas and then paraphrasing the research they use.

It’s worth taking a look around LearnHigher to see if there’s anything that you could use or adapt when teaching your students, or provide to them as a resource. And if you have anything relevant, as a member of the website’s working group I can confirm that we’re always looking for new materials if you’ve got something you’d like to share!

Giving everyone a chance to share and reflect

We all might like to think that the students leave our teaching sessions and then spend some time reflecting on what they’ve learnt, but it’s probably more common that they’ll be rushing off to another class, lunch, a job or back home with their mind  focused on what’s next. So it can be really useful to provide some space within your lesson to get the students to reflect. This can be done alone, with the students thinking or perhaps recording their thoughts in some free writing. It can also be beneficial to enable students to share reflections with each other – but how do you ensure that all students get an equal chance to speak?

One way to do this is by dividing students into pairs, and giving a set amount of time (perhaps 3 or 5 minutes) for each of them to speak. During this time, the other student only listens, and is only allowed to interrupt if the speaker has lost focus. After the time has elapsed, the pairs then switch round and the other student gets to talk whilst the first student listens attentively. Although some students might feel intimidated at first, the chance to have someone’s undivided attention is a rare privilege!

I’d suggest giving them prompts for the reflection, by providing questions such as:

  • What are the key points you’ve learnt today?
  • Is there anything you’re still confused by?
  • What will you do to prepare for the session next week?

You could do this in small or large groups – in a large group, this will get noisy so I’d recommend having some sort of buzzer to provide a clear prompt for when to switch between listener and talker.

You could also extend this activity by asking students to spend a final couple of minutes at the end recording some of the points from their reflections, perhaps by using an online tool such as Padlet – that will show you if there are any common areas of misunderstanding, and give you an indication of what students have learned.

Have you tried anything similar? How did it work for you?

Writing set free

Many assessments in HE involve writing, and yet this is something that students often find intimidating, as writing within their discipline has particular rules and styles that often feel unnatural and constraining. In my experience, one solution to make the writing process a bit easier is to get students to do more writing in class – to show them that writing doesn’t have to be perfect, and to get them used to writing more regularly.

Students can also feel uncomfortable answering questions in front of others – especially if they feel like they haven’t had enough time to collect their thoughts. I think free writing can help with both of these issues when used in class.

Essentially, free writing is where a student writes something that’s only for them to see, and just writes for a set amount of time, without focusing on the quality of what they’re writing, or their spelling, grammar or style. You’d give them a prompt of an open-ended question about the topic of the lesson, and then give them a set amount of time (perhaps five minutes at first) to respond. Emphasise that the important thing is to keep writing, and not to worry too much about what they’re writing – tell them that if they can’t think of anything, they can start by writing that (perhaps in a positive form, such as ‘I don’t have an idea right now but I’m hoping one will come in a minute … ‘).

This exercise not only helps to take away some of the fear and perfectionism around writing and idea generating, but helps to increase writing fluency and gives students a safe space to try out and develop some responses to the question. This can be used in both small and large groups – in a large group, it can be an effective way of getting everyone to respond to a question without feeling like they’ve been put on the spot, or have to risk sharing with others.

I’ve found that this can be most useful with repeated use, as students can often be troubled by the idea of ‘just writing’ the first time they do it, and become more comfortable in subsequent exercises. Using it throughout a term or year also ensures that students keep writing in this low stakes way, rather than only writing when it comes to an assessment.

Have you used this before, or are you thinking of trying it out?

Ali’s key resources for lab teaching

My colleague Ali, a fellow Lecturer in Educational Development has special responsibility for the School of Mathematics, Computer Science & Engineering. Many of the staff that she supports in this school are engaged in lab teaching, and so she’s identified a few key resources which may be useful to those of you who teach in labs (whether you’re in SMCSE or another school).

Learning and Teaching in Laboratories: an Engineering Subject Centre Guide by Clara Davies.

This resource considers the practical challenges of designing laboratory learning within a modern engineering curriculum. It provides ideas and practical guidance for people new to teaching and for more experienced people looking to rethink or reinvigorate their approach.

Stanford Teaching Commons Laboratory Teaching Guidelines

The laboratory is an exciting place where students investigate, analyse, and reflect. They test and apply theories and make abstract concepts concrete. However, the process of investigation doesn’t always run smoothly, and students need guidelines to make sense of their results. This guide contains strategies for designing and supervising effective sessions.

The Role of Computer Labs in Teaching and Learning Process in The Field of Mathematical Sciences

This paper discusses the use of a computer lab among lecturers at the School of Mathematical Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. The objective is to determine the role of the computer lab as a medium of teaching and learning process in mathematical sciences. The paper ends with some appropriate approaches to promote the use of computer labs in the teaching and learning process.

Flinders University Science Demonstrators Handbook

This handbook gives a useful overview of many aspects of science demonstrating in the laboratory, and the kinds of things you will need to consider. Some of it is specific to people actually working at Flinders (i.e. payroll advice, local emergency phone numbers), but the teaching and learning advice is quite universal, and applicable to anyone working in the lab environment.

