Talking About Teaching
Fall 2012

Please join us for a new term of Talking About Teaching, a weekly series (Friday 12:00-1:00 PM) where faculty gather together to discuss teaching, learning, students, and other related topics. Discussion leaders will share an experience, frame a question, or introduce an idea to get the discussion started. Lunch will be provided and no RSVP is necessary.

September 14 – Kelly MacGregor, Geography, and Sarah West, Economics. “Using Facebook to Foster Communication with Students and Alums”
West and MacGregor will talk about their experiences creating and maintaining Facebook groups for their departments. West will also compare the Economics group with the inter-field Public Policy group she administers. They will discuss their motivations for founding these groups, offer tips for how to encourage activity on the group pages, and discuss some of the benefits and challenges encountered when students and alums use the pages to network. They look forward to hearing about other experiences with the many Facebook groups now active at Macalester.

September 21- Ron Barrett, Anthropology, and Erik Davis, Religious Studies.  “The Dark Art of Co-Teaching.”
Barrett and Davis co-taught “Defense Against the Dark Arts” last year, a course about witchcraft beliefs and accusations that explored the relationships between Magic, Religion, and Science. In this session they will discuss the opportunities, challenges, and lessons learned when performing the dark art of teaching across disciplines, perspectives, and styles.

September 28 - Paul Overvoorde, Biology. “Transforming Data into Knowledge in an Era of BIG Data.”
As Program Director, Overvoorde will provide an overview of the $1.3M award to Macalester College from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. This award supports curricular development and four novel programs for students. The theme of the award is to better prepare students (and faculty) to handle, visualize, and evaluate data sets of increasing size and complexity. It involves faculty from across the sciences, social sciences, mathematics, and computer science. The discussion that follows the introductory comments will aim to explore the impact of this award on the campus community.

October 4- Mark Maclean, University of British Columbia. “Teaching Methods Comparison in a Calculus Class: Can We Measure the Effects of High-Engagement Teaching?”
In 2011, Deslauriers, Schelew, and Wieman published in Science the results of an experiment that compared a high-engagement instructional method to traditional lecturing in a first-year physics course. They concluded that a novice instructor trained in this high-engagement method "doubled the learning" over the experienced, traditional lecturer during the week-long experiment. We explored the impacts of this method in a first-year calculus course and considered two questions: 1) Compared to traditional, lecture-based instruction, will students demonstrate more sophisticated reasoning on an immediate test of learning when high-engagement learning is implemented (100 to 150 minutes of class time)?  2) Will any effects persist to later, standard tests of learning in the course?

October 12- No program.  Please consider attending the Macalester International Roundtable talk by the artist Tattfoo Tan, which will be held today from noon-1 in the John B. Davis Lecture Hall, lower level of the Campus Center.

October 19- Victor Addona, Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science. “Purposes, Inflation, Compression, and Lake Wobegon.”
Addona will lead a discussion on grading policies. What are the primary functions of grades? If different faculty members propose different primary functions, and put these into practice, each using the same letter symbols, this will result in an inevitable miscommunication. He will also discuss the consequences, positive and negative, of the improving grades at Macalester--in particular, how these changing grades impact our "best" students, and what message(s) they might send to a student doing mediocre work.

October 26– No program.  Fall Break.

November 2 - John Cannon, Physics. "Integrating Research into the Classroom."
Bridging the gap between scholarship and teaching is challenging.  Is there a model that combines both?  Cannon will discuss an upper level astronomy course where a major research component forms part of the curriculum.  In this course, students acquire and analyze scientific data; results have been disseminated at national conferences and in peer-reviewed journals.  The discussion should generate new ideas for course design that encourage faculty in diverse disciplines to undertake similar endeavors.

November 9 - Ellen Holte-Worle, DeWitt Wallace Library, Terry Krier, English, and Martine Sauret, French and Francophone Studies. “Unlocking the Secret Room:  Enhancing Teaching with Rare Books and Special Collections.”
The proliferation of digital resources, both current and historical, has greatly enhanced undergraduate teaching and learning.  But digital surrogates don't always convey the wonder, inspiration, and research potential that happens when students have the opportunity to interact with and use rare and special materials.  Please come to hear about the Library's special collections and the experiences of two faculty bringing their courses to the Rare Books Room.  We would like to hear your ideas about special materials that could bring to life concepts or content for your students.

November 16 -  Chris Willcox, Art and Art History.  “ I'm Ok, You're Ok: Postmodern Critique in a Studio Art Context.”
Too often, studio critiques degenerate into the “I like it, I don’t like it” binary. Good interpretations of Art should tell more about the artwork than they tell about the critic. The challenge for many professors of Art is to be able to help students build persuasive, objective arguments when interpreting or judging artworks. This session will highlight strategies for soliciting diverse interpretations from a number of viewers, helping to enrich and enliven the studio critique.

November 30 - Erik Larson, Sociology.  “Insights (and Puzzles) from Student Research: Quantitative Thinking and Language Courses.”
During Spring 2012, students in Sociology 269 (Science & Social Inquiry) completed survey-based research projects. Among these projects were surveys of sophomores (class of 2014) about quantitative thinking courses and current students (classes of 2012-15) and alumni about language courses. The survey projects gathered information about students' perceptions of these two elements of the Macalester graduation requirements, the reasons that students gave for selecting particular courses, and the skills and other benefits students associated with these courses. During this session, Larson will share some of the findings from these projects with the goal of providing an opportunity for participants to discuss some of the questions that these findings present.

December 7 - Mary Montgomery, Biology and Jaine Strauss, Psychology.  “Enhancing Student Engagement in Large Classes:  Beyond the Clicker and the “Flip”.”
Most classes campus-wide have fewer than 20 students, but a few classes every semester are substantially larger. In this discussion, Montgomery and Strauss will swap ideas for improving students’ experiences in these large classes (> 35 students). Other workshops on campus have improved their teaching technologies and pedagogies, including using clickers and flipping their classrooms (“reverse instruction”). The focus here will be on time efficient and effective strategies for engaging students in large lecture-based courses where making personal connections with all students is particularly challenging. Montgomery and Strauss will also brainstorm ideas for designing course assignments that challenge and edify students without exhausting the instructor.  We look forward to a lively exchange of ideas!