San Marcos,
11:36 AM

Professors Revamp the Art of Teaching During Faculty Workshop

By Whitney Frasier

Against the backdrop of teaching, student mentoring and continuously moving forward on research or scholarly activities, faculty often find that there is precious little time for professional development and reflection on teaching. But thanks to weeklong summer workshops known as the Summer Teaching Institute, offered by the CSUSM Faculty Center, faculty receive focused time to reflect on how they can improve teaching and innovation in their classrooms to empower student learning.

“The reality is that most of us professors haven’t been formally trained in the art of teaching,” said Chris Bickel, professor of sociology. “Graduate school is more about learning the material, and less about learning the art of teaching. It’s not unusual to find professors who haven’t taken any classes on teaching methodology. Given this, the Summer Teaching Institute provides a sacred ground upon which teachers can come together to reflect on our teaching.”

The institute provides opportunities for faculty to be exposed to new technologies, techniques and ideas from speakers and colleagues, enabling them to continue to be innovative and bring new things into the classroom. Each year presents a new focus meant to assist faculty during the academic year. This year’s theme is was on teaching students to learn.

“I learned a lot about metacognition and teaching students how to learn,” said Bickel, who has attended the Institute for three years. Metacognition refers to the processes used to plan, monitor and assess one’s understanding and performance.

“It may sound simple but for most professors, we focus more on the material and not much on teaching students how to learn the material,” he reflected. “Given my experience this summer, I am going to incorporate a number of workshops in my classes that teach students how to learn. Ultimately, I want students to think about thinking and to be effective learners.”

The Institute is not only an initiative to encourage motivated faculty to focus on teaching, but also to keep faculty on the path of continuous self-improvement. By incorporating learning activities and guest speakers, the Summer Teaching Institute provides information and tools for faculty to bring back to the classroom.

“Leaving the Summer Teaching Institute, I was so excited I immediately began to work on my syllabus to include student learning workshops,” said Bickle. “I’m going to spend a lot of time this year providing students with workshops on how to improve their writing, reading comprehension and public speaking abilities. I hope that these workshops not only increase my students’ success in my classroom but throughout their entire time at CSUSM.”

Another benefit, perhaps less obvious, is for professors to network with a diverse group of colleagues and engage in conversation about teaching.

“The atmosphere provides them with information that is innovative in the field as well as techniques that have been well-tested by colleagues,” said Matthew Atherton, associate director for Teaching and Learning at the Faculty Center. “Since time is limited for faculty, this is a good place to be exposed to many new ideas in a short amount of time and it’s inspiring to hear what other faculty are doing in the classroom.”

Each year the program receives a growing number of applications but participation is limited to 20 attendees per workshop. For that reason, faculty are encouraged to share their assessment of this activity with the wider campus community to ensure that what they learn filters to students and colleagues.

“The professors who come are truly dedicated to teaching and enhancing the teacher-student experience,” said Atherton. “Most people leave with more ideas than time to implement them all, so the commitment to self-improvement is strong.”

The program provides consistent opportunities for professional development.

“While many faculty work on skills on their own, if the University wants to have faculty that are well prepared to provide the best classroom experience for our students it is important for us to provide them with opportunities and resources to learn and supplement their desire to improve,” said Atherton.

This program does just that.

The cost is free for faculty and the Institute is made possible with the help of the Instructional Development team and Instructional and Information Technology Services (IITS).

“I am absolutely thrilled to be at an institution that values teaching, and encourages professors to be creative with their teaching methodology,” said Bickel. “The faculty center, especially the Summer Teaching Institute, is a huge part of my success in the classroom.”