Year-Long Series Explores the Art of Teaching
While many people recognize the value of a college education, not all appreciate the art behind educating. The Hamilton community has been fostering dialogues this year as part of the inaugural Talk About Teaching (TAT) series. Associate Dean of Faculty Penny Yee, who helps coordinate the variety of events, described the purpose of the series as “drawing attention to the practice of teaching at the college.” The events take place across campus, with noontime gatherings almost every Tuesday.
Although this is the first year for the formal TAT series, “it evolved over time from different groups on campus being interested in promoting dialogue around teaching by sponsoring talks throughout the semester,” Yee noted. Seeing the widespread interest, she “proposed a collaborative effort among the various coordinators to create the TAT series.” The series is broken down into four major themes, each with their own coordinators and events.
The “Why We Teach” events are sponsored by the Division of Student Life and coordinated by Jeff McArn, the College chaplain and COOP service learning director. They are, “A series of informal lunch gatherings for faculty, students, and staff to enjoy music, conversation, and reflection on the purpose of life in our liberal arts community.” This year eight faculty members have offered a 15-minute reflection that served as the context for that week’s discussion.
In October, the series hosted a special “Why I Study” event with two seniors, Sabrina Yurkovsky and Rachel Sobel. Yurkovsky said she particularly enjoyed “hearing from the other Senior Fellow who participated since we evidently all have very different reasons for study.” Regardless of individual motivations, “It's important to keep track of our motivations for putting so much time, effort, and money into being here, rather than just going through the motions,” Yurkovsky emphasized.
This question is perhaps most relevant to those beginning their college journey, and the “Who We Teach” events, which focused on first-year students, are aimed at “[discussing] topics and strategies relevant to helping students segue from high school to college academics.” The series is coordinated by Assistant Professor of English Benj Widiss, and is sponsored by the Dean of Faculty’s Academic Affairs Office. Widiss gave September’s talk “Working With, and Against, First-Years’ Expectations of Hamilton,” though other topics have included Alex Rihm’s “Wikipedia and Beyond: Information Literacy Concepts for First Year Students,” and a panel of seven students on “What Worked: First-Year Courses through First-Year Eyes.”
Focusing in on the classroom, the “How We Teach” events “[offer] a place to discuss a variety of topics related to improving our pedagogical craft, from the latest research in cognitive science to basics of syllabus construction to managing in-class discussion.” The series is sponsored by the Network for Teaching and Learning and is coordinated by Steve Yao, the Edmund A. LaFevre Professor of English. Previous topics have included “Study Abroad for the 21st Century,” by Carolyn North, and a panel of five faculty members weighing in on “What is a C? Grades and Grading Across the Divisions and Across Time.”
In a series that “showcases innovative curricula and course design,” the “Ways We Teach” events are sponsored by Library and Information Technology Services (LITS) and are coordinated by Kristin Strohmeyer, research and outreach librarian, and Lisa Forrest, director of research and instruction services. Past events have focused on “Cultural Heritage on Campus: Student Engagement, Administration Policy, and Faculty Teaching,” with Nathan Goodale, and “[Taking] Your Teaching Outdoors,” with Andrew Jillings.
Although available speaking slots for this semester’s events are gone, “Anyone interested can attend; there is no RSVP needed,” Yee reminded. “There’s always next year, too,” she added, “if someone has an idea he or she would like to share, I, or any of the coordinators, can help find the right series.”