 

 

 

How to snowball student discussions

Many students are reluctant to take part in discussions, especially when they’ve just started at university, or on a new course. Students may feel nervous about whether their opinions have values, or a group of students might have one person who takes over and dominates the conversation. To enable students to feel more confident about talking through ideas with their peers, you might ask them to form into pairs to answer a question. However, if students are solely working in pairs, it might mean that they’re not exposed to the full range of experiences and knowledge of the rest of the class. Snowballing is one technique which enables students to initially think about their own response to a question, then converse with just one other person, and then join together with other pairs to enable a wider discussion.

This is how you might run a snowballing activity:

  1. Give learners a task to do individually for one minute. For example:
    “What you think are the three most important points from the last section of the presentation?”, or
    “What two suggestions you would come up with to solve the problem presented?”, or
    “Suggest three responses you could make in the scenario I have just outlined.”
  2. Individuals form pairs and have two minutes to hear what each other has come up with and agree on their joint response.
  3. Pairs form groups of four and have three minutes to agree on their joint response.
  4. Fours form groups of eight and have three minutes to agree and appoint one person ready to announce what they have agreed as a group.
  5. At this point you may want to hear briefly from each group of eight and comment on or record their suggestions. In a sense, what you do at this point is less important than the previous stages because everyone in the group, however large the group is, has had to talk and be actively involved in the task.

Have you tried snowballing? How did it work for you? Have you got any other ideas for engaging students in discussions?

 

Lisa’s introduction to educational technology at City

Several of the participants of Establishing a Teaching Persona, which ran for the first time last month, had the opportunity to discuss technology and teaching with one of my colleagues, Lisa Baker. Lisa is an educational technologist at City and has produced a handout to introduce you to the key technologies that you might come across whilst teaching at City: Moodle, our virtual learning environment, which is used for many things, from providing information about each module or submitting assessments to online activities; Mediaspace, our system for recording lectures or creating videos for your teaching; Poll Everywhere, a system which can be used to gather responses online from your students in class; and last but no means least, the ‘pod’ or PC set up in each classroom. If you want to learn more about the educational technologies supported at City, the Ed Tech team are running a series of workshops this term which you might want to sign up to.

Would you like a City forum for PhD students who teach?

One of the best ways I’ve found to develop my own teaching is to talk about it with other people – sometimes it can be reassuring to know that other people are encountering the same issues as you (why has the attendance tailed off after the first few weeks? what do I do about the group at the back of the class who were chatting all the way through my session? what could be going on with the student who doesn’t seem to take part in any of the group discussions?). Often other people might have different ways of looking at something that you’re finding difficult – as they’re more removed from the situation, they will have a less emotional reaction to the behaviour of your student, and might be able to suggest reasons why the student might be acting in that way, and how to resolve the situation. It’s also really useful to share ideas for different kinds of activities, and different ways to get students excited about your subject and what they’re learning.

Some of you might have already developed informal ways of talking about teaching with your PhD colleagues – perhaps just over a cup of tea in your shared office after you come back from a seminar or lab session. But would you like the opportunity to discuss teaching with PhD students from across City on a regular basis?

If so, I could set up some forums for PhD students who teach at City, where we could get together to discuss ideas and share solutions for issues that you might be encountering. We could have a different theme each time – perhaps based around particular types of teaching, or maybe focused on specific aspects, such as technology or classroom management.

Does this sound like something you’d be interested in? If you would like to attend a City teaching forum for PhD students who teach, please use the comments below or my email (jessica.hancock@city.ac.uk) to get in touch with me. Alternatively, if you have another suggestion, let me know about that too.

Pam’s top tips for running large group sessions

Pam, the Deputy Director of LEaD and a professor in Educational Development, shared some of her years of experience with lecturing to large groups with the attendees of the Establishing a Teaching Persona course. You can take a look at her advice and some links to further resources in the teaching large groups handout. Her top ten tips  about teaching in large groups are:

  1. Be at the room in plenty of time – if there’s no class before yours, you can get in and set up
  2. Welcome students as they come in – this does make a difference
  3. Start on time and have a slide after your title slide that has learning outcomes for the session – this helps students know what to expect and enables you to provide an overview of what is to come
  4. Ensure your slides are not too full of text – use pictures/graphics and key words rather than write full explanations
  5. When you have students doing activities, like paired discussions and group activities, do walk around the room so they can ask questions if they need to
  6. Keep an eye on the time and keep to the times you have given them for activities
  7. If delivering a short lecture part, do tell the students if it is okay to ask questions
  8. If using a quiz leave enough time for students to respond – but not too long
  9. Finish the session with what next: so is there anything they need to do on Moodle, or related reading?
  10. Enjoy the session and be enthusiastic – it makes a difference!

 

Ruth’s small group activity ideas

In part of Establishing a Teaching Persona (ETP), Ruth, one of the Lecturers in Educational Development at City, who is the school liason for Cass, discussed small group teaching with some of the participants. Ruth led a reflection about teaching in small groups, thinking about the advantages and disadvantages, and the ways in which students might feel included or excluded. She explored a teaching incident where the teacher, frustrated at the types of answers she was getting to her questions, made a disparaging remark about a student. This demonstrates the ways in which acting towards a student without compassion (something we discussed during ETP) can be harmful to the relationship with a whole class.

