NSF Tech to Teaching Certificate in Higher Education
At Georgia Tech I have served as a teaching assistant for various courses for eight semesters, and completed the NSF-funded Tech to Teaching intermediate Certificate in Higher Education Pathway. The higher education pathway of the Tech to Teaching training program is designed to give Georgia Tech graduate students the opportunity to gain excellent preparation for a faculty career in higher education. The program aims to help graduate students develop and improve their teaching skills, explore career options, navigate the academic job search, and become successful teachers in the college classroom.
In order to complete the intermediate certificate, I have completed two 3-credit-hour courses taught by the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning at Georgia Tech. The first course “Fundamentals of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education”, taught jointly by Dr. Damon Williams and Dr. Nancy Ruggeri focuses on the pedagogical approaches to create a learner-centered classroom environment. In the class, we studied the literature on how people learn and how to create a classroom environment that embraces interaction, diversity and equity. We also learned about how to articulate one’s own teaching philosophy and how to write lesson plans. We also conducted mini lecture sessions in groups of three. It was a rewarding experience to collaborate with fellow students in engineering and do a teaching demo on an interdisciplinary topic that we were all interested in.
The second course “Teaching Practicum in Higher Education” taught by Dr. Dia Sekayi focuses on practical on-the-job training in the classroom and reflections on on our own teaching experience. Students in this course teach at least 15% of a course under the guidance of a faculty advisor of our own departments. We also meet every week to discuss and peer review our lesson plans one week before the lectures, as well as the videotapes of our lectures after the lectures. We not only got feedback from our mentors and Dr. Sekayi, but also from each other and from the students (student feedback were collected twice during the semester).
As for me, I taught 15% of the undergraduate course “Introduction to Comparative Politics” under my faculty mentor Dr. Brian Woodall at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs. Comparative Politics is one of my areas of specialization, so I was very much looking forward to hone my teaching skills in this course. I tried to use a variety of pedagogical approaches such as games and group exercises, and prepared detailed lesson plans which were reviewed by the professors and my peers. The actual lesson deliveries were challenging but also exciting. I’ve learned quite a lot throughout the practicum from my mentor who guided me through lecturing and class management and gave me lots of great advice. For instance, when lecturing on specific economic/political systems in countries like China (which students have little or no prior exposure to), it is better to bring in concrete examples and cases, and contrast them with their U.S. and European counterparts to help students understand the content. When designing the course assignments, it is better to have a variety of formats of assignments, such as reading summaries, exams, research projects, short research paper, and poster and class presentations. The grading will be spread out throughout the semester, and the students will have constant feedback on their studying and be motivated to follow up with the course contents.
Another interesting aspect of the practicum was observing my peers (all in engineering and sciences) teach their own lectures. Watching their lectures taught me not only new concepts and theories in their respective fields, but also new teaching approaches in their disciplines. International affairs/political science as a discipline has not seen much adoption of the model of the “flipped classroom”, which has been used much more extensively in the sciences and engineering classrooms and which I saw my peers use in their lectures. While the flipped classroom is a very innovative and interesting concept, I can see the reason why political scientists have largely hesitated to adopt it – so much of our class content relies on deconstructing complicated theories and cases, which would usually have to take the form of direct lectures and real-time interaction with the students rather than letting students watch videos before class and then do quizzes and write essays in class. Maybe in the future, we could think of ways to introduce a modified version of the “flipped classroom” and bring more diversity to the teaching of political science.
Overall, the whole Tech to Teaching Program has been an invaluable training experience. I think teaching not only improves one’s ability to create a positive learning environment and helps others gain knowledge and skills, but also improves one’s skills in public speaking, mentoring, oral communication and supervising. As a non-native speaker who completed undergraduate education in China, I have also found the program to be particularly helpful to prepare myself for work in the U.S. classroom environment.