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« New paper in AJP: 'Two New Doubts about Simulation Arguments' | Main | Tips for a first-time conference presenter? »

07/06/2021

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Julia

I work at an R1 university with a large major. We really need our faculty and instructors to be engaging teachers to keep our enrollment numbers up. Just delivering a straight PowerPoint lecture is not going to cut it. I want to see the students being active in some way, and I want to see ways of involving the students in the class that don't just focus on a handful of vocal participants.

phdcandidate

A couple questions:

(1) At my current institution, the teaching demos rarely have actual students in the audience; instead, the audience is usually just the search committee, or the search committee plus some extra faculty/grad students. Is this common? Should this make any difference to how one runs their teaching demo? And if so, how?

(2) Is it possible to be more specific about student activities? In the courses I've taught, I often break the students up into smaller groups for short discussion periods before coming back to a wider discussion with the whole class. I've found that this helps encourage participation and tends to get some voices involved that wouldn't normally be. Would this be enough? Or are we expected to run some sort of new pedagogy activity? I have to admit that I am hesitant to go in that direction because as an undergrad I always found the new pedagogy style courses to be mostly tiresome and a waste of time, and ended up going out of my way to avoid them after feeling like I didn't get much out of the ones that I had taken. (I've also heard faculty express distaste for teaching demos that get too creative.) So, it would be helpful to get some sense of what would be too little and what would be too much (I've never had the chance to attend a teaching demo myself, so I really don't know).

Michel

I've done a few, and seen a few, too. Perhaps my take is idiosyncratic, but here we go:

Don't try to cram everything into your teaching demo. This is especially true if it's a short demo, but also true of whole classes. Content-wise, decide on a small number of things you absolutely want everyone to take away from the class, and focus on transmitting that. You don't need to give them every last detail. Also focus on showing off your methods and teaching style.

So, for example, if your demo is supposed to be half an hour on Hume's problem of induction, don't try to give them a play-by-play of Hume's argument and all of his terminology. Instead, you could start with an exercise introducing induction (I like a modified version of the game Eleusis, described in the book "Demonstrating Philosophy", but you can do anything! You could even bring in a bag of marbles or stones or whatever), and then have students offer up some examples of inductive inferences in the real world/their lives. You could distinguish inductive from deductive reasoning, and then give a broad overview of Hume's riddle, cutting to the chase (i.e. just focusing on how we know induction is justified as a method).

The demo needs to be clear and accessible, show off your classroom technique, and demonstrate how you interact with students, manage time, boil down material, field questions, explain stuff out of the blue, manage discussions, etc. It's not primarily an exercise in transmitting content, such that you have to fit in all of the content. The content is a guide for handling the rest; don't be shy about sacrificing some of it on the altar of interactive time with your classroom. Remember also that the demo, when in an actual classroom, is a chance to win over the student body, get them excited about you and your classes, etc.

And whatever you do, keep an eye on the time. Don't go over (or, if you do, don't go more than a minute or two over: show an awareness of the time, and don't start talking about the day's topic in the last few minutes because you durdled around in the preliminary details for too long).

Bill Vanderburgh

Michel made some great points. I would emphasize the idea that the purpose is to demonstrate your best qualities as a teacher, not to transmit information. (That said, if you make factual mistakes it will definitely count against you, so know your subject well.) I would also show some awareness that this is an artificial situation and not a real class. I found it awkward when candidates gave students a ten minute silent writing exercise before a discussion, for example--better would be to say, "In a real class, I'd give you ten minutes for this, but for today just take a minute and jot down your first thoughts." The flip side of that is that you shouldn't just lecture. It is okay to establish rapport by spending a few minutes connecting to students by telling them about your background. Committees want to see how you engage students, get them to talk, how you respond to them, how you spark them to think, etc. Rigor is fine, but it isn't usually the point: Clarity, engagement, ability to manage discussion, and things like that are much more important. Another thing to keep in mind is to teach to the audience you have. It may be that you are interviewing at an institution that does not have a graduate program, or where students may be less prepared than where you are doing your PhD. I'm not saying to "dumb it down" but rather to make sure you are reaching your audience. Generally, covering less but in depth is better than covering more.

Julia

@Phdcandidate: There are some great tips above. You don't need to reinvent the wheel in terms of pedagogical methods. Putting students in pairs or small groups for a few minutes to discuss a question on their own is good, or giving students time to work on a small exercise, and then bringing them back to class discussion. You don't need to do tedious pedagogical acrobatics to stimulate a good discussion and to make sure that the students are not just passive listeners. I would judge these activities by how well thought out the questions or activities are the students are supposed to answer and how well they integrate into the overall lesson. It's pretty easy to tell if someone does it just because they know they are supposed to. Often, the activity will seem like a superfluous gimmick in those cases rather than an integral part of the class.

S

There's a lot of good advice here so far so I won't repeat it. I will say two things one for a real class and one for the simulated one with faculty and other members of the search committee. If it's a real class then it's probably a very good idea to have a serious conversation with the person whose class you're taking over about what has come before and what he or she's trying to get across. I had one of these teaching demos once and, while the students were engaged and I still think I picked the more interesting and important things to cover from the readings, the guy whose class it was spent the whole demo looking like he was chewing nails. I'm not sure exactly what he took the point of the readings in question (the first book of Aristotle's NE) but it wasn't whatever I was talking about. Remember the person whose class you're taking over is almost certainly part of the search committee. Keeping them happy is much more important than the reactions of the actual students. (Though if they're bored to tears that's not good either). Have a very serious conversation with this person beforehand and follow their lead even if you think they're wrong.
If it's the more artificial demo I think it's good to treat it as much like a real class as you can without creating massive awkwardness. I had a demo like that in the interview for my current job and I put in a lot of gaps in for "student" questions and even called on people who looked like they wanted to say something. One search committee member took one of those "do you have any questions so far" gaps as a chance to role play some of his most annoying student questions and I really thought I'd made a horrible mistake. But later I found out this was one of the things the committee really liked about my demo. I guess a lot of the other candidates had treated this much more like a presentation at a conference or the like and only given the committee a chance for questions in a few minutes at the very end (if then) and that didn't go over well at all.

Sam

I think I had about 5 teaching demos during my time on the market, and I’ve seen about 12. The way we do them at my current institution, you take over an actual class and teach whatever you want to teach, with the last 10 minutes reserved for a student survey. Students, at least here, are usually pretty kind. In my large department, faculty definitely have different ideas of what a good class looks like and we have some old-school lecture types, so I wouldn’t ONLY do activities at a demo (I tend to teach in very discussion/activity-oriented ways, but I lectured more in my demos than I typically do).

For my own teaching demos, I was usually able to pick the topic, and usually had a real class, but the most difficult demo I ever did was in front of a large group of faculty (most of whom were not on the search committee or in the department) who were aiming to simulate a classroom; several decided it would be helpful to be deliberately obtuse or difficult. Of all of the teaching demos I’ve seen or done (which includes demos at R1s, R2s, and SLACs), that was the only one without real students and a real class that I’ve seen.

IMO, I wouldn’t necessarily follow the lead of the person whose class it is. At my institution, the class used for the demo is not usually taught by someone on the search committee (it has usually been a class taught by recurring lecturers, rather than TT faculty), and—at any rate—if you pick a text/topic that many faculty know, there will be a diversity of opinions about how it should be taught. At least at my institution, we argue passionately about the teaching.

One thing I did was bring folding name cards and asked students to write their first names on them, so I could call them by name during discussion. Yes, it took a few minutes at the beginning, but it made a difference to me that I could do that, rather than just pointing at students or say “you with the red t-shirt.”

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