As an instructor, regardless of subject or audience, I aim to make materials accessible and relevant to a wide range of learners. As an instructor, it is my job to help students build lifelong skills, such as advanced organizing, critical thinking, and writing skills, for utility in a variety of future environments. In order to determine how manageable students find materials, I regularly assess their learning in creative ways, creating a feedback loop between instructor and learner.
Relevant Course Design
When one is interested and passionate about a subject, learning becomes effortless, material is accessible, connections are made easily, and retention of knowledge lasts longer. Some students come to my courses as communication majors, ready and excited to learn about theories, applications, and research. Others are non-majors, possibly undecided, and may only be filling a pre-requisite or GEC. I try to be careful not to cater to one type of student over another for fear of disengagement and possible difficulty with the material and larger picture. This balancing act is a long-term goal and necessitates regular adjustments and evaluations. On the first day of class, I ask students to write on their goals and reasons for taking the course, and one objective from the syllabus that excites them, and one objective or assignment that worries them the most. I read these paragraphs multiple times, taking notes of where they may find better connections or some challenges. I try balance individual student needs with the course objectives, being careful not to privilege the temporary (student population) for the more persistent (course and department objectives). My balance in found in daily activities, evaluation of feedback from students at both mid and end of term, and my own observations of student learning.
An accessible and inclusive classroom to me encompasses universal design for learning (UDL). I believe it makes me more approachable as an instructor, leading to student confidence in my skills, their skills, and in the investment of their time in the course. When the opportunities arise, as either a GTA or independent instructor, I try to include materials that can reach the visual learner (e.g., videos, memes), kinetic learner (e.g., worksheets, small groups), and aural learner (e.g., specific examples, stories). I also vary classroom discussion to be certain to include students who are more introverted or have social anxieties in speaking in front of a group. Minute reaction papers at the end of class on specific topics can serve as communication between students and I to help me assess their understanding. I believe it is my job as an instructor to not just communicate the mechanics of our topics, but to also build their confidence in their self-efficacy in their developing skills. I have chosen to incorporate mindfulness practice before speeches and exams to help assuage stage fright and jitters. As a group, we follow a 3 minute guided meditation video to clear our minds and prepare for the task at hand. Midterm evaluations of these exercises quantify what I have heard from students in class: an appreciation of taking 3 minutes to calm their jitters, clear their minds, and “be here now.”
Sometimes it’s not the actual material that appears inaccessible to students, but rather the delivery. I use technology and pop culture references relevant to my students’ generation in order to deliver concepts. I turn to trending YouTube channels, Buzzfeed lists for appropriate animated gifs, or popular tumblr blogs for current, yet still connected, references. I create opportunities for students to engage with technology, rather than just lecture about its implications and use. In-class activities give me opportunities to get creative with students and help them open their intellectual wings a little bit. We use mad-libs to brainstorm ideas for speeches, use hidden objects in a bag of random household items for practice demonstrative speeches, tasks to persuade fictitious characters to change their behaviors (e.g., Santa to go on a diet). These may seem silly on the surface, but they each encompass the key strategies for preparing for and practicing informative, demonstrative, and persuasive speeches. These creative demonstrations of knowledge allow students to connect personally to materials, keeping them engaged and invested in their own learning outcomes. Using an approach of humor, grace, and transparency, I believe my students enjoy my courses and leave with knowledge and an appreciation of the learning process. When students enjoy coming to class, material becomes accessible and connections are made.
A college education should prepare the graduate with critical thinking, writing, and organizational skills. No matter the major or eventual career path, a graduate with these skills should be successful. I approach my course design with key questions in mind: how can I help my students grow as writers? How can I spark a passion for inquiry? What tangible skills will they leave with to bring to other classes, experiences? When I introduce the course to students on the first day, I make these goals clear and that we are a team in these efforts. I genuinely want to know a student’s individual “hook,” what keeps them here, excited and ready to learn. I tell students no matter what they take away from my course, they will have a better understanding of how to organize their writing, how to utilize the various research resources available at my institution, and how to effectively combat procrastination by “steering into the skid” of their own interests and passions.
