UW News

April 16, 2009

Pedagogy is the priority at the annual UW Teaching and Learning Symposium April 21

Would you like to hear about a program that helps advanced doctoral students learn to succeed in an interdisciplinary environment? How about a class that allows students to connect with researchers in the field and then to pass along what they learn to the general public?

These are just two subjects you could explore at the annual UW Teaching and Learning Symposium, which is scheduled for 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 21, in the HUB Ballroom.

The Symposium will open with a keynote address, Taking the Mystery Out of Learning for Your Students, by Mary Pat Wenderoth, UW Department of Biology. The address will be followed by 51 concurrent poster sessions and presentations, featuring the innovative work of faculty, staff and TAs on all three UW campuses.

The Project for Interdisciplinary Pedagogy (PIP), for example, brings doctoral students from Seattle to UW Bothell, where they are paired with a faculty mentor in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. They remain for the whole academic year and teach two to three interdisciplinary classes.

“The mentor-grad student pairings are not based on academic discipline but on common interests,” said Martha Groom, associate professor and one of the co-directors of the program. “For example, we had an anthropologist who works with Native American oral traditions mentoring a forest resources graduate student who was interested in weaving Native American traditions into her forest restoration work.”

Graduate students meet with their mentors regularly, and the whole group meets several times over the course of the year, Groom said. Early on, there are workshops on creating teaching portfolios and course syllabi; then the graduate students and their mentors develop workshops for the whole cohort on the teaching methods they’ve been trying.

“We are focused on what it is to be an interdisciplinary scholar, what it is to teach an interdisciplinary course,” Groom said. “Doing this boundary crossing is challenging. We have different students at UWB than in Seattle. It’s a cultural adjustment.”

UWB students, she explained, are apt to more diverse in terms of age and experience. In addition, because they are enrolled in an interdisciplinary program, teachers cannot assume students enter any given course with a particular knowledge base as they might know if they were majoring in a single discipline.

“So you have to ask, ‘What are the essential bits of knowledge in my field? What are the areas I have to include for people to move ahead in my course?'” Groom said. “It challenges us to be more articulate about why we teach as we do.”

Both mentors and graduate students have given PIP rave reviews, calling it “superlative,” “outstanding” and “unparalleled.” And attendees at the Teaching and Learning Symposium will get a sneak peek at the program through three posters — an introductory poster, one from the graduate fellow’s perspective and one from the mentor’s perspective.

“We hope to recruit future cohorts of PIP fellows and invite more conversation across the campuses on our teaching practices,” Groom said.

Another poster presenter is Ursula Valdez, whose project is titled Talking about Cultivating a Passion for the Natural Sciences: Developing an Active Learning Course in Ecology. Valdez, who is a biology graduate student from Peru, specializes in tropical biology, and she noticed that the largest group of students who major in biology are planning to go to medical school rather than into careers in ecology or organismal biology. She hypothesized that this might be in part because some classes in biology are large and are taught using a traditional lecture method.

“So I wanted to pass a little bit of the passion on to students and try to engage them earlier in their career, at the moment they’re making a decision about their major,” Valdez said.

She’s designed a class that will connect the students to researchers in the field, so that they can use real data to design and execute a study. And having done the study, they will then be asked to present the results, not only in class, but also in a community setting — such as a retirement home, a kindergarten or a club.

“I want them to learn how to talk to nonscientists and pass on some of their passion for the subject,” Valdez said.

In addition to the class, which is scheduled for this summer, Valdez is taking a group of students to Peru for an Exploration Seminar, and she’s going to suggest to them that they might like to take the class before they go. Afterward, she plans to compare the students who took both the class and the seminar to those who took one or the other.

Valdez and Groom’s presentations are only two on the schedule for the Teaching and Learning Symposium. Poster presentations are grouped into six topic areas:

  • Learning focused assignment design
  • Experiential learning
  • Course re/design
  • Understanding the undergraduate experience
  • Interdisciplinary teaching and learning 
  •  Examining teaching

In addition, there will be demonstration and discussion tables, where presenters restart their talks every 15 minutes.

The symposium is free and open to anyone. Click here to view the complete schedule.