DCAL Helps to Promote Teaching Methods in 5-part Series 

Founded by Dartmouth College in 2004, the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL) provides and facilitates professional development for current and future teachers at Dartmouth. Centering on the learner, DCAL engages with the Dartmouth community through workshops, course series, special programs and services, to support faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and other educators at the college.  

For the Spring term, among other programs, DCAL is running its Future Faculty Teaching Series, taught by DCAL Associate Director, Cindy Tobery and Biomedical Librarian, Pamela Bagley. The 5- part series (which is offered 2-3 times each year) introduces graduate students and postdocs to "educational literature, basic elements of course design, and different instructional methods" (DCAL). With each session focusing on different teaching and learning principles, participants have a chance to learn from one another, to practice instructional methods through activities, and to evaluate their and others' teaching. 

As part of DCAL's mission to orient graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to teaching at Dartmouth, the center's workshops focus heavily on discussions and application of various teaching methods. One goal of the teaching series is to explore teaching methods beyond the lecture.  Almost everyone has experienced good lectures but not so many people have experienced varied active learning techniques, and DCAL draws from current active learning pedagogy and theory to develop these in their courses and programs.

One teaching method Tobery introduced to the participants in a recent workshop was the jigsaw collaborative technique, in which students learn a topic as a group and each group member teaches it to a different group. A graduate student in Computer Science noted, “This technique gives students, in particular introverted students, an opportunity to open up and teach their peers.”

Another technique participants learned in this series was the send-a-problem activity, where groups are given a folder with a question inside, and this folder is passed around with each group contributing their solution(s). Working together as a group, students then deliberated on the best possible solution to their folder question. Participants, particularly those in natural sciences graduate programs, found it a useful tool that allows students to solve problems collaboratively, as well as teach them critical thinking skills.

Feedback from participants indicates they enjoy discovering new methods that they will use as teachers, noting the significant student learning outcomes of each activity. A postdoctoral fellow in Dartmouth's department of classics noted she now frequently uses the affinity grouping technique in her class on conjugation categories of Greek words. A chemistry doctoral student, who one day hopes to teach the subject, said, “The group grid was my favorite activity; I can see potential in using this as a teacher because it helps students understand and categorize chemical reactions given off by certain chemicals.”

Cindy Tobery holds a PhD in Molecular Biology from Princeton University. Following her passion for teaching, Tobery joined DCAL in 2007 and has since worked to promote the professional development of graduate students and postdocs at Dartmouth. When asked what her goal at DCAL is, Tobery responded, “Everything I do here at DCAL is part of my goal for people to get to know each other across campus. For this series, it’s to expose them to some of the basics in teaching and learning, with a focus on active student-centered learning because I think people have lots of good examples of lectures and maybe less of some of the activities we did so far in this series.” These teaching and learning activities, she points out, are examples of effective methods that graduate students and postdocs can use in their careers as teachers in one form or another.

For more information about the Future Faculty Teaching Series and upcoming events, please visit the DCAL News & Events page at http://dcal.dartmouth.edu/news-events. For other professional development events for graduate students and postdocs at Dartmouth, please visit http://libcal.dartmouth.edu/calendar/gradstudies