Recap: Humanities Alliance Professional Development, May 5 workshop

On Friday, May 5, the Humanities Alliance’s staff, faculty mentors, and Graduate Teaching Fellows met for our monthly professional development workshop. This month’s workshop encouraged the program’s graduate fellows to reflect on and discuss their experiences with teaching at LaGuardia, with an eye toward preparing for the end of the semester.
Our agenda for the morning:

9:00        Breakfast
9:30        Welcome and Overview of the Agenda
9:35        Reflections on LaGuardia Students
10:05      Year-End or High-Stakes Assignments and Grading
10:50       Break
11:05        Integrating Digital Tools
12:30       Wrap Up and Lunch

The Humanities Alliance project is guided by the notion that community colleges are distinctive learning environments, and that doctoral students should be provided with opportunities for training and teaching in these colleges. Each fellow was invited to discuss their experience in the classroom with LaGuardia’s students, with the following questions in mind:

  • How have you experienced your classroom as similar to and different from your classrooms at other colleges?
  • How is your course working with LaGuardia students?
  • Are there any assignments that you brought from previous teaching that you’ve transformed for teaching at LaGuardia? How have you changed them?
  • Where are the innovations you’re making in your teaching, and how are the students responding to that?

The fellows took turns responding to these questions. Some reflected on the differences between teaching language and literature courses, offered critical perspectives on monolingual education and the politics of language in New York City, and noted the different experiences that day and evening students bring into their classrooms. Several fellows discussed how they teach writing as a process, with scaffolded assignments. As a part of this process, they may spend more time with students to discuss the assignments. Another fellow noted that she had changed her course quite a bit after teaching it for the first time at a four-year college; while she had taught the course with a textbook and lectures at the four-year, at LaGuardia, she organized the course around a set of different chapter-based readings, and facilitated discussions–a change she was able to make after observing her faculty mentor’s class.
Our discussion then turned to “year-end” or “high-stakes” assignments. Fellows described the assignments they had created for their courses–whether research essays or multimedia projects–the assignment’s learning goals, how they communicate their expectations for the assignment, and provide feedback to their students, and more. Most fellows created assignments that were scaffolded to lower the stakes of the “year-end” assessment and give students opportunities for feedback and revision before receiving a final grade. One fellow discussed how they use Google docs to collect questions about the assignment,  and a course website to do peer review of papers. The fellow said that, as a result, ‘High stakes assignments lose meaning in my class because they kind of know how they’re doing and what I think of it, and what their peers think of it and what they need to do next, before they turn it in. They also turn in what they would do better or change if they had another week to do the assignment. They’re constantly having a dialogue with me and their peers, so (the idea of the assignment as) “high stakes” loses meaning.’
In the workshop’s final hour, we began a discussion of educational technologies, with a focus on how such tools are currently used at LaGuardia. Eric Hoffmann provided us with an overview of LaGuardia’s digital landscape, in the context of the founding of LaGuardia’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Estefany Gonzaga, a Student Success Mentor at LaGuardia and Futures Initiative Peer Mentor, presented how students create ePortfolios using the Digication platform in their First Year Seminars, and how this contributes to their professional development throughout their time at LaGuardia. Her presentation prompted faculty mentors to discuss how they approach and use the platform in their courses. As it turned out, the mentors use this tool in many different ways: As a way to learn more about their students, prompt a conversation, create snapshots of student writing and progress, encourage students to reflect on their writing process and progress, and more.  
Our discussion of digital tools will continue on June 2, 2017, at our next and final workshop for the year, when Elizabeth Alsop and Kitana Ananda will facilitate a discussion about pedagogy driving the use of digital tools.

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