Thanks to all who attended our 9/18/12 New Faculty Forum, “The Culture of Teaching at UH”

We had about 15 faculty from a variety of departments on campus attending our session yesterday, and I was pleased to hear that so many of the faculty in attendance had prior experience teaching before coming here–either as graduate TAs, adjuncts, or visiting faculty elsewhere.  I am also grateful to Sandy Coltharp of HR and Holly Hutchins of the Commission on Women for sponsoring this brown bag event.

During this session, I drew upon the CTE’s Instructional Modules in Reflection and Engagement, as well as the Saroyan and Amundsen book discussed earlier at our TA Orientation, to introduce faculty to the notion of reflective teaching practices.

One of the highlights was our discussion of the question, “What do you wish you or your students had known when they arrived in college?

This got a number of interesting responses:

  • Buy the text book the first week!
  • Read as much as you can now–you will never have the resources later
  • Success in college requires a different level of study and discipline than success in high school.
  • Be more open and interested in the world around you!
  • Connect your actions in class with your overriding goal.
  • Understand why you are taking the class, and what you hope to learn from it.
  • Or, to put it another way, understand what the course is going to do for you, and how you are going to use it?

This brought forward an important observation from the group: as teachers, understanding who the students are–their backgrounds, their struggles, their aspirations–makes it easier for you to explain things to them in a way they can understand.

This is one way that exploring students’ prior knowledge (their motivations, attitudes, and dispositions towards your subject matter) at the beginning of the semester can help you immeasurably towards communicating with them for the rest of the term.

So what do you wish you had known, either as a student or as a brand-new faculty member, when you arrived at a new college?



Please attend our upcoming CTE Faculty Brown Bag Workshop, Friday, 9/28, 12-1:30, 306 MDA Library

For further information, please contact Jim Garson at

See you there!

VIA Insider Higher Ed: Mike Rose on “The Missing Element in Student Success”

Mike Rose, a UCLA faculty member, pinpoints the “missing element” in most discussions of student success: teachers.  He writes:

An unprecedented amount of attention is being given to student success, to benchmarks and milestones (such as completing remedial courses), to transfer rates, to degree completion. Both state and federal governments as well as philanthropies are supporting structural changes in course sequences, requirements, and pathways toward degrees and offering financial incentives for new methods of measuring success.

How interesting it is though that, except for a flurry of activity around computerized assessment and instruction and distance learning, we hear almost nothing at the policy level about the classroom itself, about teaching. And the classroom is exactly where our attention should be.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed
Rose argues persuasively about the indispensable role of the classroom instructor in ensuring student success.  His piece (an excerpt from his recent book, linked above) deserves to be read in full precisely because he does not shrink from its implications.
Faculty at all but the most elite institutions, and the elite and non-elite graduate programs that produce them, will all need to look at their role in fostering learning among students: this will entail creating a “learning environment” that fully communicates and explains the intellectual challenges of the material at hand, and encourages students to seek out help when they need it.
Rose also shows how much of this work is accomplished through modeling the intellectual dispositions and attitudes we want our students to develop:
Central to these issues is the kind of atmosphere faculty create in their classrooms. This is not simply a question of personal style, persona, or the way one organizes a room – though they all can be factors. I’m talking about the sense students pick up from the way a teacher addresses them, responds to questions, deals with requests. The bottom line for students remains: Is this a safe place and do I feel respected? If so, students will be more willing to answer or ask a question, participate, take a chance. And in turn, students pick up on the way a teacher responds to them and tend to replicate it in their interactions with others. I witnessed a striking negative example of this pattern years ago when – to prepare to teach a creative writing class – I sat in on a workshop taught by a well-known local poet. We weren’t halfway through the first class, and he had diminished three participants into silence with haughty and snide comments about their work. By the next class, some had dropped, but the telling and disturbing thing is that by the third class those who remained interacted with each other in similarly nasty and unhelpful fashion. The best way to foster civil, thoughtful, intellectually rich discussion is to model it.

Well worth reading. And if you have any responses to this argument, we’d love to hear about it.


UH New Faculty Brown Bag: “Culture of Teaching” Workshop, 9/18/12, 12-1:30 in 306 MDA

New UH faculty are cordially invited to bring lunch and attend the  Culture of Teaching at UH – Teaching for Engagement workshop on:

September 18 (Tuesday)
12:00 – 1:30 p.m.
M.D. Anderson Library,
Room 306

Experts from the Center for Teaching Excellence will discuss the culture of teaching at UH and strategies for maximizing student engagement.  This session will talk about some of the strategies for active, collaborative, and authentic learning, and provide opportunities for Q & A.

This is the first in a series of brown bag lunch workshops created by the Faculty Senate, University Commission on Women and Human Resources to help you succeed during your first year here.

Please R.S.V.P. to MBBrantley@Central.UH.EDU or call 713-743-9181.



VIA NYTimes: Harvard Students in Cheating Scandal Say Collaboration Was Accepted

The NYTimes account of this troubled Harvard class suggests how one of the richest and most selective schools in the world could buy itself some really terrible publicity.  The Times reports:

Students said they were tripped up by a course whose tests were confusing, whose grading was inconsistent, and for which the professor and teaching assistants gave contradictory signals about what was expected. They face the possibility of a one-year suspension from Harvard or revocation of their diplomas if they have already graduated, and some said that they will sue the university if any serious punishment is meted out.

Though it seems unclear how much “Government” was being learned by the students of this class, this incident certainly teaches us something about the importance of communication and consistency in the classroom.  If we are to believe the Times article (which relies largely on student accounts), course policies regarding collaboration and grading were unclear and inconsistent with one another. These problems were compounded by the instructor’s failure to coordinate policies among his TAs.  The exam questions seemed to have little relation to the lectures, and were unintelligible enough to stump the TAs tasked with explaining them. From the outset, the professor undermined himself and the course by announcing the high numbers of As he routinely handed out, and by not requiring attendance for the TA-led portions of the class. All this meant that the only way to grade students’ semester’s work was to rely on a final set of high-stakes exams. At the same time, it is evident that the pedagogical problems found in this course could be found in many other courses at Harvard, as this Harvard Crimson article suggests (read the comments, too, for more local context). And many of the issues on view in this case, including the question of how much training and support this faculty member had with his teaching, could be found at lots of other universities around the country.

All this only reinforces the view that James Lang proposed last year at our conference, which is that the best preventative against academic dishonesty remains good pedagogy thoughtfully practiced, along with course policies clearly communicated and consistently applied. If more thought had been given to how this course was actually being taught, and how much learning was actually taking place, everyone involved might have been spared the fate of appearing in the NY Times for all the wrong reasons.