In some introductory courses, there no formal few writing assessments incorporated into the course, but speeches or presentations are heavily reliant on organization and research. I began assigning outlines of each speech to be due four days before a student’s speech date, promising concrete and clear feedback within 12hrs of their submission. This illustrates my continued commitment to their growth as a student and my investment in their time. If I notice students struggling in short-answer essay questions or submitting assignments unfinished, I request personal appointments to identify the challenges and come up with a game plan to address any we can, utilizing as many on-campus resources as possible (e.g., Writing Center, tutors, etc). All these practices help my students become their best advocate. Know your strengths, know your personal challenges, and be open about both so as a team we can reach your best potential.
Many upper level courses in most majors shift from textbooks to academic research manuscripts for course reading materials. The sooner students understand how to efficiently find, read, and synthesize these manuscripts, the better. In every course I have taught or served as a GTA in, I reserved (or requested) one lecture to be dedicated to teaching students how to search for an academic source and next how to read the source. I have invited librarians to introduce the various database and search engines available online. I myself take students through PsychInfo, EBSCO and even the ISI citation analysis. We learn together what a primary, secondary, and even tertiary source is. Next, as a class, we dissect a course-required reading, picking it apart to find if reading an article from beginning to end makes the most sense for comprehension and understanding (sometimes it doesn’t). During this lecture I help explain how valuable a bibliography is for future readings, where to identify statistical methods you don’t quite understand, and how to reflect on the point of the article. I promise students they will have the opportunity in my courses to leave with tangible skills with utility outside of my course, and knowing how to efficiently search for and comprehend academic research is crucial.
Assess and Redirect
As an instructor, it is vital to know where your students are in their knowledge and confidence in their learning. If I wait until final exams or final papers to assess student knowledge, I will have missed weeks of opportunities to adjust delivery, examples, and approach. One example of assessment is the incorporation of daily quizzes at the end of each lecture for three specific reasons. First, this served as their attendance check for each class period, mandatory for most courses and our department. Second, it helped me assess what parts of the lecture the students understood best and what parts they were missing entirely. If I found the majority of the class answered one question incorrectly, I know readjustments or clarifications are necessary before the exam. Third, a version of one exam question would appear on each 5-item daily quiz. This gave students an orientation to the pending exam and helped connect information from one topic to another. I found this reduced anxiety about the quizzes, allowing students to understand the purpose of the practice rather than the quantitative outcome.
At the mid-point and end of each term, I try to assess my own performance as an instructor or teaching assistant. Though not mandatory, I request students to complete an instructor assessment to help me understand what’s working for them, and what isn’t. Can rubrics be more specific? What content are you confused about? Do you have specific concerns I can help you find resources to address? I review and make notes of departmental and institutional student evaluation results, in which my scores are typically above the average. In a true spirit of transparency, I report the aggregated data to students as well as how I intend to address anything important or immediate (e.g., concerns about upcoming exam, projects). Other teaching assistants and graduate students have found this helpful and have incorporated my survey into their courses.
I was fortunate to have attended a small, liberal arts college during my undergraduate education and understand the importance of personal connections with one’s instructors. At an institution like Ohio State, sometimes that is not always the case. Once grades are submitted, I do my best to send a personal email to each student thanking them for their efforts, feedback, and a general positive commentary on their growth. For the student who enjoys learning, this might just appear as a pleasantry. For the student who may be struggling, feel like a number, or uncertain of their abilities, it can mean a lot for someone to take just a few minutes to notice them. This practice has resulted in students specifically taking classes I teach, approaching me with interest in research, and resulted in lasting relationships during their term at OSU.
Learning is definitely a team sport, and I take my mentoring and teaching philosophies seriously. I aim to be reflective in my approach, make necessary adjustments when student outcomes suffer, while still challenging learners to push themselves a little further than they expected to. I understand not every student will excel or get as excited about the content as I do. I think every day is a new opportunity to invest and inspire students in some small way. I am certain they do the same for me.