CTE presentation at CLASS Junior Faculty Workshop, 1/13/12

On Friday afternoon, I was invited to give a brief presentation at the first annual CLASS junior faculty workshop, and so I spent a few minutes discussing their challenges and how the CTE could help them negotiate these challenges.

When I asked them to reflect upon their biggest single teaching challenge this year, these were some of the comments from the group:

  • Engagement?  How to reach students who don’t want to be reached, and who sometimes react badly when they are reached?  How to get them to do the work, and persist through the class?
  • Managing the Research/Teaching Divide?  In one’s probationary period, one’s time feels like a zero-sum game, and any time spent preparing for class feels like it’s taken from time better spent on research and publication.
  • Responding to the sheer diversity of the UH student body? For recent graduates of the top PhD granting programs, the UH student body, which is extraordinarily racially and ethnically diverse, and which contains a far wider range of ages, backgrounds, and expectations than their home institutions, requires significant adjustments in their teaching style, if they are to reach and engage all the different groups represented on campus.
  • Teaching with technology? For some, learning about and mastering the newest technologies took unexpected amounts of time and energy, which again felt as if they were carved out of their “research time.”

We discussed, though briefly, these challenges, and I offered the following thoughts about how the CTE could help them at this stage in their careers:

  • Though this is the moment in their careers when research and teaching seem to represent contradictory imperatives, the CTE offers a more integrated view of these two activities that they should consider.  In our view, the CTE  remains a crucial advocate of the Tier One mission campus, because Tier One institutions’ public reputations are at least as dependent on high-quality teaching (meaning current, up-to-date undergraduate experiences and programs) as on faculty prestige and recognition.  There is no such thing as a Tier One, research-oriented university which does not feature a similarly high-achieving, high quality student body capable of excelling in graduate programs, professional schools, or in local or national labor markets.
  •  Their role as the freshest, most recent products of high-quality PhD programs is crucial for maintaining the currency of curricula and practices in their home departments, and for providing a “new set of eyes” on existing students and programs.

Finally, I reminded them of three concrete ways that CTE hoped to support their endeavors this year and in the future:

  • Our CTE Faculty Workshops, directed and facilitated by CLASS Professors Jim Garson and Frank Holt, respectively.
  • Our CTE website, especially our pedagogy modules, which cover a variety of topics (student diversity, teaching for engagement, managing conflict, etc.).  These modules, available in pdf form, were designed for the use of our TAs, but they contain some very useful information about the university, the student body, and possible approaches to teaching more effectively.  For a start, I’d recommend looking at our diversity module.
  • Our pilot peer mentoring program, which Frank Holt and Jim Garson will be offering on a trial basis this spring.  If you’re interested in participating, contact me offline at dmazella@uh.edu.  More details to follow.

Thanks again, and have a wonderful semester.