Beyond the Classroom
Monday, January 9, 2023
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Collegiate teaching is not a simple task. Educating means more than preparing a lesson plan and standing at the front of a lecture hall.
The administrative team within the Oklahoma State University Ferguson College of Agriculture recognizes the importance of empowering, supporting and celebrating educators to best reach students in and out of the classroom, said Cynda Clary, associate dean for academic programs.
Creating a community of teaching scholars is a crucial piece in the mission of developing teachers, Clary said. The implementation of teaching workshops, peer coaching and educator recognition allows educators to participate in continual professional growth and learning.
Teaching workshops occur before each semester begins.
Workshop contributors range from outside lecturers or professors from other universities to faculty within the college. The workshops provide an opportunity for faculty to learn and to connect with one another.
“We have many speakers and contributors within our own college teaching one another about the things they are doing in the classroom and the way they are coaching their teams and mentoring graduate students,” Clary said. “They explain what works for them in their situations.”
Workshop attendees vary from those with majority teaching appointments to those who have majority research appointments — faculty early in their careers and experienced professors as well as graduate students.
“I really liked how our administrators got people from within the college to share their experience of teaching,” said Brittany Lippy, graduate research assistant and animal science doctoral student. “They also had younger professors who were able to share their newer ideas, especially right off the cusp of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Kathrin Dunlap, Fall 2022 teaching workshop presenter from Texas A&M University, focused on the importance of scholarly teaching, Lippy said.
“The mindset is realizing there is a science to teaching and some things work and some things don’t,” Lippy said. “It isn’t just teaching to teach.
“You are teaching for a reason,” she added. “You are not teaching at the students, you are teaching for them, which is something the Ferguson College of Agriculture stresses, too.”
By attending the teaching work- shops, Lippy said she has learned so much about connecting with students. Beatrix Haggard, associate professor in the plant and soil sciences department, left a lasting impact on Lippy’s teaching style.
“Dr. Haggard’s ability to meet her students where they are and to connect with each individual student is absolutely incredible,” Lippy said. “The way she genuinely cares about teaching is evident.”
From a doctoral student perspective, workshop attendance by graduate students across disciplines has increased, Lippy said.
“More graduate students are realizing the workshops are valuable and can give a really cool method or experience of how to teach,” Lippy said.
At least 10 graduate students from the animal science department attended the Fall 2022 teaching workshop, Lippy said, and graduate students from the other disciplines attended, as well.
“In 2022, we had our largest enrollment ever, which was more than 100 for the teaching workshop,” Clary said. “That is incredibly impressive because it sends a message that professors value that aspect of their work.”
In addition to workshops, peer coaching empowers teachers through mentorship within the Ferguson College of Agriculture, Clary said. Participation in this mentorship program reinforces faculty can learn from one another, she said.
Pairing professors from different disciplines offers each participant a chance to see a different teaching style and methodology, said Deb VanOverbeke, assistant dean of academic programs.
“This allows them to focus on the mechanisms of teaching rather than the content,” VanOverbeke said. “We are purposeful in our pairings.”
Pairings are made based on what each individual wants to gain from the program and the styles of classes they teach, she said.
For example, some teachers may be paired with someone who also teaches smaller classes or large introductory classes, she added.
As a previous participant herself, VanOverbeke was paired with a natural resource ecology and management professor who researched fisheries. Although she knew little about the class subject, she watched his teaching structure and provided recommendations to improve his lecture.
“Peer coaching gives you another set of eyes from your peers, allowing them to come in and give you feedback on your teaching and facilitating of a specific class,” said Nathan Smith, a peer mentorship participant and aninstructor in the OSU Department of Agricultural Education, Communications and Leadership.
“Another fruit of mentorship is being able to sit down together after your peer comes and watches you teach to reflect in a safe, nonjudgmental environment,” he said.
After observing each other’s classes, the faculty members meet to provide suggestions to create more engaging and cohesive classes for students, Smith said.
From the perspective of a faculty member preparing teachers to enter the field of education, Smith said, participating in the peer mentorship program allows him to bring back new information to his own classroom for his students, as well.
Not all faculty members receive training in how to teach in a collegiate classroom, he said. Through peer mentorship, the methods used to better engage students are learned organically by faculty members who lack a teaching background, he added.
“I can then bring my peer’s style back to agricultural education students and reinforce the skills we are teaching,” Smith said.
Teaching always has been valued in the Ferguson College of Agriculture, Clary said, but including peer mentorship provided another avenue to support teachers and their commitment to students.
“I truly appreciate the energy and effort Dr. Clary and Dr. VanOverbeke put into creating a community of teachingscholars,” Smith said. “It shows they truly value what and how we go about teaching. They invest in the experiences the students are getting from the college’s instructors and professors. They are paying it forward and pouring into us as professionals to ensure we are getting the professional development we need.”
The peer mentorship program meets the land-grant mission because teaching is one of the crucial legs of the mission, Smith said. More importantly, the program enhances the college’s family model, he added.
“We are building up our family members and that starts at the teaching level,” Smith said.
Prior to Clary’s arrival 10 years ago, only one teaching award was presented each year. To empower teachers andrecognize their hard work, this needed to be changed, Clary said.
In 2015, the Ferguson College of Agriculture administration implemented four awards for teachers in different stages of their careers with varying responsibilities. Increasing the number of teaching awards simultaneously increased the number of applications submitted. Some of those winners have gone on to earn national teaching awards or help their graduate students to do so, Clary said.
Lippy received a North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Graduate Student Teaching Award in 2021 and credited portions of her application to professional development and teaching philosophies gained from the college’s teaching workshops.
“As a community in this college, it is clear the faculty are committed to students, their own learning, and helping others succeed,” Clary said.
Supporting and strengthening faculty across departments is an important pillar for the Ferguson College of Agriculture, Clary said, and implementing teaching workshops, peer mentorship and educator recognition fits the Cowboy mission.
Story By: Krista Carroll | Cowboy Journal