Ruth also shared some ideas for activities which can be used with small groups to encourage active learning: from the fishbowl to the jigsaw classroom. Take a look to see which might be useful for your classes.

Ali’s lab demonstration guide

Part of Establishing a Teaching Persona, the course for PhD students who teach at City, involved the opportunity to chat directly with a member of LEaD about a particular type of teaching. Ali, who works in the academic team as a Lecturer in Educational Development, with special responsibility for the School of Mathematics, Computer Science & Engineering, was there to discuss lab teaching, and has produced a ‘Lab Demonstrating Guide‘ which provides advice for working with students in labs, and links to further resources.

Ali’s hints and tips for effective lab work with students:

  • Ask questions that open up the subject, or other possibilities; lead students towards answering their own questions, where possible, through consideration of their actions;
  • Use the lab to explicitly build on current knowledge and lead the student through chains of reasoning; do not simply answer student questions (unless the question really does warrant a simple answer, like ‘where do I…’);
  • Be approachable – friendly, available, equitable and helpful – especially to those students who are new to working in a lab environment, e.g. Level 4 (first year) students;
  • Be proactive as well as reactive – recognise those having difficulties. Encourage active participation by students and counter any “freeloaders” by encouraging all students to participate when you are working with groups;
  • Draw comparisons and parallels between laboratory work and professional practice.

Checking on the progress of students in the lab environment is essential due to health and safety concerns. With safety as a primary concern the need for you to be alert to student activities, and prepared to intervene, is increased when compared to some other teaching situations:

  • Make sure you are clear on your role in the lab environment, the protocol to be carried out, and what support you are being asked to provide;
  • Clarify safety requirements and procedures and make sure there are no equipment issues; be proactive with students in ensuring equipment is used safely;
  • Ensure you know any parameters for feedback you need to give, particularly if you are to be involved in assessing students’ work.

Establishing a Teaching Persona first iteration and using whiteboards

The new course, ‘Establishing a Teaching Persona’ ran for the first time today and yesterday. I was really impressed by how enthusiatically people participated, and by the thoughtful feedback that my group gave each other this morning for the micro-teach activity.

One of the issues that came up during the micro-teach was whether to use Powerpoint slides whilst teaching, or whether to write key points and explanations on the white board: in my group, we had people who did both. We explored the benefits of the whiteboard: how the flexibility of being able to write or draw anything enabled connections to be made easily between different points, and how engaging it could be to see the key issues emerge as you watched and listened. The issue of handwriting size and legibility came up – I have difficult reading back notes I’ve made sometimes, so I definitely struggle with writing clearly at speed. We also talked about how many students will benefit from having materials in advance, so that they can go over it before a session and understand how the information is structured – it’s easy to do this with a prepared Powerpoint, but might be harder if the lesson is centred around the whiteboard.

When I came back from the session, I mentioned these discussions to my colleagues, and Ali sent me some links to resources about using whiteboards which will be useful if you use them in your teaching. The first is from Yale, and has some recommendations for using whiteboards in teaching. The second is from the British Council, which is a little more focused on school teaching, but much of the advice about teaching with whiteboards is transferrable and interesting. Let me know if you have found any other good resources.

 

 

Welcome to the blog for City’s teaching PhD students

Hi

As a PhD student at City, you’ve been subscribed to this new blog, aimed at any PhD students who are teaching or interested in teaching in the future. I hope you’ll find the content and ideas useful – the blog will be added to on a regular basis.

I’d also like to hear from you, so there’s a specific ‘ideas and questions’ section where you can share your thoughts and reflections about teaching, your ideas and suggestions about things that have worked well, and also ask any questions that you might have about teaching, or for feedback on something that didn’t go so well. If you’d like to contribute to this, please email me (jessica.hancock@city.ac.uk) and I can add you as a contributor. Or, if you’d like to stay anonymous, you can email me and I can post on your behalf.

If you’re not interested in the blog, you can unsubscribe and then you won’t hear from me again!

Jessica, Lecturer in Educational Development, LEaD

 

Susan and Robert: whom might you be teaching?

Teacher or student centred?

When I began teaching during my doctorate, I was pretty terrified. The first seminar I taught was on Old English literature, and I spent most of the week before worrying about my understanding of the texts, my ability to translate each word, and explain the grammar of every line. I didn’t really think too much about how I was going to teach the session – that much was obvious. When I’d studied Old English myself as an undergraduate, my lecturer went round the class, asking us to read a line from our translation in turn, correcting it or discussing points of interest as we went – so clearly I’d do exactly the same and assume that the students would behave just as I did.

A few months later, however, I was shown this University of Aarhus video which made me rethink things:

What resonated with me is that you’ll inevitably be teaching different kinds of students – the video describes Susan, the kind of well-prepared and engaged student who ‘you can hardly stop from learning’, and Robert, who comes late to class and is distracted by other concerns. It’s really tempting to go into  a ‘blame the student’ mode (where you moan about how no-one has done the pre-class work, there’s a sea of blank faces when you ask a question, and they all seem glued to smartphones rather than paying attention), or alternatively, start thinking that you’re a terrible teacher, and that you need to put more and more time into making your performances more entertaining and polished. Yet, as the subsequent videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfloUd3eO_M and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6rx-GBBwVg) demonstrate, it’s crucial to focus on what your students are actually doing and how this will enable them to learn what you want them to learn in your sessions.

