professional portfolio
A General Philospohy
Faculty Development

the workshop leader


People learn by confronting intriguing, beautiful, or important problems, authentic tasks that will challenge them to grapple with ideas, rethink their assumptions, and examine their mental models of reality. — Ken Bain in What the Best College Teachers Do (Harvard University Press, 2004)

Over the last four years, I have presented over 40 workshops on nearly a dozen different topics, from designing meaningful courses, creating active learning environments and managing large enrollment courses to understanding student evaluations and creating a teaching portfolio.  Regardless of the topic, I design and implement each workshop with the following four goals in mind:

  • ground the content in the educational literature, support it by research when appropriate, and augment it through personal experience
  • create an atmosphere which fosters group discussion and promotes self-reflection
  • actively engage the participants using effective teaching strategies
  • explicitly model the ideas I’m trying to convey

Implementation of these goals takes multiple forms, and, though distinct, the goals are often interwoven and indistinguishable within the actual workshop.  For example, workshops I conduct on active learning strategies include an active learning component where participants learn to tie a knot in a piece of rope.  They actively engage by “visualizing” (seeing a knot tied), “doing” (tying a knot), and “discussing” (explaining how to tie a knot).  As they tie their knot, we discuss the research which describes how and why the different activities (i.e. seeing a knot tied, tying a knot, and explaining how to tie a knot) lead to different types and levels of learning.  In course design workshops, I ask participants to imagine the perfect learning environment, describe that environment in words, and then draw it metaphorically.  We then share their visions and discuss how these relate to the literature on creating significant learning goals.  In other words, I try to create meaningful workshop activities that, as Bain suggests, “will challenge [participants] to grapple with ideas, rethink their assumptions, and examine their mental models of reality.”

Each of these activities requires participants to openly share their beliefs about teaching and learning even though this often makes them feel exposed and vulnerable.  I try to minimize these feeling through personal interactions with each participant, purposeful inclusion of all ideas, and listening deeply to each participant’s thoughts, ideas and struggles.  Specifically, I try to learn every participants name, I afford them opportunities to meet and talk with each other, I use humor to open lines of communication, I listen intently to their questions, I respect their opinions while challenging their assumptions, I treat them as experienced teachers who have much to offer to the discussion.