Allison Bernard (Premodern Chinese Literature)
Midday on November 10th, a group of EALAC PhD students and faculty gathered for a teaching workshop on the topic of East Asian humanities lecture courses. During the hour-and-a-half-long event, graduate students discussed teaching strategies and sought advice from a practiced panel of faculty mentors: Associate Professors David Lurie and Michael Como, Assistant Professor Guo Jue, and Postdoctoral Fellow Gal Gvili.
The well-attended and productive workshop was designed to engage graduate students and faculty members as colleagues at different stages of the teaching profession. Thanks to the energetic participation of faculty and student participants alike, the conversation was fruitful and extensive, benefitting considerably from the amiable atmosphere of informal yet professional exchange. Discussion points ranged from the nuts and bolts of producing a lecture lecture course (take note, present and future teachers: developing modular syllabi is a major time-saving investment) to broader issues of teaching philosophy; among them, the efficacy of using — and sometimes eschewing — technology in the classroom.
Of particular concern to workshop participants was the cumbersome format of the lecture itself. The new digital landscape of learning and scholarship poses existential questions to the lecture as a learning platform. The long-form, often monologue-driven, powerpoint presentation is quickly becoming ineffective as a teaching platform, appealing neither to faculty excited about engaging directly with students nor students who learn better by doing than by passive listening. While some participants had successfully developed lecturing approaches that avoided the most egregious pitfalls of the form, frustrations remained, particularly surrounding the unwieldy size of lecture courses and the spatial constraints of Columbia’s classrooms.
Without posing a universal remedy to the lecture format, workshop participants did identify opportunities for improvement. Equally exciting and daunting was the idea that a lecture could be conducted more like a discussion. By giving up some control to students and liberating the classroom from the dominance of powerpoint, lecturing professors could return to the basic principles of teaching: simplify, reinforce, and engage student curiosity.
The November 10th workshop evinces a growing trend within the department, whereby graduate students are taking the lead to convene and promote professional development events. The workshop’s organizer, Allison Bernard (PhD candidate in Chinese Literature), is one of EALAC’s two current Lead Teaching Fellows (LTFs). The LTF program is an interdisciplinary initiative of Columbia’s Center for Teaching and Learning now in its third year. For the second year in a row, EALAC PhD students have been selected to participate in the LTF initiative, which offers planning support and funding for new programming in fellows’ home departments. This most recent event follows a successful pair of syllabus development workshops, organized in the 2015-16 academic year by the inaugural EALAC Lead Teaching Fellow, Joshua Batts (PhD Candidate in Japanese History). EALAC’s second Lead Teaching Fellow for the 2016-17 year, Chris Chang (PhD Candidate in Chinese History), has also spearheaded a workshop on using WordPress to create a digital archive of one’s research. More programming by Allison and Chris will follow in the spring semester.
CTL Website on Lead Teaching Fellows Program: http://ctl.columbia.edu/graduate-instructors/opportunities-for-graduate-students/lead-teaching-fellows/