Active learning

Thinking about what your students are doing will enable you to take more of a student-focused approach, rather than just worrying about what you’re doing and expecting their learning to straightforwardly follow on from this. The University of Leicester has lots of ideas for meaningful student activities to use whether you’re teaching large or small groups. Many of these are simple but effective, such as asking your students to explain a point you’ve just made or a theory you’ve just explained in their own words – Padlet can be an effective method for recording and comparing these kinds of responses. If you’re starting to introduce a new kind of activity, I’ve always found it useful to explain to students why you’re asking them to do this, and to get them to reflect on what they’ve taken from it afterwards.

Inclusive learning

Another important point that the video makes in its comparison of Susan and Robert is the perhaps rather obvious one that students are different: they will come from different backgrounds, have different levels of confidence in their own abilities and willingness to participate, and have different motivations for doing their degree. Considering all these differences might make you feel a bit panicky – how do you teach a whole class with all these variables? How might you adapt your materials for students with particular disabilities or needs, or to appeal to students with different identities? An easier approach is to start by making your classes as inclusive as possible – this means thinking about ways in which you can structure your teaching to make it accessible to all students, building in flexibility where possible (students might want to participate in different ways – some might be happy talking in front of a whole class, whereas others might want to write their thoughts down, or have time to prepare contributions) and being explicit about expectations (what do you want from your students?) and diversity issues (you might not be able to influence the choice of curriculum, but if the texts, theories or examples you use over-represent a white, male, Western, or heterosexual perspective then it’s worth discussing this as well as offering alternatives).

Inclusive learning resources

The University of Sheffield has produced a handbook which covers many practical aspects of teaching in an inclusive way. This includes guidelines for producing PowerPoint slides and handouts, key issues to discuss with your students, such as critical thinking and what a pass mark means in the subject you’re teaching (the fact that, in the UK, anything over 70 is a top mark often seems a bit nonsensical to students who aren’t used to this system), and advice about accessible language. The handbook also includes case studies about inclusive learning in different subjects – some of the ideas might be hard for you to implement as a PhD student rather than a module or programme leader, but there might be small changes you can make to your classes which can be very effective. Plymouth University also offers a quick overview of some key aspects of inclusivity to consider, such as communication and group work.

When you’re thinking about how to involve all of your class in discussions or activities, Cathy Davidson has some great strategies for enabling participation, such as:

  • Getting everyone to raise their hand in response to each question (even if they don’t know the answer)
  • Making a list of people who’ve commented to ensure that the same voices don’t dominate the discussion
  • Requiring each student to respond in writing at the beginning or the end of the class (such as noting down one idea each from the reading onto the board as they enter)

What ideas for inclusive learning have you tried and found useful?

Micro-teach information for participants

For your micro-teach, you will need to prepare a short (5-7 minute) presentation about some material that you would like to explain to the other participants. This could be something from your PhD, or undergraduate or masters dissertation, or it could be something that you’ve taught or will teach. Make sure it’s something that you can cover within the time (you will be cut off after the time limit!). You might want to use a PowerPoint presentation – if so, please bring it saved to a USB stick.

Micro-teach feedback

You will give peer feedback to each other, and will also receive feedback from one of LEaD’s lecturers. For the peer feedback, you’ll be asked to note on a post-it at least one thing you liked about the micro-teach, and one point for improvement.

Feedback will cover:

  • Methods
  • Resources
  • Pace and delivery
  • Body language and communication with your audience
  • Creativity

Micro-teach advice: things to think about

  • What can you realistically cover in 5-7 minutes? Attempt only what you are sure you can get through in the time available
  • Your ‘class’ members are drawn from a range of backgrounds and subject areas – how will you ensure that content is equally accessible to all students?
  • What kinds of resources/ visual aids will you use to enable/support learning?
  • How important is it that you plan a creative and enjoyable experience for all of your students?
  • How will you know that your peers have learned something from your session?

Padlet

One educational technology that I’ve used time and time again is Padlet. The concept is very simple: it’s an online noticeboard. Here’s an example of one I used where I asked students to post about good and bad learning experiences (you can click to enlarge the picture):

So what can you use it for? I often ask students to discuss questions in groups, and then to post a summary of their answers onto a Padlet:

Or you can use it for everyone to contribute an answer individually. I’ve also used it before and after class, as a space where students can ask questions, or raise issues, or share something that they’re confused by, or to provide some material for people to discuss in class (so I might, perhaps, ask for comments on a particular research article which can then be used as a starting point for a class conversation). I often like to get students to compose a short paragraph during a class to practise putting their thoughts into writing – these can also be easily shared using Padlet. Or, I have asked students to paraphrase or summarise a particular piece of information or research, such as here:

