Core Competencies and Reflections

Core Competencies

  • Developing Disciplinary Learning
    • Completed via:  Spring 2013 course completion of ISE 870
    • Description of competency:  This competency is designed around a required course supplied by your college.  These courses (depending on program and college) are an amazing resource for students who want to learn how to be an effective instructor.  ISE 870 was the course for the College of Natural Science which I took.  This course focused on helping us understand how students learn, effective group activities, how to design an interactive lecture, design a proper syllabus, and other activities.  I would explain it as a crash-course in teaching where you are given the foundations and have to expand upon them during your own teaching experiences.
    • Artifact:  I have uploaded the course syllabus here.
    • Artifact rationale:  The majority of the knowledge for this course was provided in verbal from from Dr. Parker during each course period.  However, I believe the artifact (syllabus) demonstrates the breadth of topics that were covered and discussed.  Of particular benefit to myself was the construction of course materials for a future course we would like to design.  Interactive lectures, a syllabus, and a full-period lesson plan were required.  Finally, a requirement of the course is the construction of a preliminary teaching portfolio which is reviewed by Dr. Parker.  This course is unbelievably valuable and I feel much more capable after its completion.
    • Reflection and materials developed: Reflecting back on this course and the others I have taken at Michigan State University I am glad to have taken the time out of my schedule to attend.  The first course was this one by Dr. Parker. I also took an online course by the CIRTL network and an additional course by Dr. Ebert-May.  The majority of these courses covered the same topics including inclusivity, active learning, teaching with technology, and all the new techniques in teaching.
    • One of the most interesting things I learned, however, is that effective instructors view their courses like experiments.  Thus, with every new instructional practice you try to employ, be they case studies or clicker questions, you must evaluate the result of such practices on the student body and the eventual outcome of that years students.  Many professors at major institutions that focus on scientific research, such as Michigan State University, see their courses as a bother during their day.  Why should they be required to take time out of their busy schedule to change their lectures? I mean, they’ve worked in the past, right?  Well, not necessarily.
    • These ‘disciplinary learning’ courses direct attendants to active learning classrooms and those where the faculty member takes time to research what is best for their students.  Yes, it likely detracts from the number of grants they can put out in a year, but 1/4 to 1/3 of their pay is coming from teaching. If these professors could use a small amount of their mental ability and apply it to their teaching, the students in their classes would benefit greatly.  But, I have gotten quite a bit off-topic.
    • The goal of these courses is to provide disciplinary learning to those attending.  I mentioned previously that the courses cover redundant topics. Yet, because of this redundancy in my training I have been through the materials repeatedly and they are firmly cemented in my mind. I will not be a “sage on a stage” or whichever metaphor you would like to employ. Active learning, proper course design using backwards design (maybe not a flipped classroom due to some of the research coming out), and other (smaller) instructional techniques will be at the forefront of my teaching.
    •  I know I have a large amount of knowledge about my ‘disciplinary learning’ because I have attended the COLTT 2014 and the ASMCUE 2015 conferences and, minus small novel techniques, I was familiar and comfortable with all topics discusses.  I have no doubt that these courses, in addition to the workshops I have attended, have prepared me to be an effective instructor in my discipline.
  • Creating Effective Learning Environments
    • Completed via:  College Teaching Institute (5/9/13 – 5/10/13)
    • Description of competency:  This competency is the bread and butter of every teacher/professor’s day-to-day grind.  How can you design lectures, projects, and assignments that are efficient in conveying the desired information or skills?  The different learning environments may change depending on the university, your student base, and even the course you take and what the goals are within it.  A major concept within this core which continues to be stressed is the use of ‘active learning’ where the professor does not talk at their students but with their students – getting them involved in the conversation.
    • ArtifactIMG_20130515_145220
    • Artifact rationale:  I have attached the above image to support the idea that the art of writing (and especially interviews as I discuss later) is quickly becoming a lost in this new digital age where quick responses and simple quips often have a more immediate impact.  Students today may know information but be unable to convey it properly in writing or words.  By creating an environment where the collection, summary, analysis, and extrapolation of data/ideas is valued I believe students can see the value that writing has in their education.  You must take the initiative to motivate your students to further their understanding by going past the mere collection and summary of the data.  This way, knowledge is retained better as the students must see the underlying foundations and critical components of their story instead of simply restating what they have read (without making it their own).
