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Category: Mid-career Issues

Professor Teaches in the K-12 Classroom
Institutional Climate for Teaching and Change Adoption
Professor with small group of students.
tired teacher
mid career issues
mid-career issues
mid-career issues
It's an instructional development workshop. Will you attend? It might be on campus, a multi-campus event, or a session at a conference. Workshops, like those offered on professional development days or at conferences are the oldest and most common initiative to improve teaching and learning. They've been the stock and trade of teaching centers since the faculty development movement launched in the late 70s. Do they improve teaching and thereby student learning? Not if you don't attend—and a lot of faculty don't. For some, that's because it's not the way they prefer to learn about teaching and learning. For others, it's time away from academic commitments, mostly associated with research. Still others, well, they think they don't need to. Usually that reason doesn't apply to good teachers who are almost always eager to find out more or see if they can pick up something new. It applies to the groups who are okay with their teaching—it is what it is—and they're fine with that. Research on the effectiveness of workshops in advancing the teaching-learning agenda is mixed. In general, longer sessions have more impact that shorter ones. Effectiveness also appears related to how embedded the workshop is in events that come before and follow after. The easiest and most common way workshops are evaluated is by soliciting faculty reactions to them—the student evaluation equivalent of “did you like it?” The call has been repeatedly made to more robustly evaluate the effectiveness of workshops. And some of that is occurring, but it involves classroom observations which are time-consuming and measures of student learning that can be tenuous to tie to teaching behaviors. A less direct way to improve the outcomes of workshops is for faculty to attend with clearer expectations. Some faculty, much like students, arrive at workshops with a do-it unto me mentality—I'm here, go ahead and develop my teaching. The better approach involves a look at the topic followed by an identification of what the participant needs to know about that area. What would you like to learn? What questions would you like to have answered? As any workshop presenter will tell you, you don't have to worry about faculty participants taking notes. They do and they are first-rate notetakers. However, in addition to getting down what's important and what they don't want to forget, participants should also be responding to what's being presented with their own ideas, reactions, insights, and questions. A record of the content is fine, but equally worth recording and remembering are those thoughts that occurred during the session. Faculty are fun to teach in workshops because most of them love resources. Make available a bibliography and then reference some of those sources during the presentation and participants are marking entries with enthusiasm and interest. But are any of those sources consulted subsequently? Participants can make the learning that occurs in workshops more significant. Like students, that happens when the reaction to the session is active not passive. When participants are involved, learning can occur from all that are present, not just the presenter. The years of teaching experience represented by those attending a workshop add up quickly to an impressive repository of experience and wisdom. Sometimes what provokes the most learning in workshops isn't the glowing recount of how I did it and what happened in my class, but the question provoked by something that didn't work or something that's an ongoing dilemma, conundrum, or challenge. And what about when the workshop is bad or just not very good? That situation merits constructive feedback to the presenter and to those who organized the session. What were the hopes for leaning and what happened instead? What topics should be covered in workshops? What workshop structure and formats contribute to the learning experience? Workshops are like courses—in lots of ways, you get out of them what you put into them. For many teachers, workshops are one of the few opportunities to reflect on teaching and learning. They provide the chance to learn from someone with greater expertise and from colleagues who face the same students and share the same instructional spaces. A good workshop informs, inspires, and raises questions without easy answers.