Why do I like it? It’s very easy to use – you just give students a link and they can use a phone, laptop or tablet to access the Padlet you’ve set up, and start instantly posting with no need to create an account. Posts can be made anonymously, which means that students are more likely to feel confident enough to contribute, or to take a risk with an answer that they’re not sure about. Being able to see an array of responses can be a really useful way of exploring different perspectives, or seeing common misconceptions. If you’ve asked students to discuss in small groups, it provides a good way in to a whole class discussion, without the often repetitive alternative of each group verbally reporting back. And you are also able to attach images, audio, video, presentations and spreadsheets, comment on and react to other posts, meaning that there can be a discussion generated within the answers, or you can post some answer options which students can vote on. If you’re using it for several different questions within one session, the shelf format will help keep things organised (I’ve also attached images of work students did on paper to this one):

The downside? Well, when I first started using it, Padlet was completely free. However, they’ve now introduced a subscription model, so you can only have three different Padlets for free (you can keep creating new ones, you just need to delete some of the older ones so the total amount is never more than three) – which means that it’s harder to keep one Padlet left open for ongoing module questions, or to keep a record of what was posted during a session (although you can export it to PDF or as an image if you want the posts to be accessible without keeping that Padlet – that’s what I’ve done for these blog pictures). At the moment, City doesn’t have an institutional account (although maybe it will be possible in future if lots of us are using it for teaching), so we’re stuck with the free version unless you want to pay for an individual account. I’ve looked into free alternatives, but haven’t yet found a viable replacement. Let me know if you use something similar, or how you’ve Padlet in your teaching.

Speed-meets to increase class bonding

Frequently, you’ll be asked to teach first year undergraduates in a seminar setting. Even with these students, who are just beginning their university journey, it might be easy to assume that freshers week means that the students all know each other. Actually, this is rarely the case, and often students will begin a term not knowing anyone in their seminar group, or clinging to the one or two people that they’ve already met as they’re living near each other in halls, or have something obvious in common like a shared nationality or home town (when I started my first degree, the other two Welsh students in the college excitedly sought me out as there was a list of where everyone had done their A-levels and they’d noticed that I’d done mine in Cardiff).

So, how do you get students to socialise with everyone in the class rather than stick to the people they already know? I can’t be the only person who finds the pressure of  having to come up with something ‘interesting’ about themselves, or a funny or embarrassing anecdote, to share with the class really stressful and awkward. One useful method is speed-meets – kind of like speed dating, where students have short conversations with each person in their class. It’s not just beneficial for first years – if the programme you teach on has elective modules, it can be great to do something like this at the start as it may be that students on the module you’re teaching on haven’t met before, especially if there’s a big overall cohort.

Dr Theo Gilbert from the University of Hertfordshire has used found this is really effective, and explains why that is and how to run a speed-meet in a short video:

 

Approaching a problem class

I recently observed some of our City maths PhD students teaching a problem class, and it reminded me that often the simplest techniques can be really effective. There was a whole sheet of problems for the class to work through, but rather than go through them one by one, in the order they appeared on the sheet, the tutors asked the students which one they’d had the most difficulty with. There was a consensus that many students had struggled with a particular question, so the tutors stated with this one. Not only did this mean that they could devote more time to the questions where students required more explanation, but it also meant students were immediately engaged as the session had been tailored to their needs.

Something that will repeatedly crop up in this kind of teaching is students declaring that they don’t know how to do a particular question or task, or that they’re just stuck. How can you help students in this situation?

  • You may need to go back to the principles of the question, as problems can often be at a fundamental level, or stem from a basic misunderstanding
  • Break the problem down into parts, to make it easier to understand – sometimes this might involve translating the problem into mathematics
  • Check a students’ prior knowledge by asking them what they know, and follow up by asking them what they want to know – this might move them forward from a frozen position of not knowing where to start
  • Before a session, read through the course textbooks to find out how concept/topic is introduced or taught, and take a look at any lecture slides or other material on Moodle
  • Be aware that maths has both a how and why – an acceptance of an argument (e.g. a proof) is not the same as understanding what it means and how it fits in.

Students may be able to repeat a definition perfectly, but will use their ‘image’ to tackle problems. To find out about a student’s concept definition, ask a direct question. To find out about their concept image, ask an indirect question. Definitions are verbal and explicit, and revealed by direct questions such as “what is a function?” or “what is a tangent?”. Images are non-verbal and implicit and revealed by indirect questions such as “is there a function such that/where..?”.

What issues have you encountered during problem classes? What suggestions do you have for dealing with them?

This post has adapted materials from Dr Giles Martin, Bath Spa University and the University of Western Ontario’s Graduate Handbook.

Advice from PhD students at the University of Bath

This video offers PhD students’ most important piece of advice about teaching:

Other videos offer suggestions about different aspects of teaching which are particularly relevant to PhD students:

  • how to maintain the boundaries of the graduate teaching role

  • how much help to give students (so, what the difference is between helping them learn and doing it for them)

  • engaging with students

  • coping with not always knowing all the answers (you never will, even as an esteemed professor!)

