The Department of Psychology has undertaken a new initiative to enhance training our graduate students’ pedagogy. While the primary focus of their Ph.D programs is the research aspect of their field, more focus is being given on how to convey that information, which is important when speaking at conferences or other events where they will need to defend their research. One such way is to increase their skill in the classroom. In order to assist with this, the department as hired Dr. Alison Melley to oversee these graduate students as they start working as instructors of record for our undergraduate courses.
Dr. Melley previously taught at Mongtomery College, which had a cap of 25 students per classroom, so at first she was a bit overwhelmed by the number of students in some of our larger courses. To help better understand the types of students that the graduate assistants and lecturers are dealing with, she is teaching PSYC 100 this semester: a course that currently has over 300 students enrolled. While she enjoys teaching the introductory courses, this does change how she teaches the course.
“I don’t like multiple choice,” she says, and usually prefers to have essay tests. However, in a class this large, that proves to be a bit of a challenge. Her teaching philosophy is to help students engage with the information, not just memorization. “What you need to learn is how to use that information” is part of her teaching philosophy.
It’s that philosophy that she is using to help revamp PSYC 850, which is the teaching practicum course the graduate students take simultaneously while they shadow a full time faculty member in a given course section. She focuses on how she can help the instructors of record engage with the students. This can involve little things such as not reading off of the slides, or by helping them find their biggest area of growth and using that to help motivate students.
To Dr. Melley, a lot of it comes down to trying to figure out why people make choices. Specifically, she wants to ask these graduate students why they are making the choices that they make while teaching these courses. In order to help them, she has a wide variety of resource to help put into consideration the types of students that they are teaching, such as disability services, thinking about cultural conflicts, and focusing on reflective teaching. The focus of this is to help instructors of record look inward in order to determine what types of students are doing the learning. She enjoys this type of teaching, and she enjoys helping them figure this out.
Primarily though, the important thing is for everyone to remember who they are. Be honest with where they are in their studies and what they’re comfortable teaching, and how they are prepared to work with students. One of the first things Dr. Melley did when coming into the classroom was to ask these students what their expectations were, and then she focused the class around their needs and concerns. It’s the focus on the strategies that’s the important part. She has even set aside time for students to go to the Innovations in Teaching and Learning Conference to help students get as much information as possible.
During the Spring semester, Dr. Melley will spend time in the classroom, observing these students in their own first class as an instructor of record, with the idea being that she can still serve as a resource in the spring. It’s with these ideas that she hopes to help our graduate students grow within the department.