This semester, economics teaching assitant Philipp Schmidt-Dengler GRD ’06 had to watch himself teach a section on videotape — something he said he did not enjoy. But because it was a learning experience, the consultation session was worth it, he said.
In conjunction with the McDougal Graduate Teaching Center, the Economics Department is seeking to improve the performance of economics teaching assistants. In order to achieve that goal, many teaching assistants for undergraduate economics courses will have meetings with Graduate Teaching Center consultants, watch themselves teach on video and discuss strategies for improvement, said William Rando, director of the Graduate Teaching Center.
“[The purpose is to] help graduate teaching fellows make the most of their teaching experience,” Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield said. “We view the teaching experience as playing several roles. Through teaching one learns communication in a way unlike any other.”
The idea for the program is an outgrowth of the individual consultations the Graduate Teaching Center already provides, Rando said. Last fall, economics professor Benjamin Polak had all of his teaching assistants receive consultation, and the Economics Department decided to expand the idea this semester, Rando said.
“They never identified any problem, they just thought that this was a good idea,” Rando said. “Hopefully it will let us identify what some of the issues are in teaching economics — It’s a very valuable process for anyone who’s teaching at some point in their teaching to get this kind of feedback.”
Economics Director of Graduate Studies Donald Brown said he hopes all the graduate students in the Department eventually will get this training. He said the training is required for teaching assistants who want to teach summer courses, which is a very coveted opportunity.
“The way you train future teachers is for them to teach here,” Brown said. “It’s a good thing to put on your [curriculum vitae] — Also it works. They are more effective teachers.”
Rando said the Teaching Center consultants evaluate presentation style, discussion-leading and student participation. He said the feedback is personalized, rather than generic. Also, only the teaching assistant knows his or her feedback, which is not shared with the Department.
“We try as much as possible to give people feedback on their own terms,” Rando said.
Schmidt-Dengler, a teaching assistant for intermediate microeconomics, said that when he watched his video, he noticed his teaching habits and the way he interacts with students.
“Watching yourself on videotape was not really a pleasurable experience,” Schmidt-Dengler said. “I was mainly only scribbling on the board and I did not give [the students] a chance to ask questions.”
Schmidt-Dengler said the Graduate Teaching Center consultant discussed his teaching habits and gave him suggestions on how to improve. He said he thought it was helpful and worth the time.
“I think a great move was by the Econ Department to say ‘OK, you guys have to do it,'” Schmidt-Dengler said. “I’m pretty sure I would not have taken advantage of it if it was not mandatory.”
Rando said the Graduate Teaching Center currently has two consultants, but if the program continues, it will need to hire more. He said there is already some interest from other departments.
“We’re going to do a full assessment,” Rando said. “We will know better by the end of the semester how well it went.”
Brown said he was astonished that the Graduate Teaching Center had the resources to meet the needs of the Economics Department, but he thought other departments might want to participate in the program.
“Why wouldn’t a department, DGS, or student want to do this?” Brown said. “There’s just no downside.”