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Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows Reflect on Exemplary Teaching

Posted by on Thursday, May 9, 2013 in Commentary.

by Lyndsey Fyffe, 2013 Teaching Certificate Recipient

Exemplary teaching was the theme and mantra of the “Innovative and Effective Teaching by Junior Faculty: Cases from the Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows” session at the May 3rd Celebration of Teaching at Vanderbilt. Interested junior faculty members in the audience were introduced to the Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows (JFTF) Program by four of its impressive and knowledgeable past participants. The teaching research and innovations of these four faculty members were impressive, but their credit to the fellowship speaks volumes to the work of Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching.

The first to present was Haoxiang Luo, an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering. He spoke of the challenges associated with an engineering curriculum, specifically the balance between lecturing and problem solving and ways to engage students in the material. His challenge to himself during his time in the JFTF Program was to implement a new, more experience-based program by lecturing less and doing more demonstrations, classroom interactions, and projects. His reinvention of the typical engineering class illustrated the importance of teaching research in STEM fields; his students responded very well to his new techniques. Through the support of the JFTF Program, Haoxiang was able to learn new methods and discuss his work with other junior faculty members, developing a successful case of the application of new teaching methods to his classroom.

The next JFTF to present was Shaul Kelner, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Director Jewish Studies. His experience was unique due to the dual nature of his work in two departments. As someone who enjoys experimentation in the classroom, the teaching research was not his primary goal from the JFTF Program, but the organizational aspects were irreplaceable. His passion for teaching and experimentation came through in his stories of lessons from his classes, including a project which involved writing a haiku about kosher laws to make students think about whether rules such as those involved in writing a haiku and those required to keep kosher are onerous or make for an engaging and interesting challenge. Shaul’s discussion also included a comparison of the typical class over the course of the semester to a television show, citing the use of an arc in curriculum design to think about the end goals of the course from the beginning.

This sentiment of backwards curriculum planning was also addressed by Kimberly Bess, an Assistant Professor of Human and Organizational Development, who spoke about her personal journey through the JFTF and in particular about her introduction to backwards curriculum mapping. Kimberly discussed the ways the JFTF Program had helped her improve, noting the importance of continually learning and adapting her teaching methods. She specifically cited dinners with senior faculty and classroom observation sessions as being especially meaningful parts of the Program, connecting her to valuable resources in the university she might not have been a part of otherwise. The major takeaway from her conversation was that change in one’s teaching style is incremental, a process of experimentation and discovery, a process the JFTF Program helped her with over the course of her participation.

The final presentation delivered by Jonathan Rattner, an Assistant Professor of Film Studies, addressed his massive undertaking of designing and implementing eleven new courses in the Film Studies department. His growth in the JFTF Program came largely in inviting other people to take part in his courses: Vanderbilt students in the class as an assessment group and members outside of the Vanderbilt community to critique the students’ work and provide them with an alternative perspective. For Jonathan, the JFTF Program served as a basis to perform these classroom experiments and enlist the advice of other junior faculty in the process. As in his classes, the working environment provided by the Program was key to his success in the Film Studies department.

In a short question and answer session, several young faculty in the crowd were able to ask questions about the JFTF Program, and many expressed interest in applying in the future. Both the panelists and the audience members expressed the same sentiment: the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching really has something wonderful in the JFTF Program. It is a great way for junior faculty to connect with other Vanderbilt community members and enhance their own teaching practices.

For more information about the Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows Program, visit this page on the CFT website.

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