Open Dores: Two Days of Teaching Visits
by Marianna Sharp, CFT Communications Intern
On September 27th and 28th some of Vanderbilt’s talented faculty members will be opening their classrooms to their fellow professors and graduate students. This year’s Open Dores CFT event differs somewhat from past years’ Teaching Visit programming—more condensed, but with a wider selection of classrooms open for visitors. In past years, visits have included a post-class session in which CFT facilitators led a discussion of the host’s teaching style and strategies for effective teaching. While this year’s program does not include these discussions, the hope is that a more condensed schedule, with more visit options, will make things easier for visitors and hosts and allow for greater participation. Over the two days, participants can choose from among forty different classes, ranging from discussion-based seminars, such as the eighteen-student “Spanish American Literature,” taught by Chalene Helmuth (12:10pm on the 28th) to classes like “Introduction to Astronomy,” taught by David Weintraub (9:10am on the 28th), which fills a large lecture hall.
One benefit of this variety of choice is that professors of all disciplines will be able to find classes similar in style and size to those they teach. Seeing how their colleagues work with students can bring new ideas and inspiration not only to newer professors but even to those who have been teaching for decades. Though faculty interact with one another in department offices and research labs, teaching is often conducted in a somewhat more isolated state. What happens in the classroom, stays in the classroom, in many cases. Seeing how colleagues approach certain issues in the classroom or organize discussions and lectures can help professors get a sense of their own teaching—and through that become better teachers. Joe Bandy, Assistant Director of the CFT and organizer of the Open Dores event, compares it to a student’s process of learning to write. “[Students] need to see multiple models of how other people write, and get feedback on their writing” and professors benefit similarly from seeing the teaching models used by their peers.
He also notes that while observing cognate disciplines is the most clearly helpful approach for educators, it is not the only way to benefit from the program. Teaching circumstances matter, but someone who teaches a service-learning course, for example, could benefit seeing how a colleague organizes another service-learning course even if it’s in a very different discipline.
“In our Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows program, we had a theatre professor find common cause with an engineering faculty member,” says Bandy. “They were both trying to get students to perform in ways that were very much about innovation and practice—application of the knowledge of the field in a performance-based way.” Though they came from disciplines not normally combined, they were able to share ideas and techniques for addressing students’ concerns around fear. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity for that if you’re thinking pedagogically rather than just disciplinarily.”
“What strikes me about our Teaching Visits program,” says CFT Director Derek Bruff, “is how participants come away with more tools in their teaching toolbox. And, more than that, they feel empowered to teach in more intentional and effective ways, thanks to the observation and conversations with peers.” Bruff is looking forward to seeing these benefits on a very large scale through this year’s Open Dores event. He also notes that the CFT was inspired by the teaching center at Rice University, which hosted a similar two-day teaching visit event last year.
All members of Vanderbilt’s teaching community, including faculty and graduate students, are invited to participate in Open Dores. To do so, simply visit the Open Dores website, read through the list of classrooms to visit, and sign up for one or two. On that site, you can also find an observation guide to help you get more out of your visit. And please join the CFT for a reception on Wednesday, September 28th, from 3:30 to 4:30 in the Heard Library Community Room, where hosts and visitors will have an opportunity to reflect on their teaching and celebrate Vanderbilt’s teaching community.