The Graduate College

Spring 2008

New & Noteworthy
Reflections from the Dean
Ones to Watch: ARCS Scholars
Program Notes: MS ENGR
GSO Update
Graduate Assistants' Corner
Deadlines & Calendar

Teaching: Toward a Community of Practice
Farewell to Pat Baron
Some Thoughts on Doing Less
Triumph in Tuba City

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Toward a Community of Practice

Discussing the challenges of university teaching, Professor Stephen Brookfield writes, "Teaching is frequently a gloriously messy pursuit" (Skillful Teacher). During 2007-08 the Graduate College, in coordination with the Faculty Development Program, established three initiatives as resources for graduate teaching assistants seeking to learn more about this pursuit.

1. A GTA certificate program was developed whereby teaching assistants attending a minimum of six professional development opportunities receive a certificate of participation and will be recognized at the Graduate College reception (April 23, 4–5:30 in the Grand Canyon Room of the University Union).

Ten sessions were offered in this series, ranging from

  • an orientation to student support services;
  • a workshop on developing teaching portfolios;
  • a discussion of teaching strategies responsive to a diverse student population;
  • a work session on assessment with internationally known professor, Tom Angelo of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand; and
  • book discussions on Bain’s study What the Best College Teachers Do and the Curzan/Damour resource First Day to Final Grade.

Based on the positive feedback from series participants, the certificate program will be continued in 2008-09.

2. Advancing Teaching and Learning, a day-long teaching seminar, was held twice in January at the beginning of the semester. The seminar covered topics that participants identified as significant to their teaching: learning about student learning approaches, assessing student work, setting instructional goals, developing assignments, conducting discussions, and promoting civility. Participants received resource materials, worked in small interdisciplinary groups, and helped structure the day so it best met their needs. This, too, will be offered next year.

3. In order to recognize outstanding teaching by GTAs, an annual award for excellence was reestablished. A call for nominees went to supervising faculty. Nominees were then invited to submit teaching portfolios that included reflections on their approach to teaching, examples of and commentary on teaching materials, and discussion of their own growth in teaching.

The Graduate College is committed to providing opportunities for GTAs to reflect upon and learn about teaching at NAU. Given that many GTAs are future college faculty members, these professional development opportunities can provide preparation for those roles as well as current ones. Brookfield emphasizes that the skillful teacher is one who is not just a student of the discipline, but a student of the teaching of the discipline. And, given that the rewards and challenges are many, he lauds the importance of developing communities of practice so that this frequently "gloriously messy pursuit" is one of shared exploration and growth.

—Linda Shadiow, Faculty Development Program director

On Teaching Well…

Bain, K. What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.

Brookfield, S. Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006.

Brookfield, Stephen D. and Preskill, Stephen. Discussion as a Way of
Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.

Curzan, Anne and Damour, Lisa. First Day to Final Grade: A Graduate Student's Guide to Teaching. 2nd ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006.