Derek Bok Centre for Teaching and Learning (Harvard)

I came across this following a recommendation from a colleague at Kings College, London. Harvard University (in the US) has a centre for teaching and learning which provides extensive advice for people teaching in HE. I think the ‘in the classroom’ section is particularly relevant for PhD students. It begins with a discussion of building rapport with students, making the point that the relationship with your students is crucial. This is something that we’ll be discussing in Establishing a Teaching Persona, as this might be a bit different for PhD students to someone employed as a permanent lecturer – the website includes the advice to establish your credentials, which might seem a bit more intimidating as a PhD student.

There’s a useful section on ‘classroom contracts’ and how to negotiate and establish your expectations for students from the outset, especially if you’re going to be seeing this group of students on a regular basis. A good point is made about being explicit – don’t forget that although, as a PhD student, you are likely to be very used to HE and what it involves in your subject, many students might not be aware of how teaching and learning works, and so it’s important to be upfront about how things will work in your classroom.

The sections on ‘active learning’ and ‘a catalogue of instructional strategies’ might give you some ideas for how to teach the material on your module. As a PhD student, you have a varying amount of freedom to choose what you’re doing – I know that some of you might be given slides by the module leader which you have to use. Nevertheless, there’s often some opportunity to slightly modify the way you teach what you’ve been given – if only by adding in some activities or short discussion sections.

I found the discussion on ‘technology and student distraction’ interesting, as I know people are often concerned that they might be teaching to a room of heads bent over phones or laptops. This acknowledges the issues with the distractions of technology – as multi-tasking is a myth, using technology involves a constant switching between your device and what’s going on in the room. Nevertheless, I’ve found that technology can be a great aid to teaching – I’ve found the online noticeboard Padlet really useful for collecting anonymous contributions to discussions (the anonymity means that some students will contribute who wouldn’t have wanted to shout out in class, and answers can be easily shared and compared). Frustratingly, Padlet is now generating income through subscriptions, so they’ve limited the amount of Padlets you can create using the free version. The site notes that technology can also be needed for students with disabilities – similarly, I’ve taught many international students who will often be using their phones to translate words they don’t understand so it becomes an invaluable aid to learning (few of these students would have the confidence to stop and ask me what I mean directly).

A place to share your thoughts about your teaching

Have you had a particulaly good experience? What do you think worked well about it?

Have you heard about a useful teaching technique or method which you’d like to tell people about?

Is there something you’re not sure about (perhaps you’re about to do a new type of teaching, or you’re trying to work out why your students aren’t joining in with class discussions)? Ask here any get advice and suggestions from your fellow PhD students.

Please let me know if you’d like to contribute a post to this – your post can be added anonymously if you’d prefer.

Using examples to prepare students for written assessment

One of the first things I did when I started my PhD was to go to the library, and take a look at other PhD theses which had been written by students who’d had the same supervisor as me. This was because I felt like I had no real idea what I was doing, or what a PhD looked like – no-one else in my family had done one, and I’d only applied for mine as I’d enjoyed my BA and MA and was naively hoping it would be more of the same. Reading other theses was reassuring – it let me know what I was supposed to produce, and made it seem much more tangible.

I think this is the same for all students, and so I’m a big fan of providing students with examples of other students’ assessments so that they can understand what they’re doing. As someone who’s likely to have studied for many years in your subject by now, it may seem obvious to you what needs to be done if students are required to write a 2,000 word report, or a 1,600 word essay, or answer 3 exam questions in 2 hours. But often it can be completely unknown to students. The module leader may have provided guidance in the handbook, but if you have students in a small group session, it can be invaluable to spend some time looking at examples, and discussing with students how well they might meet the criteria and why this is – looking at features of the writing as well as the content.

Obviously, if this is the first time you’ve taught on this module, or if you’re not involved with marking summative assessments, you won’t have any examples of previous students’ work. Ask your module leader – many will happily share these with you to use in class (don’t forget that you or the module leader will have to get permission from the students to use the essays – if you explain why you want to use them, I’ve found that students are usually quite flattered to be asked). I have, however, encountered lecturers who don’t like giving out examples. If this is this case, possible solutions are:

  • agreeing that the students will work with printed copies of the assessment example during a session, but they won’t be able to take these with them afterwards
  • agreeing that you’ll work with sample paragraphs from the assessment, rather than a whole essay or report
  • using an example from a slightly different question that’s been used previously
  • using your own work, if you previously did a similar assessment as a student
  • using the University of Plymouth’s online bank of student writing examples, WRASSE, which is searchable by subject and level, to find examples

Once you have some relevant examples, you can set up an activity which examines the example in the context of the assessment criteria. I would usually divide students into groups of 3 or 4 for this. If you are able to, it can work better to give students an opportunity to read the example before the session. Otherwise, be aware that there will be differences between students of how fast they are able to read through the material, so it can be useful to split the example into essential reading (perhaps saying something like ‘you need to look at the first and third paragraphs’) and extra reading that can be done by the faster readers (the rest of the example).

