Brian Joseph Gillespie, Ph.D.

Department of Sociology

Tools for Teaching Workshop Series

Faculty today rarely have a moment to step back and reflect on whether our teaching matters; whether we are actually reaching our students, and if our service efforts are making any real contribution to universities and disciplines. This workshop series was a great opportunity to step back and assess our efficacy as professors and discuss some common problems we encounter in the classroom.

An important theme running through each meeting was to encourage agency and reciprocity in the classroom. The workshops also reminded us to approach student learning through applied knowledge and humor while incorporating subject matter that challenges, inspires, and engages students. Teaching workshops serve as a good reminder to keep lectures refreshing and layer important concepts through activities. I also appreciate the focus on diversity and believe this should remain a central component to course objectives, instructional tools, and classroom techniques.

Another positive outcome, as a new faculty member, is that I was able to meet and interact with faculty from various departments across campus.  We were able to voice our concerns about teaching in a comfortable atmosphere and I was able to hear about faculty teaching experiences in other departments.  It was refreshing to share anecdotes with others and learn how other seasoned teachers deal with some of the less-satisfying aspects of teaching. I found the workshop and discussion on “Heated Moments in the Classroom” particularly useful given a recent experience with one such moment.

I have already implemented some of the strategies discussed in the workshops into my Fall 2016 courses.  The workshop leader and coordinator, Matthew Paolucci-Callahan, wisely recommended using low-stakes testing in order to reduce student stress associated with large tests counting toward too large a proportion of a student’s final grade.  I had not considered this before and have folded lower-stakes quizzes into my more rigorous courses to reduce student burden and help students retain the information.

Matt chose interesting topics and was clearly well-informed on helpful pedagogical approaches that not only simplify the process of teaching but also make it more fun. I would recommend this workshop series to any faculty member interested in applying different approaches to teaching or even expanding on old methods.  I would even go so far as to suggest offering a voluntary professional development workshop at faculty orientations so a wider faculty base could access this information.