The Preparing the Professoriate Program gave me the unique opportunity to work one-on-one with my faculty mentor, to instruct an undergraduate course, and to explore topics related to university instruction and career options through numerous professional development seminars. I found that aspects of teaching at the university level can be very challenging, and that, as with anything other skill, practice is essential to improving. My time in front of the classroom made me more confident in many ways, but also highlighted areas in which I can improve. Additionally, I learned that there is much more to being a university instructor than just lecturing. Although I understood that lecturing was only part of the job, I gained a new appreciation for the time required for classroom preparation, assessment development, and grading, not to mention the many other administrative and research demands which a faculty member would have to juggle.
Attending the professional development and teaching seminars exposed me to aspects of classroom instruction with which I was not previously very familiar. For example, the seminar “Teaching with Sensitivity to Difference” provided me with a lot to think about with respect to presenting material in ways that can be better understood by more students. Additionally, it familiarized me with the “Disabled Students Office” at NC State, and I was able to apply this information when working with this office for those students in my section who were registered with their office. Although some of the information was specific to NC State, it can certainly be generally applied in the future, as other colleges and universities have similar offices.
I was able to apply topics covered at other seminars during my classroom instruction as well. For example, “Motivational Teaching Strategies” drove home the idea that classroom sessions should be broken down into smaller chunks when possible, because it is difficult for students (or anyone!) to stay focused after about 10 minutes. I made it my aim to incorporate active learning by having students work together on small problems related to the course material during classroom sessions. When developing notes for one section of course material, I used a similar “guided notes” format as the rest of the previously-developed course material. I believe this format is a good balance between engaging the students, providing something visual for students who learn better that way, and presenting material in a clear and ordered fashion. If I am able to instruct future courses and develop my own course material, I plan to use this format for at least a portion of the course. In recognition of the different abilities of students, it would also be good to have fully annotated or typed notes so that students with visual or auditory impairment, for example, could more easily learn the content of each lecture.
During my instruction period of the fellowship, I learned firsthand that instructors can and will make mistakes sometime. I strove to be prepared for each class, but if the students had difficulty following a portion of my lecture or if I was not able to clearly and concisely answer a student’s question, I followed up with the class by posting annotated notes to the class website (in this case, via Moodle), emailing the students, and encouraging them to contact me with questions.
In an effort to be highly accessible to all students, I offered office hours by appointment in addition to regular weekly office hours and tried to keep an active online question and answer forum throughout the semester. Towards the end of the semester, in recognition that not all students are comfortable asking questions in class, as well as recognizing that some students are better visual learners or need more time to absorb material, I began an thread on the Q&A forum to post questions in preparation for the final exam. Students were given about a week to prepare and post questions or topics they wanted discussed during the exam review session, which was held during the last class. Although I would have liked more participation, several students requested that specific topics be covered during the review session. From this information, I tailored my exam review lecture to address this material, although time was given for students to ask additional questions as well.
Working with my faculty mentors was an incredibly valuable part of the program. Two sections of Hydraulics was offered during spring 2014, and my mentor, Dr. Aziz, was the primary instructor of the other section. I observed the majority of his classes and which was invaluable for preparing for my lectures. It was very helpful to see how an experienced professor delivers course material with respect to presentation, timing, and focus. Additionally, our periodic meetings provided me a “real-world” perspective on being an instructor and faculty member. I prepared one section of course material as well as quizzes, homework assignments, and exams under his guidance. One aspect of instructing Hydraulics that I found challenging was developing good assessments. It was difficult to select questions which captured the majority of the learning objectives but that could be solved in a reasonable amount of time. My faculty mentor advised me on techniques for selecting problems as well as how to gauge the length and difficulty of assessments.
I hope to have the opportunity to instruct undergraduate engineering courses in the future and will incorporate many of the lessons learned during this 2013-2014 PTP fellowship period. Based on my classroom experience and seminars I attended, I would work to increase and improve how I administer active learning exercises, and would try to add a graded component to encourage participation and increased comprehension. Additionally, I believe that students’ learning would be increased if they more carefully read assigned text segments and other material. Unfortunately, with no accountability, many students will skip these activities. I would like to incorporate reading comprehension quizzes to incentive students to complete assigned readings. Ultimately, the students must be responsible for their actions in and out of the classroom, so above all I would work to make course expectations and grade parameters very clear, and would try to consistently communicate throughout the semester to enable and empower students to succeed.