Then, ask students to work through answers to questions about the examples. I usually include some more basic factual ones, as well as ones that are more difficult and really require students to think about the structure, style and content of the writing in each example. I prefer to use two or three different examples, to show students that a range of approaches can be effective and there’s not one correct way to approach the task. After the groups have had a chance to answer the questions, I’d bring them together as a whole class to discuss their answers.

Here’s some examples of questions that I used with students who were looking at examples of an assessment which involved students writing a 2,000 word report on a brand communication campaign – these could be easily adapted to other kinds of written assessment, and you might want to use more or fewer depending on how much time you have for this activity (it’s something that can be beneficial to devote a whole seminar to). They had to include information on e-marketing (part A), present the digital consumer persona for their brand (part B) and make recommendations for a brand engagement strategy using social media (part C). You can find the whole handout that I made at Learnhigher – this is a really useful website with lots of resources for developing student learning in Higher Education.

  • How many items in the reference list?
  • What kinds of items are referenced? Are these all academic and appropriate?
  • What sections does it have?
  • At what points does the writer explain the structure of the report/ section? Is the explanation clear? Does it make you want to read on?
  • How many paragraphs does it have?
  • How many times does it use linking words to show similarity (e.g. similarly, moreover, additionally) and are these varied?
  • How many times does it use linking words to show difference (e.g. however, yet, nevertheless, in contrast, unlike, despite) and are these varied?
  • How many times does it use words to show conclusions (e.g. therefore, consequently, ultimately, thus) and are these varied?
  • Is a personal voice used? If so, give examples and explain the effect.
  • Does the writer sound authoritative/ as if they know what they are talking about? If so, give examples.
  • Does the writer sound objective? Do they present a balanced view of different ideas/ opinions on each subject? If so, give examples.
  • How concise is the writing? Does the writer repeat themselves? If so, give examples.
  • Has the writer shown a connection between theory and their brand/ consumer persona? If so, give examples of how this has been worded.
  • Has the writer shown a link between parts B and C of the assessment? If so, give examples of how this has been worded.
  • How clear is the writing? Are there any parts where the writer hasn’t explained themselves properly? If so, give examples.
  • Does the writer explain the significance of the information? If so, give examples, and show what kinds of language they use.
  • Is the writing critical? Explain the reasons for your answer.
  • Is the writing academic? Explain the reasons for your answer.
  • Do you find the writing interesting? Explain the reasons for your answer.
  • Can you see any issues with spelling or grammar? Do these get in the way of your understanding? If so, give examples.

Is this something that you think might work for your teaching? Do you have any other useful questions to add to this list?

How to question students in lab teaching

Approaching students whilst they undertake a lab exercise or experiment might feel intimidating at first – you might feel awkward, as if you’re interrupting them, and be unsure about what kind of questions to ask them. However, being proactive, rather than waiting to be asked for help, means that you can move around the room and get to know the students, and also use questions to check their existing knowledge, and help to scaffold their understanding of what they’re learning.

You might want to start with something more basic, to build up students’ confidence in answering questions. These are some different types of questions you might use:

  • Factual: What is this?
  • Convergent: Why has this happened?
  • Divergent: What could happen if? How could you test/measure X?
  • Evaluative/Analytical: So what? What does this mean?

If you’re given a wrong answer, try to correct it in a supportive way – students need to know that it’s ok to fail. When one student from a group has answered, make sure that you make eye contact with the rest of the group when responding, so that they all feel involved. And don’t be afraid of pauses – when you’ve asked something, especially if you’re feeling a bit nervous or artificial in your interactions with students, it’s really tempting to ask something, and if no response is forthcoming within about two seconds, to instantly rephrase it and ask again, or start answering yourself. I know I used to do it all the time when I started teaching, but it can be confusing for students, who might just need some time to think.

Here are some useful questions to use when teaching in a lab environment:

  • What would you predict would happen if…?
  • What are you assuming?
  • At which point did you get lost/did X happen?
  • Why has this happened?
  • What have you done so far?
  • Why do you think this is wrong?
  • Which part specifically do you find confusing?
  • What do you think the answer should be? In what range? What are the units/dimensions?
  • How can you figure this out/calculate this?
  • Tell me about the theory from the lecture behind this
  • What do the lab instructions say (exactly!)?
  • What is important about what you see/observe/results here?
  • Who is doing what in this group? Have you all swapped roles?

This post has adapted materials from Dr Giles Martin, Bath Spa University and the University of Western Ontario’s Graduate Handbook.

Have you got any other examples of questions which have worked particularly well in your lab teaching?

Think-Group-Share for large groups

There’s often criticism of lecturing in Higher Education, but often this seems to presume that lecturing involves someone standing in front of rows and rows of students, and delivering a monologue until the session time is up. Yet lecturing can be an effective way of enabling students to learn in a large group if you don’t just provide a speech, but break things up with activities for students. One way of doing this is Think, Group, Share.

You’ll need to use some kind of technology, which enables students to answer questions online, such as PollEverywhere (which is supported by City).

What you need to do:

  1. Ask a question students can answer individually, using clickers or their own devices, and allow time for reflection and making notes.
  2. Place students in small groups and ask them each to explain the reasoning behind their answer to their group; the group then vote on the correct answer and one group representative answers the question again.
  3. Reveal the individual and the group answers and lead a class-wide discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of each potential answer.