    • Reflection:  As I mentioned above, I am completely set on using active learning in my classroom. While I, like most professors, thrive in a classroom where information is spoon-fed to me by the instructor, this does not work for the majority of students.  We are in the positions were are in (graduate students or professors) because we are good at absorbing knowledge.  Thus, the danger of these “effective learning environments” lies in the fact that what is good for the goose, is often not good for the gander (we being the goose and the students being the gander – you get it). Just because I can say “well, it worked for me” does not mean that I would teach that way.
    • All of the literature coming out in the field points towards the use of some form of active learning in the classroom.  Say you were a medical doctor.  If you don’t stay up on the most cutting-edge techniques and equipment you would quickly be sued for malpractice and lose your job.  Luckily for many instructors, this does not hold true in terms of undergraduate education (plus, we get tenure). A professor who uses outdated techniques and technology (discussed later) may receive bad student reviews, but then again those who use new active-learning methods often do too.  To wrap this section up, just because it worked for you in the past, does not mean that it is the best way to do things. To create an effective learning environment, in my mind, is how you set up toddlers for success.  Effective parents give their children room to explore knowledge or their environment. What they don’t do is merely say “here is a fact, you should trust me that this is right.” You must let your children, or students, explore a topic and find out what interests them about it. Are they lost?  Provide guidance to help them progress. If they believe they are now the end-all be-all expert about a topic, poke a hole in their understanding and see how they cope.  All of this should be done with training wheels at first, making sure they are on the straight and narrow and don’t fall over and hurt themselves.
    • As far as I can tell which specific instructional techniques you use has little to no real-world impacts, as long as you keep this framework in mind.  Case studies, clicker questions, group work, thought maps, just-in-time-teaching, and many others have been used to great success…as long as you let your students THINK for themselves as you go through.  Another thing that needs to be thrown away is the idea of “we have to cover all of ____ or they’re going to be lost!!!”  Well yes, I believe students should be familiar with a number of topics, especially in biology.  But, stress that there are conserved concepts among all these different ideas and those are the important part, not the details.  Stress this in the classroom as you’re teaching, and make sure your assessments match or the students and your grades will feel it. Ok, I could go on for longer – so if you want to chat just send me an email and we can chat in a place where my education opinions can ramble further.
  • Incorporating technology in the Classroom
    • Completed via:  College Teaching Institute (5/9/13 – 5/10/13)
    • Description of competency:  Incorporating teaching into the classroom is a rather simple core to dive into.  One simply has to use technology in the classroom.  However, I think every student these days has witnessed the horror of a professor over- or misusing technology in the classroom.  The true mastery of this core relies on knowing when and how to use technology in order to increase the value of your lessons.  This can be inside or outside of the normal class period.
    • Artifact: Well, I can’t seem to find an artifact from my College Teaching Institute days, that I enjoy but I do have an artifact from the Colorado Learning and Teaching with Technology (COLTT) conference that I went to in 2014 that was all about this competency.  The conference itself was amazing and helped see the future of the field, I highly recommend it to anyone – plus you get to spend a week in Boulder, CO…which is worth it even if you don’t get to go to the conference.  You can find the link to the artifact (a list of the tools we discussed) here.
    • Artifact rationale:  My rationale for this was that it shows the true breadth of instructional technologies. Everyone had their own things to play with (shout-outs from the audience were expected), but it doesn’t really matter what you use – but how you use it. During the Summer Institute that I attended we talked about Screencasts and Camtasia – which are just another technology that could be used. I chose this artifact over the one from the institute because it shows just how many different options there are to use technology in the classroom.
    • Reflection:  Teaching with technology. I have my issues with this.  While technology can be used to greatly improve student interaction with the professor in large classes, it can also be used as a crutch to limit the actual ‘active learning’ that an instructor does.  Adding poorly made clicker questions (link here for some guides) to your class does not make it an active learning classroom.  Yes, you’re making them think about what you just said, but unless you take the time to formulate good questions which will promote discussion…you might as well just not use this technology.
