Alumni Interview: Teaching and Learning Conference Veteran, Patricia Stapleton (Political Science, ’12)
Teaching and learning conferences can be a fantastic networking opportunity and resume builder, as yesterday’s blog post noted. In today’s post, GC alum Patricia Stapleton shares some of the lessons she’s taken away from these conferences.
Stapleton received her PhD in Political Science in 2012, and is now Director of the Society, Technology, and Policy Program and Assistant Teaching Professor, Social Science & Policy Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
How has attending a teaching and learning conference changed the way you teach?
Attending conferences and workshops have changed the way I teach, and I think for the better. For one, it has made me much more aware of selecting appropriate assessments for student learning based on the way that I teach. I tend to run a very interactive, discussion-based classroom. But it wasn’t until I attended my first teaching workshop that I really thought about how midterm and final exams don’t capture what my students are learning. Studying for exams seemed to be separate from what we did in the class. The conferences also gave me ideas of what I could use to replace exams in the classroom.
Two, they’ve helped me think about how to manage my time planning, prepping, teaching, and grading. Sometimes changing teaching strategies or assignments can seem daunting because of the time investment, and you’re not even sure they will work. Attending a workshop usually gives you templates or resources that make that transition easier, and ideas of what obstacles you might face and how to overcome them.
Three, it’s made me more likely to reach out for help than to try to muddle through on my own! I have found that people within the discipline who are particularly interested in pedagogy to be very welcoming and happy to answer questions. It’s also helped me to look for resources first before trying to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of great ideas and activities online, which can be used as is or tweaked to fit a class.
Are there any other opportunities for pedagogical development that you can recommend?
Most schools have a teaching and learning center and they will host workshops throughout the year. Even if you aren’t reimbursed for them, it’s a great idea to try to get to one or two when you can. It exposes you to different approaches to teaching, and you can list them on your CV to show that you think about teaching as an important area for development. For CUNY grad students, there are opportunities through the Writing Across the Curriculum activities that are hosted at the different schools. If you can’t make it to a workshop, you could ask one of the Writing Fellows to sit down with you to talk about your assignments for class and your course goals. Or, you can make an appointment at the teaching center on your campus to discuss instructional strategies. Grad students are especially crunched for time, but by putting in a little time at the beginning, you can save yourself lots of prep and planning time by starting with teaching and learning center resources.
Even if they’re not technically pedagogy conferences, I have also attended workshops and conferences that have been very specific to my particular teaching interests. For example, I attended a workshop on teaching about risk and resilience. It was a great foundation for the Environmental and Risk Communication class that I’ll be teaching for the first time in the spring. These are fewer and far between, but they are also worth tracking down.
So, keep an eye out for smaller workshops or conferences that might provide support for pedagogical development. Also look to see if your national professional association has pedagogy-dedicated panels at the annual meeting, which is another great way to make contacts and hear about opportunities. Finally, look to see if your department offers a course on teaching in your discipline. It might not be required, but if you plan on applying to teaching-focused institutions, it’s a great way to show potential hiring committees that you care about your teaching.
There are a lot of great ideas and activities online, which can be used as is or tweaked to fit a class. A good example for political scientists is the Active Learning in Political Science blog. I first met the creators of the blog at the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference. It’s become a great resource for me and a way to get feedback on ideas. Other disciplines might have similar blogs or sites. It’s worth poking around a little on the internet first!