One of the best things about the twenty-first century has to be how our ability to research and keep in touch with colleagues has changed dramatically. I’ve been trying to do my part to help build community amongst scholars who study the South Caucasus. As one project meant to work on this goal, I co-chair an annual session on the archaeology of the Black Sea and Caucasus regions, at the ASOR annual meeting. At the 2015 meeting, we crowdsourced ideas for an online community, and so I’ve built a forum on this website as a beta test, before going live on the American Research Institutes of the South Caucasus site, where the forum will eventually be housed.
This is an interesting article about a visit Eric Mazur (he of “peer instruction,” which I discuss here) paid to Vanderbilt University, where the faculty had a chance to experience the “flipped classroom” themselves. One of his key points is that when we consider how we instructors learned to teach, we almost never say that we acquired our knowledge of teaching by passively sitting through lectures, so why do we teach that way? The article also links to a couple videos of Mazur in action.
Last spring, I did a short presentation (on Mazur’s peer instruction) for an event at the University of Chicago’s Center for Teaching and Learning, and afterward, I was recruited to become a Teaching Consultant. As a Teaching Consultant (TC), I am one of a handful of graduate students from across the university who have the opportunity to get together and read and talk about pedagogy. We take the knowledge we glean to help other graduate students in their classrooms through workshops and individual consultations. Yesterday, we met to have a discussion about discussions.
Put that way, the topic of conversation is somewhat amusing (especially when you consider that we tried out the technique of leaderless discussion, during which I had to stop the leaderless discussion to discuss how we were discussing – I think we almost drowned in the recursion). Still, it was an interesting meeting, particularly the input from our TCs in the STEM fields. At first blush, you might think that there is no opportunity for students to discuss in a discipline like computer science. The TC described his class, and described the “discussions” as an opportunity for students to respond to questions and also ask for clarification. In other words, the “discussions” were primarily led only at a level that might help the students to remember and understand their readings, but not achieve the higher levels on Bloom’s taxonomy of learning domains (i.e., application, analysis, evaluation, creation). Continue reading
Hegel’s a problem. Seriously—what kind of person writes like that?? So, when you’re about to help a roomful of kids work through the Philosophy of World History, what do you do? It’s tempting to walk them through the arguments and concepts: philosophical history, Idea, world-spirit, reason… (Of course, it’s also tempting to tell them to look at the index, already.) It’s tempting to feed them concepts and arguments, to draw the connections for them, because, come on—Hegel is hard. The students don’t necessarily have the tools to cope with his arguments, to grasp the synthesis of ideal and real, subject and object, particular and universal. So what do you do? Continue reading
Reading my October book on pedagogy, McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, has taught me a couple of important lessons:
1) Studies show the efficacy of some of the techniques I use while teaching, for example, breaking the students into smaller groups to teach each other the material.
2) Also, reading books about pedagogy doesn’t take as much time as I thought it would, since you can skip to the techniques you’re trying to work on and skip any you’ve got down.
I find it rather interesting that I can pick up a teaching book and, instead of reading it for an overarching argument, cherry-pick directly to the elements that speak to me. (For example, I don’t really need the chapters on lecturing effectively—yet.) So I did just that: I went through the book and cherry-picked to the material that’s important to the discussion-based classes I teach at the University of Chicago.
Since I’m trying to use this forum as a way to explore and improve my own teaching, this discussion will obviously be focused on my particular situation. But I’m putting McKeachie’s 7 “biases or hypotheses” inset over here for general purposes, before I go on to discuss what I found most interesting.
The Socratic Method
I was looking for semi-concrete tips about leading discussion, but I ended up thinking mostly about discussion in general, and in particular, the Socratic method. I quote McKeachie about the Socratic method:
In television, novels, and anecdotes about the first year of law school [Socratic teaching] is usually portrayed as a sadistic, anxiety-producing method of eliciting student stupidity, and even when I place myself in the role of the slave boy taught by Socrates in the Meno, I feel more like a pawn than an active learner. (2011:43)
Ouch. McKeachie goes on to say that the questioning methods advocated by a student of the Socratic method, Allen Collins, “may be generally useful in leading discussions,” but it seems as though McKeachie is rather lukewarm on the method. Continue reading
I basically stopped writing this blog last quarter, because I wanted to write about teaching, but I fell into an ethical conundrum: is it fair to write about experiences involving other people in real-time, if they don’t know that they are being written about—even if you leave names out of it? I’m not even sure that the timing matters; it seems a strange thing to write about other people regardless of whether it’s real time or not, although relating stories about “Funny things that happened to me in the past” already lends distance to the stories, right? Somehow, writing about past events seems less like nosily intruding on everyone else.
And with teaching, of course, there’s always the possibility that my students (hi, guys!) will find the blog entries and learn more about what I think of the class, or what I’m planning to do with it, than I might normally tell them. I have to admit, I’m still experimenting on my students, finding what works and what doesn’t, but I’m not necessarily sharing all of the details of the experiments with the subjects—doesn’t that change the results? Continue reading
I really enjoy teaching—it might be that I’m a little spoiled, that the students at the U of C are unusually talkative and involved, but I really enjoy fostering discussion amongst a group of young ‘uns ready to explore our work. I have a good group of students this quarter, with perhaps more than the usual number of talkative kids, but yet no one who is trying to dominate the room. Everyone is respectful, and they are starting to learn to address each other, which I think is important.
On the first day, I explained a little bit about my teaching philosophy, that I will be steering the ship, but that I won’t let the conversation always be moderated by me. I have attended (and disliked) “discussion” classes with professors who ask leading questions for which there is a right answer, which the students must find and present to the professor. The discussion ends up being a back-and-forth between usually one (maybe two) students and the professor, while other students watch from the sidelines, answer different questions later, thereby reorienting the back-and-forth with the professor to a new side of the room. I’m in charge, I keep us on task—but I want the students to talk to each other, too. And after only two discussions, they’re starting to do it! And to address each other by name! Continue reading
It’s hard to know exactly where to begin, or how to introduce this blog. If a blog reflects the interests of its writer, then this one will be difficult to categorize. There will be some ruminations on history and archaeology; thoughts about friends and relationships; information about beer and tasty food; pictures of various journeys; and anything else that pops up, really. I studied all the liberal arts in college (at a “Great Books” school), I debated between psychology, philosophy, and history for a career, and now I find myself pursuing a dual degree in anthropological archaeology and ancient history. In some ways, it seems like I’ve been all over the map, trying to figure out what I find most compelling, what I want to do in life. But through it all, I realized that at the center of my investigations, driving my curiosity, is an interest in people: in our history, in the ways we tell each other about what we think is important, in the ways in which we build our lives and our cities or environments that reveal our values, in personal relationships, and in societal structures. This blog is perhaps an attempt to synthesize my longstanding interest in people and the world we make (and how we write about it), an inquiry into (and observations about) the social, and the science.