The Graduate College

Fall 2010

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GTA Professional Development Series

A skillful teacher is not just a student of the discipline, but a student of the teaching of the discipline. NAU is committed to providing opportunities for GTAs to reflect upon and learn about teaching. Given that many GTAs are future college faculty members, these professional development opportunities can provide preparation for those roles as well as current ones.

A number of professional development sessions for graduate students are scheduled for the fall; preference will be given in some sessions to graduate students who are currently teaching. Certificates of participation will be awarded to graduate students who attend at least six of these sessions throughout the academic year.

The series is sponsored by the Graduate College, Faculty Development Program, and supported by the Vice President for Research. See the fall workshop schedule and other GTA teaching resources online.

Registration is requested for all sessions at www.nau.edu/facdev or 523-9972.


Advice from the Best!

Don't miss words of wisdom from NAU Distinguished Teaching Fellow Catherine Ueckert, associate professor of biology education, in this issue: read "Creating an Active Learning Environment."

Also check our newsletter archives for other excellent advice on undergraduate teaching! Faculty Development Program staff also draw upon these articles for New Faculty Orientation.


Planning for Purposeful Discussions

I find that meaningful class discussions happen when students are engaged with content as well as with what their class colleagues are contributing. But such discussions don’t happen with the frequency I hope for. Despite all my visions of rich and substantial class or online discussions, the questions I ask are too frequently met by what seems like an interminably long period of silence.

The literature on university teaching has, however, provided me with some information about how this situation can change. Professor Nick Burbules in Dialogue in Teaching: Theory and Practice discusses four different types of dialogue, and each type identifies a potential primary purpose for a class discussion. He describes dialogue as conversation, as inquiry, as debate, and as instruction. While most class discussions are a blend of more than one of these, planning for a primary purpose helps focus students on substantial rather than superficial dialogue.

Burbules says when the primary goal of dialogue is conversation, students work not to convince each other of something, but to create a common language through mutual translations of terms and concepts. With this approach, “Help us understand what you mean” can be an invitation to converse.

When the primary goal of dialogue is inquiry, students work collectively through that discussion to converge on one or more points that can further inform their work. Here, an example of an invitation to participate in the inquiry can be: “What are the important questions the author’s view raises?”

When the primary goal of dialogue is debate, students engage in the discussion by using course resources and illustrative applications to convince each other of an interpretation or position. The point is not to get full agreement with a position, but to bring out the texture of the multiple views. With this approach, a debate can be initiated with a question like, “Given this issue, what evidence can you draw upon to illustrate to others why your position is one they should consider adopting?”

When the primary goal of dialogue is instruction, students collectively seek clarification and understanding by pursuing the topic or concepts in the text critically. With this purpose, an initiating question would be: “What examples can you provide that illustrate the concept or point?”

Linda Shadiow

Knowing these four purposes and planning for ways to engage students in them generates a focused discussion that is likely to have more depth, a broader range of participants, and more responses that build upon each other.

—Linda Shadiow, Professor of Educational Foundations and director of the NAU Faculty Development Program