The different students’ answers are useful for feedback, and students also feel more confident about participating, as they feel supported by their group.

Advantages:

  • When students know they will have to defend their choice to peers, they reflect deeply before they answer
  • It measures students’ understanding
  • It demonstrates where individuals may be struggling
  • It ensures that all students can engage with their peers and lecturer

If you try this out, leave a comment to let me know how it went!

Thanks to my colleagues in LEaD for their suggestion of this activity.

 

Who are the City Ed Techs and how might they help you?

We’re lucky at City that we have a team of dedicated and knowledgeable Educational Technologists who are experts in how to use technology to enhance teaching. I share an office with many of them, so can confirm that they are helpful and friendly – and have provided me with invaluable assistance in setting up this blog!

The Ed Techs have created a dedicated site to provide guidance on using Moodle, Turnitin, and other technologies which you might find useful for your teaching, such as Polleverywhere (which enables you to gather online responses to questions you ask students in class), and video and audio. It’s a great place to get some information about using the technologies, and why they might be useful in your sessions.

Phil Race – In at the Deep End

When I asked colleagues from other universities about what resources they’d recommend for PhD students who teach, the most popular one was Phil Race’s booklet called In at the Deep End, which is available to download from his website as a PDF.

This was written for any one new to teaching in HE, rather than PhD students specifically, but includes lots of practical ideas. It’s broken into several sections – ‘large-group teaching’ addresses lecturing, which I know some of you will be doing. It covers structure, how to guide students to make notes, how to encourage questions, and some guidance of PowerPoint, some of which was beneficial to me – I hadn’t realised that you can go to a specific slide during your presentation by pressing the relevant slide number (very useful if someone asks you about a diagram or quote on a previous slide, and you’ve printed your slides out so know which is which).

In small group teaching, Phil explores the ways in which both students and tutors can ‘spoil’ small-group work, and how to deal with issues such as student preparation, non-attendance, or not making it clear what the students are supposed to learn. There’s a section on common problems (and how to deal with them), and a check list for both large and small group teaching.

Finally, the booklet addresses assessment, marking and feedback. This may not be relevant to all of you at the moment, but it’s worth a read as even if you’re not doing formal marking, such as assessing essays or exam scripts, during your teaching classes you’ll be giving feedback to students to enable them to see how well they’re doing (such as when you go around and see how different groups are getting on during an activity, or when you respond to the answers students provide to your questions). It’s particularly important to note Phil’s points about feedback needing to empower students and be developmental. This involves thinking about how negative feedback can be given in a way that students don’t feel demoralised and know explicitly what they need to do to improve. Language is really important here – one technique can be to use the word ‘yet’, which suggests that there’s a clear opportunity for a student to do something in future. Also, it’s best to avoid giving a piece of positive feedback, and then saying ‘but’ or ‘however’ before you say something negative – this often leads to students not really hearing the praise as it’s been negated by the problem.

Establishing a Teaching Persona course for City PhD students

Are you a City PhD student who is concerned about teaching or having to teach in future? Perhaps you’re wondering whether your students will respect you in the classroom; possibly you’re worried about how to run a tutorial or seminar, how to deal with awkward questions or students who don’t seem interested. Or maybe you’re just not sure about what teaching involves.

If so, LEaD’s 1.5 day Establishing a Teaching Persona (ETP) course is for you. This is taught in a September (Wed 12th and Thursday 13th Sept 2018) and January (Wednesday 23rd & Thursday 24th Jan 2019) iteration and so will be particularly useful if you will be teaching for the first time in that term, although you do not have to have any teaching arranged to participate.

The course aims to build your confidence and knowledge about teaching and addresses the difficulties of negotiating between your identity as a PhD student and a new, teacher identity. It will cover the following areas:

Day 1 (full day: 10am – 4pm)

  • Practical advice about teaching – managing student behaviour, asking questions that generate responses, managing discussions, structuring a session, engaging students, encouraging attendance, using a whiteboard and classroom technology
  • Discussion about teaching identities, and establishing authority and credibility
  • Exploration of the types of teaching you’re likely to do, such as tutorials, labs, clinical teaching, seminars

Day 2 (half day: 10am – 1pm)

  • Teach a short session to peers and the LEaD academic team
  • Receive feedback
  • Observe others’ sessions

This short course is specifically aimed at people with limited or no teaching experience, and so covers many practical basics, but PhD students at any stage are welcome if you think that the content would be useful to you.

To apply, please complete the online form.

If you will be teaching at City, please note that ETP is provided in addition to the Learning, Teaching and Assessment (LTA) module of the MA in Academic Practice. You are, therefore, still required to take LTA (unless LEaD has agreed an exemption due to an appropriate existing qualification). LTA is for PhD students who already have teaching arranged for the term which they take LTA as there is a requirement to submit a peer review due to the module’s accreditation with the HEA. ETP will cover some practical elements which are not addressed by LTA, and will also provide a focus on the particular experience of teaching whilst undertaking a PhD.

Please let me know if you’d like any more information about the course: jessica.hancock@city.ac.uk