Across campus and across disciplines, a number of faculty members recently participated in a teaching observation pilot program designed to share insights about classroom instruction at the Colleges with junior faculty.
Facilitated by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), the trial initiative, which was called “Open Teaching Weeks,” was a non-evaluative opportunity for faculty members to engage in conversation about teaching styles, student engagement, curriculum, and more.
“Through Open Teaching Weeks, we wanted to encourage classroom observation as part of the process of developing great teaching at the Colleges,” says CTL Director Susan Pliner. “Participating faculty members are well positioned to have conversations focused on teaching, instead of just having an informal exchange. It also helps to broaden perspectives on what curriculum means.”
Pliner says Open Teaching Weeks followed a series of luncheon workshops held on the subject of classroom instruction and teaching observation. Members of the faculty had previously noted their interest in opportunities for non-evaluative observation to see classroom instruction and student engagement across the various disciplines at the Colleges.
Assistant Professor of Psychology Julie Kingery, who opened her classes for observation, says the pilot program was an important opportunity for engagement around classroom instruction on a number of levels.
“I think that this program offers a unique opportunity for junior faculty to develop a better understanding of the norms and expectations for teaching at HWS,” says Kingery. “Furthermore, observing across disciplines allows junior faculty to experience the wide range of creative teaching strategies that are utilized across various departments on campus – methods that can be adapted for their own courses. In my opinion, any opportunity to observe another colleague’s teaching is an incredibly rich learning experience that has the potential to enhance the teaching experience for both the observer and the individual being observed.”
Also sharing his classroom with other faculty members, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Greg Frost-Arnold says he feels a non-evaluative teaching observation program gives one the opportunity to gain new insights and improve their own instructional style and understanding.
“The new perspective, and the critical distance, gives observers the ability to figure out what’s working, and what isn’t, in a way that is unavailable to the instructor,” Frost-Arnold says.
For new members of the faculty, getting an in-depth understanding of what it’s like to teach at a small liberal arts campus can be particularly helpful for those who haven’t had experience teaching in a similar college setting yet, Frost-Arnold says. He says faculty can get a better sense of standard practices and the ethos of instruction.
Reflecting on her experience, Assistant Professor of Art and Architecture Liliana Leopardi says that as a new member of the faculty, having the opportunity to observe another faculty member teach was particularly important for providing additional insights on classroom instruction at HWS.
“The opportunity brought reassurance that the teaching style I use is wholly appropriate to our students, as well as challenged me to think of new innovative ways of teaching the material I am so familiar with,” Leopardi says. “I think it is extremely helpful to see the similarities and differences between disciplines, and therefore, also between the pedagogical approaches used to impart knowledge. It was particularly helpful to see that there is no singular approach that may be better than another, and that students respond to a variety of different teaching styles. It gave me a greater sense of HWS as a community of scholars sharing its knowledge with the students.”
In the photo above, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Greg Frost-Arnold leads a class on campus.