Building a Community of Teaching Practice

White male, alone in room, sitting on chair. His head braced on arms, elbows on knees. Dejected lookingIs this you? You are in an academic unit where conversations about pedagogy happen infrequently, if ever. You long to grab a cup of coffee or tea and sit and talk about teaching with colleagues. You feel alone and isolated and worry your lack of pedagogical conversations might be limiting your students’ success.

Red background, white font that says "Find your people"It sounds like you’ll have to find your “teaching people” then. So how to start? Let’s get the obvious out of the way first—is there a teaching and learning center on campus? The staffs of such centers are there because they believe in sharing the practice of teaching and want to partner with more faculty to examine teaching scientifically and to use the scholarship of teaching and learning in the classroom. Put differently, they are committed to evidence-based analysis of teaching and learning and then using data to implement changes in pedagogy.

Wordle about teaching and learning centers and key tasks they do for and with faculty and students-If your campus has such a center, go…now. You’ll find people who love to think and talk about teaching as well as lots of resources to help you. Unfortunately though, on some campuses, such centers are perceived to be for those who “don’t teach well.” Don’t let that false assumption stop you. Teaching and learning centers are for those faculty and staff who are dedicated to creating student learning and student success. That means they are committed to testing pedagogical ideas—and helping faculty to pick themselves up if they fail, only to try again. They will listen to your ideas, ask a lot of questions, and encourage you to try new pedagogical strategies when—and only when—they make pedagogical sense in the context of your courses.

But if your institution doesn’t have a teaching and learning center, the journey to create a community of teaching practice will be harder. What to do? Here are some suggestions:

Picture of ear and hand around it, in a "listening" position-Listen to students, before and after your class. Whose classes do they say challenge them? Excite them? Interest them? And whose do they say are boring or “the easy A?” Remember the names of the faculty who challenge and excite your students.

Busy hallway outside of classroom; full of people-If you can, walk around the hallways, listening as others teach. Do you hear individuals who—irrespective of disciplinary content—teach in ways you’d like to consider teaching? Maybe it’s that they utilize active learning or group activities in ways that you are not yet doing? Don’t be afraid to lurk, and not just in the building you normally teach in. Go to where faculty from other disciplines teach too.

-Does your institution give a teaching award? If so, locate the last few awardees and ask if you could sit in on a class or two. Then see if you can talk with them about what you observed. Ask them about other faculty who are innovative teachers.

Adams University Instructional Technology Center-Contact your Instructional Technology department (it might be called by another name). Ask for some faculty contacts who are using technology in what they perceive to be innovative ways. Feel free to explain why you are asking. If you are teaching hybrid or online courses, this might be your best, first option.

-If there are other institutions nearby, look up similar academic units on their campus. I think it would be a rare teaching and learning center which would turn down helping a faculty member at a nearly educational site. Admittedly, the center might be less able to share resources with you, but time talking should be fine.

Near bottom of slide are about thirty figures of people, all in black shadow. Above them are the icons for many online communities, such as Facebook, etc.-Look for online groups. Sociology, for example, has several Facebook groups devoted to pedagogical interests (see the end of this post for links to some of them). Usually, there are some screening questions before one can join, but the process is fairly painless. Often there are several posts a day. They might be from people asking for pedagogical ideas to teach a specific concept; others might be asking for classroom management tips, or the poster might be sharing how a pedagogical strategy “went” in class. Such groups typically have a search function, so that you can find past comments about a teaching strategy you are interested in trying in class.

Academic Twitter -- the blue bird that is Twitter's icon wearing a black mortarboard-Academic Twitter also is a great place to look for pedagogical conversations (in byte-size pieces, admittedly!). Look for some discipline-specific twitter accounts but here are some exceptional higher education accounts to follow:

@AcademicChatter – connect with grad students, ECRs, and senior academics

@BarbiHoneycutt – her account; lots of techniques on breaking up lectures, etc.

@CathyNDavidson – her account

@cirtlnetwork – Advancing the teaching of STEM disciplines

@deandad – Matt Reed’s account (formerly “Dean Dad” columnist at IHE, now uses own name)

@dgooblar – David Gooblar’s account (columnist at The Chronicle)

@Katie_Linder – her account

@KenBain1 – his account

@NEH_ODH – NEH Digital Humanities account

@PSUOpenCoLab – praxis-oriented lab focused on innovative, student-centered pedagogy

@saragoldrickrab – Sara Goldrick-Rab’s account

@teachingcollege – encourages engagement with scholarship on teaching

@ThomasJTobin – his account; going alt-ac; accessibility and universal design

@tressiemcphd – Tressie McMillan Cottom’s account

So readers, what are your favorite online sources to get pedagogical support or inspiration? Share in the comments. And next week, we’ll discuss how to start your own teaching circle/teaching support group.

Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.

Resources To Get You Started

Agile Learning – blog by Derek Bruff

Chronicle of Higher Education (some articles behind paywall)

Inside Higher Ed

SOTL by Design

The Teaching Professor

Facebook Groups – Sociology — Teaching with a Sociological Lens — Shared Teaching Resources for Sociology — Sociology — Sociological Images — Sociology at Work

Facebook Groups – Pedagogy — Lecture Breakers – Curriculum & Pedagogy

Facebook Groups – Higher Ed



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