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You want to teach science? You should take this course.

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

I recently completed a CIRTL (Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning)/Summer Institutes on Scientific Teaching quick-course (see the snazzy certificate attached below) and I have to say that it was one of the more rewarding experiences I have had recently.

It was, admittedly, more work than I expected it to be (I am ashamed, but I blame the era of COVID/WFH for lulling me into a state of "work-at-my-own-pace" complacency), but if you are a graduate student or a postdoc and you're thinking of teaching science at the undergraduate level, I 100%, 10/10 recommend that you take this course.

Here's why.

They send you a book.

If you're a word nerd like me, you're probably already enticed. Free book? Sign me up.

The book is Scientific Teaching, by Jo Handelsman, Sarah Miler, and Christine Pfund and it was written for workshops such as this one. Broken into two primary sections (content and workshop materials), this book covers everything from active learning to assessment design, how to construct a teachable unit (basically a lesson plan, for those of you who have not yet taken this course) to how to enhance the inclusiveness and diversity of your classroom (easily tokened buzzwords-- I'll return to this point in a moment). We were assigned a chapter to read per day, over the course of the week-long institute, and not only was the book informative, it was instructive, packed full of examples of frameworks for scientific teaching and recommendations for different kinds of active learning strategies.

It's only a week, but you cover a LOT, and it's pretty meta.

Every single day of this course, we dove right into the material. Tracking along on Blackboard Ultra, new materials and activities were posted everyday, including additional, peer-reviewed readings, anecdotal content, and brief knowledge quizzes. The things we learned about, we did in action. We explored the science behind the activities we were tasked to complete, and examined them in the context of the online institute (relevant for anyone who has taught/will be teaching remotely during the era of COVID). We were split into breakout rooms to discuss content at greater length, and report back to the broader group. The examples were engaging and relevant. The expectations were clearly laid out from the beginning of the course, and we were held accountable for our participation and engagement. The instructors made a concerted effort to keep everyone involved, to address questions, and to foster a sense of community, even though the members of this particular institute were scattered across the US and Europe (what course content have we touched on so far?-- active learning, assessment strategies, inclusiveness and diversity).

Speaking of diversity efforts.

I took this workshop right around the peak of the news coverage of the Equal Rights Movements across the country (NOTE: Black Lives still Matter, even if they're not the focus of the news cycle anymore). While talking about them in the context of our very safe, very separate online institute does not touch on the sorts of measures required to effect real change, the instructors and fellow participants made a concerted effort every. single. day. to talk about how to incorporate antiracist strategies into our course construction. We spent the full length of this course visiting and revisiting this topic with a deep-seated intention to integrate it into every part of our teaching practice. Academia, as we are all aware, is not immune to the problems of racism and prejudice (just look to examples like the leaky pipeline and the subsequently inadequate representation of Black and Brown scholars at the highest levels of academic conduct; the exclusionary measures that researchers take, sometimes without even recognizing how damaging their samples of convenience can be). Taking steps to reach underrepresented students, to help them feel engaged and valued in the classroom, and to create opportunities for them to realize their existing potential are just a few small ways to help alleviate some of these problems of inequity.

We had to do a final project.

This sounds like a negative, and especially because it was-- dare I say it?-- a GROUP PROJECT. But this was, quite honestly, my favorite part of the institute, and it's for three primary reasons: (1) we were given a large degree of autonomy over what we spent our time working on (which is great, given that the members of the institute had a wide variety of expertise/areas of focus); (2) it gave us the opportunity to apply all of the things that we covered during the short course and combine them in a format that also has future use (we were encouraged to create materials that we could take with us into our future teaching practice, and to think of it in the context of a classroom); (3) we had the opportunity to meet and get to know some talented and incredibly passionate young scholars.

On the final day of the institute, we presented our projects to the other members of the institute to receive feedback, and it was a phenomenal opportunity to do a deep dive into unit construction. It gave me, personally, the opportunity to think really intentionally about what I want students in my classroom (or in my Zoom room, whatever) to walk away understanding and appreciating about the course content and about themselves, as learners.

Snazzy certificate attached-- please consider registering for a course such as this.

You will not regret it.


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