    • Alternatively, using clicker questions to do a think-pair-share activity or to poll for the correct answer before and after the students discuss with their group – those can lead to improvements in your classroom.  I see the use of technology in the lab in the same way I see the use of new teaching practices.  If you’re taking the time to try out new technologies and assess the effect they have in your classroom, it probably doesn’t matter which technologies you use.  Using clicker questions, online polling, or extensive use of  course management software is great if you (as the professor) take the time to help students use them and use them effectively.  Simply saying “I use technology in my classroom” is like saying “I am inclusive” – how and for what purpose are you doing this?
    • I do plan on using technology in my classroom, which may be as simple as holding up cards to vote on an answer or could be as complicated as the online or clicker-based poling systems.  I plan to, at least at the start, use a modified lecture style where we talk about a topic for 10-15 minutes, have a 5-10 minute activity, and then likely poll to have students weigh their options.  I will likely move into a more student-centered classroom once I feel comfortable with the course materials I am presenting, so then my technology will likely change.
    • However, one bit of technology that I DO enjoy is the use of Just-In-Time-Teaching (JITT). This lets the students run through a set of questions (be they about the material or their feelings towards the topic itself) in the 24h before class and then these answers get submitted to the professor so they are viewed ‘just in time’ to address these issues in class.  You might poll the students “what was most confusing about the reading (or last class)?”  Then, at the start of class you could take 5 minutes and talk about that in-depth to help students overcome their issue.  This is just one example of how the proper use of technology in the classroom can help student comprehension rather than just being used to say that “I use technology.”
  • Understanding the University Context
    • Completed via:  College Teaching Institute (5/9/13 – 5/10/13)
    • Description of competency:  This wasn’t too clear during the Teaching Institute, but what I believe this competency is about is customizing your teaching focus and approach to the type of university at which you are an instructor.  I’ll be a bit more specific.  Say I would teach a microbiology course at a research-focused institution vs. a small liberal arts school.  At the research institution I would be more inclined to teach the nitty-gritty aspects of microbiology – those that would likely benefit future doctors and researchers in the field.  However, this information would be of likely little benefit to students at a liberal arts school.  Here it would be much more appropriate to focus on the fundamentals of microbiology and how it would interact with one’s daily life.  So, as an instructor you must tailor your teaching approach to both the institution  and student type (major vs. non-major).  Also discussed during this section was the responsibilities of a fledgling instructor including the creation of a teaching portfolio, professional development, and having a specific plan for how you would like to interact with your students (discussed above).
    • Artifact:20150825_133946
    • Artifact rationale:  My rationale for including this artifact lies in the fact that this list provides a valuable resource to show the differences between each of the institutional types. As you move away from the research institutions the schools tend to focus more intently on providing a solid teaching network.  In my experience, research institutions focus more on the scholarship of science over the scholarship of teaching. Yet, this is changing.
    • Reflection:  Reflecting on this chart it is clear in my mind that I would be happy pursuing a teaching position at any of these institutional types, with the exception of the research-intensive schools. While successful during my graduate career, I know that teaching is in my future and I would like the opportunity to focus primarily on my instructional practices while not relying solely on grant funding for my continued success.  I have spent a large amount of my time at MSU learning how to be an effective instructor, and I would like to continue down that road.
    • In my mind a research institution has its strengths in that students have access to participating in the highest caliber science while, in tandem, learning about the science in their classes.  This way you avoid the “when am I ever going to need this?” attitude that students often have in their courses. If students get to see where they can apply the knowledge, then learning gains will happen.  This can also happen at the other institution types, albeit the odds of it being cutting-edge research decreases.  Yet, what these students do get in many cases are instructors who have a calling for teaching and not research. Smaller institutions often do have small amounts of research going on, and not just the cookie-cutter labs that are often found. Smaller undergraduate institution professors can also apply for research funding and support real research, often over the summer semester. This, like at the research institutions, provides an authentic research experience for the undergraduates.
