Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Writing an informed teaching statement for a university faculty position

In the US new open faculty positions are starting to be announced and ChemBark and Chemjobber are curating a list for chemistry this year.  Most of these positions will require a teaching statement. When I wrote my teaching statement back in 1996 I really didn't know what to write. You find a textbook, make some lecture notes, show up 3 hours a week and write on the blackboard, and assign some problems in the book. How do you fluff that up so it fills a page?

The main point of this blog post is that in 2015 the traditional lecture model is just one of many teaching styles you can choose and you should make an informed decision, i.e. even if you choose to lecture you now really have to argue why you choose that.  What follows is a very, very brief overview (CliffsNotes) that is mainly intended to introduce you to terms that you have not have heard of but that you really need to know in order to make an informed decision.

Alternatives to the lecture approach
The main argument against the lecture model is that students only real learn by actively doing, do the the most general umbrella term for these new approaches is active learning. One fairly popular variant of active learning is project based learning which can be combined with inquiry-based learning.  These approaches can be hard to implement for large-enrollment courses. Another, increasingly popular, variant of active learning is the flipped classroom approach. The flipped classroom is often equated with blended-learning and video lectures, but the flipped classroom approach can also be based on a textbook.

There are several variants of the flipped classroom that differ on how the "lecture" time is used.  The most basic implementation of flipped classroom is simply to use the lecture time as help sessions for homework. The flipped classroom approach can also be combined with inquiry based learning using the POGIL approach.  Perhaps the most popular variant of the flipped classroom approach is the peer instruction or "clicker" approach, which scales very nicely to very large courses.

Another interesting new idea in education (that can also be used with the standard lecture model) is specification grading which is part of a relatively new movement within higher education called competency-based learning.

Finally, here are two recent peer-reviewed studies that document improvements in learning compared to the traditional lecture approach: Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics and Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class

Some pedagogical terms and concepts
Here are some  pedagogical terms and concepts that should inform your teaching no matter which style you choose.
Cognitive load - you can learn up to 7 new things at a time
Spaced learning - it doesn’t stick until you’ve seen it 3-4 times over a period of time
Formative assessment - you learn by answering questions if you get immediate feedback
Just in case vs just in time teaching - “You’ll need to know this later” is not a good motivator

Video Lectures and Web clickers
Though not strictly required, many teachers who use the flipped classroom approach make video lectures. This can be done relatively cheaply and easily using screencasting software such as Camtasia or Screenflow together with Powerpoint. One can also make pencasts (handwritten video lectures) using, for example, iPad apps such as Explain Everything or the Livescribe pen but such pencasts often appear too slow when watched online.

Traditional clickers are increasingly being replaced by "web-clickers" such as Socrative or Poll Everywhere on smartphones and laptops

More information
Active learning: tools and tips
My flipped classroom: what I did and how I did it
Why Not Try A Scientific Approach To Science Education?
Psychological insights for improved physics teaching
Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative - Resources
Confessions of a converted lecturer (Youtube) (abbreviated version)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

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