What I learned interning in a Community College classroom

In Fall 2014, I entered the Faculty Diversity Internship Program (FDIP) at the Los Rios Community College District in Sacramento, California. I’ve already written about the first phase of the program, which consisted of 6 day-long workshops covering a range of topics related to college teaching and the community college environment. The second phase of the internship is basically a student-teaching experience, where interns are placed into a class at one of the Los Rios colleges for a full semester to observe an experienced instructor, teach, and get feedback from the instructor and students. I completed my internship in BIOL310 (General Biology with lab for non-majors) at American River College, under the guidance of Dr. Rick Topinka.

The internship experience was great – Rick was flexible and willing to let me do as much teaching as I was comfortable with. I learned a lot about college teaching in general and about what to expect from teaching at a community college in particular. Here are some of my main takeaways from the experience: Continue reading


Guidelines for PBGG students interested in teaching careers

In a previous post I presented a proposal for a certificate program, developed by myself and fellow PBGGer Amanda Lavelle, that would serve UC Davis biology grad students interested in teaching careers. After receiving feedback that the certificate program wasn’t tenable, we reworked the program into a set of guidelines, which will be posted on the PBGG website. Here they are:

Guidelines for PBGG students interested in teaching careers

This a series of guidelines for UC Davis PBGG students who are interested in pursuing teaching careers after completing their PhDs. While this is a popular career choice (~20% of our alumni are in positions where teaching in their main function), the coursework and research proscribed by the degree program does not directly prepare students to be successful on this career path*. Therefore, you must undertake significant professional development and training in addition to your degree work. This presents a challenge in balancing career preparation with completing your degree. These guidelines aim to help you do that. Continue reading

I made a cool video of the angiosperm life cycle!

As I have previously mentioned, I have been working as a TA for BIS2C (an intro bio course covering basic phylogenetics and the diversity of life) at UC Davis for a number of years now. To help our students master some of the more complex topics in the course, Joel Ledford, the course coordinator, has been producing short videos about specific subjects. Over the summer, I contributed to that effort by writing and recording this video on angiosperm life cycles. Here’s a screenshot from the video:


The filming was done in the video recording studio at the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences. I drew out the diagram on a large piece of glass, writing as I normally would on a classroom whiteboard. After filming, camtasia was used to adjust colors, crop the image, and finally flip the image (this is why it looks like I must have be writing backwards and with my left hand).

Helping grad students interested in teaching careers: a proposal

Below is a proposed Teaching Certificate Program that Amanda Schrager Lavelle and I put together at the prompting of Joe Edwards, the current PBGSA president. The purpose of the program is address what we perceive as a lack of guidance for students in our graduate group who are interested in teaching careers. While the program will initially only be for PhD students in the plant biology graduate group (PBGG) at UC Davis, we would certainly like to see it expanded to other groups. We will be presenting the program at the annual PBGG meeting in June and would love to get some feedback before then, so please read and comment below.

Proposed PBGG Teaching Certificate Program

The goal of the program is to provide PBGG students with a clear framework for developing their teaching skills, thereby allowing them to improve their competitiveness for teaching jobs/jobs with a significant teaching component. In most cases, this program would be completed after the qualifying exam, most likely in later stages of a student’s PhD career. Completing the program will take a typical PhD student at least 2 years, with the first 1-1.5 years dedicated to completing the TAing and elective requirements. These experiences will make the student more competitive to get into one of the non-TA teaching programs (described below). Continue reading

UCD Graduate Teaching Community: Week 1 – Active Learning

This spring I am participating in the Graduate Teaching Community (GTC) at UC Davis. This is an informal group that meets weekly to discuss an array of topics related to teaching. Each participant leads one meeting per quarter and then summarizes that meeting for the GTC blog. I led the first meeting and wrote up the following summary. You can see the original here.

This quarter, the Graduate Teaching Community decided to shift weekly discussions to a journal-club format, in which we read and discuss a peer-reviewed paper relating to college teaching each week. Our topic this week was active learning and the discussion was based on a review, “Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research” (1). While the review is now a decade old, it is worth reading, as it presumes limited familiarity with education research on the part of the audience, making it more accessible to non-specialists. Our discussion of the paper had two main phases – we talked about overall challenges in interpreting educational studies and then went over active learning, collaborative learning, and problem based learning. Continue reading

My experience with the Los Rios Faculty Diversity Internship Program: Part 2

This is the second article in a two-part series about my experiences with the Fall 2014 workshop series associated with the Faculty Diversity Internship Program (FDIP) at the Los Rios Community College District. For a more thorough background on the program and to read about the first three workshops in the series, please see my previous post.

The last three workshops were led by Dr. Will Davis, who is a professor of biology and director of the MESA program at American River College. Will’s workshops focused on the practical aspects of teaching in the community college classroom.

Week 4

The focus of this workshop was on Continue reading

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: Messages for College Teachers

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Dr. Beverly Tatum is not a new book – it was first published in 1997. However, as the dust of Ferguson settles, it is clear that its subject – understanding racial identity in America – is still critically important. The book, which I strongly recommend to all Americans, looks at what it means to live in a racist society, discusses the idea of privilege, explores the process of racial identity development, and seeks to understand how racial identity impacts the way that people interact in our society. While much of the book focuses on development of racial identity in children, there is also significant discussion of the role of race on the college campus (Dr. Tatum is a professor and college administrator). Continue reading

My experience with the Los Rios Faculty Diversity Internship Program: Part 1

In September, I was accepted into the Faculty Diversity Intership Program (FDIP) at the Los Rios Community College District in Sacramento, California.  The goal of the FDIP is to recruit prospective community college faculty members from a diverse range of backgrounds and prepare them to be successful as community college instructors. The program has two phases. In the fall, interns attend a series of 6 half-day workshops which cover a variety of topics related to effective college teaching as well as issues specific to community colleges. These workshops prepare participants to make the most of the second phase of the internship, where they spend a full semester in a community college class observing, and eventually co-teaching with an experienced instructor. I have just completed the fall workshop series and will devote this post to reflecting on what I learned during the first three workshops. I discuss the second three workshops in a subsequent post. Continue reading

9 Major Takeways From “An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching”

I recently completed my first MOOC (!), “An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching,” which was offered by Vanderbilt University via Coursera. The course was absolutely fantastic! It was put together by a team of traditional STEM professors and STEM education researchers who belong to the CIRTL network. The goal of the course was to introduce graduate students, postdocs, and junior faculty members to a wide range of research on best practices in STEM education and look at how these practices can be implemented in different contexts. I think that the later aspect was what made the course great – after several videos where a lead instructor discussed a particular STEM education idea or practice, there would be several videos that looked how these practices play out in real classrooms – either through candid interviews with faculty and TAs or through recordings of actual classes. This would be followed up by the opportunity, via an assignment or forum prompt, to think about how you would apply the idea or practice in your own teaching. Though the course covered a huge range of interesting and useful topics (I took nearly 25 pages of notes!), I have attempted to extract the top 9 ideas from the course that I will be carrying into my classroom in the future. Here they are (in no particular order): Continue reading