    • Now, changing topics a bit…let’s talk about the students who are attending these institutions and how that affects our teaching. For example, in the past community colleges were viewed as lesser schools where students were forced to go if they could not get into a ‘real’ four-year institution. Whether this was the case, that is not for me to decide. Today, fiscally responsible students often attend community colleges in order to ‘knock out’ their base coursework. Then, transferring to a four-year institution they can finish their degree, focus on their core classes, and avoid the student loans. Thus, instructors must get a view of their current students every semester. Are they here to learn the nitty-gritty about the topic, or just passing through? If a class is comprised solely of students uninterested in further pursuing the topic, your class could be treated as a non-majors course where you hope to convey key topics and spark interest in further study.  Yet, if your students are mainly interested in continuing with the sciences a different approach may be necessary, perhaps one that focuses more on the ideals set forth in “Vision and Change” (discussed elsewhere).
    • Regardless, depending on the institution you chose you should tailor your instructional techniques, subject matter, and delivery to match what would most benefit your students. Inclusivity, for example, is key at all schools, but could particularly be stressed at minority-serving institutions. Minority students often see scientific fields full of “old white dudes”, and thus many lack role models in the sciences.  Stressing the diversity of scientific minds and critical thinkers over time, and especially today, could lead to a stronger sense of belonging in STEM fields. In closing, each of these institutional types has its own intricacies in terms of teaching, management, and what the expectations are for professors.  Yet, students also have to deal with the same issues. So, ensure you are providing the highest quality education tailored to what your students need to be successful after graduation from your institution type.
  • Assessing Student Learning
    • Completed via:  College Teaching Institute (5/9/13 – 5/10/13)
    • Description of competency:  This core competency level is likely the one that I have thought the most about.  There is a balance that needs to be struck in a course of any size – how do you assay that students are learning the material but not spend every waking moment analyzing their tests?  The instructors at the College Teaching Institute also stressed the idea of “aligning” your tests to how you teach.  I value this tidbit greatly, as you can’t expect your students to do something that you haven’t given them the tools to complete.  If you teach memorization it’s unfair to make them climb Bloom’s Ladder (or Taxonomy if you will, I just like the ladder analogy better) on a test. 
    • Artifact:

assessment pic

    • Artifact rationale:  I have chosen this artifact because I think it demonstrates how you can do multiple assessments, as either formative or summative, and each is good for different things.  Multiple choice questions and short answer questions are great for assessing whether students are grasping the exact material being presented, which is often required. Yet, the ones higher up on the chart are far more effective at assessing understanding of the topic and how it translates. Yet, unless you have a small group of students the difficulty of implementation of these “higher” forms of assessment is inhibitory. A balance must be struck!
    • Reflection:  While it may be naive of me, I am a large proponent of interview assessments of student learning.  In many of the courses I have taught students are required to do a report explaining their science and results.  However, I can ask the students (after handing the reports in) questions about their reports and they will have little idea how to answer the question.   The same goes for the lower/easier to implement assessment techniques – I do not believe they are sufficient.   Yet, after doing an interview-style assessment with the students I can truly see if they understand, and I’ve found that this type of assessment ends up being formative rather than summative.  They learn through the interview process and cement their ideas.
    • Regardless, in any course over 30 students I know interview assessment is unreasonable, but I would much prefer to use this type of assessment in my courses.  Perhaps a well constructed short-answer exam could work if I make it a pre-directed conversation? It is difficult to know at this point.  What I have mulled over, however, is the use of peer-review. By utilizing students to do preliminary rounds of assessment it is possible to use the assessments that are more difficult to implement in larger classes. Using a carefully designed rubric (which can also help in using some of these higher assessments and is something that I am a big proponent of) the students have a defined set of criticisms to provide to each other. This way, student work has already gone through several rounds of formative assessment before being turned in to the instructor for the final assessment. This relies on students being critical and effective reviewers, but, as with anything, you must train your students to be effective. Besides what I have already discussed, each of these techniques does have their uses.
    • Multiple choice questions, if designed properly, have the ability to convey as much deep knowledge as a short answer or even a concept map. These are often used as clicker questions and as minor group work. Short answer questions and concept maps are often used on exams, and rightly so, because they can force students to go deeper into their understanding. One danger of this is that if done improperly, such as not giving them experience with these question types in the past, these can lead to frustration among students and poor grades. The exam is not the place to give the students a new form of assessment, you could make them more challenging or unfamiliar, but do not introduce something new. Multiple workshops and courses have discussed this, and I believe it to be true. Make your students stretch their understanding of the material on the exam (such as applying the same ideas to a new system), but ensure they are familiar with how they are being assessed.

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