Tag: education

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to San Diego I go!

I have really exciting news: In August, I’ll be leaving UBC and Vancouver to take up the position as Associate Director of the Center for Teaching Development at UC San Diego! The new Director, Beth Simon, has gotten everyone fired up about learning how to be better instructors. There are faculty just aching for some support so I’m really excited about bringing the community together to share all our expertise. Social media is about to hit teaching and learning at UCSD in a BIG way!

This is a terrific opportunity for me and a natural progression on the career path I’m following. I think I’ll finally shake the imposter syndrome I’ve felt ever since I, with a Ph.D. in mathematics, became an “astronomer.”

There’s so much do right now, not the least of which is getting my house ready to sell. If you follow me on Twitter (I’m @polarisdotca), you may have seen my #homerenovation hashtag a lot lately. Yes, so much to do but so exciting!

Stay tuned. This is just the beginning of a really great adventure!




Workshop on Effective Peer Instruction in Biology

I’m really excited to be running another peer instruction workshop with my colleague Cynthia Heiner. This time, we’re tailoring the content of the clicker questions to biology, thanks to the input (and organization) of our CWSEI colleague, Bridgette Clarkston (@funnyfishes on Twitter). I’ll try to get the presentation into Slideshare. In the meantime, I made of poster [PDF] for the the 2012 CWSEI End-of-Year event that illustrates the clicker choreography we recommend.

Effective Peer Instruction in Biology
Using Clickers

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Presenters Peter Newbury and Cynthia Heiner
CWSEI Science Teaching and Learning Fellows
Time 9:00 – 9:30 am: Coffee and donuts
9:30 am – 12:30 pm: Workshop
12:30 – 1:00 pm: Lunch (provided), chance to mingle and ask questions
Location Biological Sciences Bldg, room 4223 (next to Zoology Main Office)
Workshop This workshop will emphasize best practices for introducing and running peer instruction with clickers. Everyone will have a chance to practice conducting a peer instruction episode, from presenting a question to reacting to the audience’s votes. We’ll talk about whether or not to award clicker marks and point you to resources for learning the technical side of using i>clickers: hardware, software and sync’ing with Vista. We’ll also briefly discuss what makes and effective clicker question and, if time allows, discuss tips for creating effective questions.
Audience This workshop will focus on teaching biology and is open to everyone interested in science education including (but not limited to) faculty, staff, post-docs, graduate students and upper-level undergraduate students.
Please register by Friday, May 11th by contacting Bridgette Clarkston. Please indicate if you’d like to attend the lunch and if you have any dietary restrictions.

Self-enhancement and imposter syndrome: neither is good for your teaching

I read a terrific paper this week by Jennifer McCrickerd (Drake University) called, “Understanding and Reducing Faculty Reluctance to Improve Teaching.” In it, the author lists 6 reasons why some post-secondary (#highered) instructors are not interested in improving the way they teach:

  1. instructors’ self-identification as members of a discipline (sociologists, biologists, etc.) instead of as members of the teaching profession;
  2. emphasis early in instructors’ careers (graduate school, when working to attain jobs and then tenure) on research and publishing;
  3. instructors’ resistance to being told what to do;
  4. instructors’ unwillingness to sacrifice content delivery for better teaching;
  5. instructors’ momentum and no perception that current practices need to change;
  6. risk to sense of self involve with change by change by instructors

These are succinct descriptions of the anecdotes and grumblings I hear all the time, from instructors who have transformed to student-centered instruction, from instructors who see no need to switch away from traditional lectures and from my colleagues and peers in the teaching and learning community whose enable and support change.

What makes McCrickerd’s paper so good, in my opinion, is she connects the motivation behind these 6 reasons  to research in psychology. In particular, to Dweck’s work [1] on fixed- and mutable-mindsets (with fixed-mindset, you can either teach or you can’t, just like some people can do math and some can’t) and to Fischer’s work [2] on dynamic skill theory (which posits, “skill acquisition always includes drops in proficiency before progress in proficiency returns”).

I won’t go into all the details because McCrickerd’s paper is very nice — you should read it yourself. But there’s one facet that I want to examine because of how it relates to a blog post I recently read, “How I cured my imposter syndrome,” by Jacquelyn Gill (@jacquelyngill on Twitter). She writes,

I felt like I’d somehow fooled everyone into thinking I was qualified to get into graduate school, and couldn’t shake the anxiety that someone would ultimately figure out the error. When something good would happen– a grant, or an award– I subconsciously chalked it up to luck, rather than merit.

With that resonating resonating in my head (yes, resonating: I often feel imposter syndrome), I read that McCrickerd traces some instructors’ reluctance to “self-enhancement” which she describes as follows:

Most Westerners tend, when assessing our own abilities, character or behavior, to judge ourselves to be above average in ability. In particular, we view ourselves as crucial to the success of our accomplishments but when not successful, we attribute the lack of success to things other than our actual abilities.

The streams crossed and I scratched out a little table in the margins of the paper:

McCrickerd points out it is only through dissatisfaction that we change our behavior. An instructor with an overly-enhanced self sees no reason to change when something bad happens in class. “Not my fault they didn’t learn…”

And who else does a lot of teaching? Teaching assistants, that’s who. Graduate students with a raging case of imposter syndrome. When something goes wrong in their classes, “It’s my fault. I shouldn’t even be here in the first place…”

Yeah, that’s a real motivator.

So, what do we do about it.Again, McCrickerd has some excellent ideas:

[I]nstructors need to be understood to be learners with good psychological reasons for their choices and if different choices are going to be encouraged, these reasons must be addressed.

The delicate job of those tasked with helping to improve teaching and learning is to engage these reluctant instructors so they begin to look at learning objectively, then to demonstrate there are more effective ways to teach, to closely support their first attempts (which are likely to result in decrease in proficiency) and to continue to support incremental steps forward. It’s not always easy to start the process but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my job, it’s the importance of making a connection and then earning the trust of the instructor.

Now, go read the McCrickerd paper. It’s really good.



[1] Dweck, C. 2000. Self-theories: Their roles in motivation, personality and development. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis Group.

This Scientific American article by Dweck is a nice introduction to fixed and mutable minds-sets

[2] Fischer, K., Z. Yan, & J. Stewart. 2003. Adult cognitive development: Dynamics in the developmental web. In Handbook of developmental psychology, ed. J. Valsiner & K. Connelly, 491-516. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. [pdf from gse.harvard.edu]

 Image “The Show Off. Part 2” by Sister72 on flicker (CC)