For the past three weeks I’ve been taking part in Tufts’ Graduate Institute for Teaching (GIFT). GIFT is a two part program for graduate students that focuses on their professional development as educators. The first part, which I’ve just completed, is a series of workshops on a variety of topics integral to teaching including student cognition, course design, technology in the classroom, and conflict resolution. Each workshop was lead by a different Tufts professor and it was a great opportunity to learn not only the explicit content of their workshops, but to also learn by example as they employed the teaching methods they were talking about. The second part of the program will take place in the spring, when I will lead at least two class sessions in Prof. Atherton’s computational physics class, which is being taught for the first time and which we are currently developing.
In addition to the professor-taught workshops, us GIFTers were also given opportunities to try out the teaching skills we were developing. In the “Current Events” exercises which were interspersed between workshops, each of us lead a discussion on a topic of our choice, giving us the opportunity to practice our facilitation skills. Once the workshops were over, the last week of the program consisted of presentations given by the GIFTers. These presentations were really classes: each of us taught a 40-minute lesson in our own area of expertise at an introductory level. We practiced using the strategies we learned about in the first two weeks of the program, especially group activities and other forms of interactive learning. After each lesson we spent about half an hour giving feedback, which was always extremely constructive. Overall, the success of these lessons was a testament to how much we had each learned. Considering there were five lessons a day and I came out of each having learned something about the topic and about teaching, and it never started to feel tedious, something is obviously being done right.
For me, the two main highlights of the program were the opportunities given to us to practice using the skills we were learning, and the interdisciplinary diversity of the participants. The students in the program came from backgrounds in physics, math, english, computer science, drama, biomedical engineering, child development, biology, international relations, and nutrition. It was refreshing to spend a few weeks outside of my own academic niche.
The GIFT program was a fantastic opportunity and I’m grateful to have been part of it. While it was relatively short and you could spend semesters on any given topic that we might have covered in an afternoon, I now have at least a firm foundation and I can build on it as I move forward. I’m already applying what I’ve learned to the design of the computational physics course, and I’m looking forward to the spring when I’ll be able to use these skills in the classroom as well.
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