Archive for September, 2011

Changing Teaching one Fro Yo and Bánh Mì at a Time

I’m tremendously excited to announce Eat Talk Teach Run, a new project I’ve been working on at Emory for the last few months. Over the summer, my colleague, Howard Chiou, and I found ourselves thinking about grad student teaching. For many years, the Laney Graduate School has had a three-day event (TATTO) focusing on pedagogy that all of its students are required to complete, in addition to pedagogy courses in one’s own department. The advantage of this program is that it puts students from different disciplines into the same seminars to discuss teaching on a general level, being coached by faculty members from across the disciplines. But once you’ve done TATTO—typically at the beginning of your second year in grad school—the conversation stops.

Continuing the conversation about teaching across the Laney Graduate School is what we wanted to do. Furthermore, we wanted to recognize that some of the most innovating teaching is likely to come from those people who are experimenting in the classroom—experimenting per force because it is their first time. This is, of course, the graduate students.

Our solution is to put grad students front and center. Eat Talk Teach Run promises to be a monthly event, featuring lightning talks (4-minutes, tops!) by graduate students about an innovative assignment, classroom technique, or observation. We’re going to eschew the typical academic thing and not have any Q&A afterward. Instead we’re hoping to have conversation develop organically among the participants. How do you do that?

Well, we have a couple of theories, but the one we’re trying to begin is making people stand in line. For food. We all know that grad students love a free lunch, but we’ve upped the ante a bit by getting outside the normal university food vendors and have contracted to bring in frozen yogurt from a local store, Yogurt Tap, and bánh mì from our local ethnic food haven, Buford Highway. We hope that the food gets people excited enough to wait a bit and talk about teaching or the presentations with whoever they end up next to. The whole event takes less than an hour, and then people can run back to the lab or library. It’s an experiment. And we feel almost as if we’ve conned someone, but we’ve got the Laney Graduate School funding us.

Along with recognizing that grad students can teach very well, we’re also hoping to recognize the importance of learning across the disciplines. We’re working to get scientists, social science students, and humanities people involved. That’s one of the exciting things about working with Howard, who is not only a current grad student (I having lost street cred some three years ago), but is a current MD/PhD student. We’ve found that at least one humanist and one scientist have a lot to learn from one another.

As I said, it’s experimental in many ways. But perhaps the most is the fact that we’ve got a grad school that is willing to recognize the importance of graduate student teaching. We look forward to reporting on the outcomes.