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Reflections on my Experience in the Teaching and Learning Certificate Program

After having attended over a dozen workshops offered throughout DePaul’s Teaching and Learning Certificate Program (TLCP), I have developed a much better sense of what I can do as a teacher to affect a positive and measurable transformation in my students. I also learned that I am not alone in my quest to find innovative teaching practices that can be readily implemented in my courses.  Teaching and Learning Certificate Program logo

Among the many things that I have come to learn and actually implement in my various courses are the following:

  • Designing a course to promote conceptual understanding by focusing on the big picture rather than the myriad details that it may entail. I recall, for instance, the Fall Forum of 2012 that focused on critical thinking and the Teaching for Success workshop that helped me appreciate better how the great diversity of students’ backgrounds in our classroom is and should be utilized as a foundational component of our course and teaching planning.
  • Emphasis on learner-center teaching pedagogies. I recall our recent Annual Conference (May 2014) with a focus on making the most of class time. (Watch the keynote address).
  • The importance of reflecting rigorously on teaching and learning, conducting our own research to improve our teaching, and sharing our findings with the community at large. I recall vividly the 2013 Fall Forum which focused on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. (Watch the keynote address).
  • The importance of understanding, to some extent at least, the biological basis for how people learn. I recall the workshop on Neuroscience and Learning. It was a very inspirational workshop that helped me appreciate some of the reasons why students may have difficulties learning some types of materials, whereas others may not. This workshop helps me, then, plan my courses taking into account more intentionally the diverse range of learners that I encounter in my classroom.

I have implemented some of the recommendations or suggestions I got form the various workshops as what I call Pedagogical Innovations in my course reflections that I typically do at the end of each academic year.

For example, one particular teaching strategy that I tried for my physical chemistry course (CHE306) is along the lines of flipping the classroom. What I did was to develop a series of videoclips (usually one every Friday) where I carried out some critical mathematical derivations in great detail, had students watch the video over the weekend, and then on Monday we as a group discussed (rather than derived) the derivation steps, and the physical chemistry meaning of the terms involved in the equation, as well as the equation itself.

Another strategy that I found to have worked quite well in my statistical thermodynamics class (CHE470) was the use of collaborative learning (Making Group Work Work). I assigned homework to be done in pairs (each week different partners were assigned). One aim here was to foster cooperative learning and teamwork. Students seemed to have seen the benefits of this approach as indicated in the student evaluation comments. I am particularly glad to see that many of the students’ comments speak highly of the pedagogical advantages, for example, of teamwork as revealed in the homework assignments and the emphasis on applying what we learn beyond what is given in the classroom. I also noticed that all students used heavily my office hours to go over topics or express concerns as they were working through the homework.

In short, I am very grateful for the many teaching strategies and ideas that I learned in the TLCP workshops I attended. I was able to apply very many of them in my courses, and I have seen how effective and well received by the students they are. I am also grateful for the equally important opportunities I have had to interact with so many of my colleagues who, like me, are always seeking for ways to be a better teacher. I am looking forward to attending new workshops to learn from and share with my colleagues about effective ways to help my students learn better. 

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