Our newest colleagues at UD received many resources and orientation programs in their first few months. We check in with Chris (Lerner College) to see what has had the biggest impact on his teaching, and what tips he has for you.
Chris Lynch Short Bio:
Chris joined the University of Delaware Lerner College in 2016 after 30 years in the corporate world. Chris started his career as a CPA at Arthur Andersen & Co. and then held various finance, marketing and business development roles at American Express and JP Morgan Chase. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from the College of William and Mary and a Masters of Business Administration degree from Stanford University.
Question #1: What campus resource(s) did you use during your first year?
A: Two campus resources were invaluable to me during my first year of teaching: the Faculty Commons and the Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning. Between these two groups, I was able to get my various questions related to teaching and technology answered. These groups were very responsive to all of my questions and needs. I never felt alone in making the transition to teach at UD with these readily available resources.
In addition, the Classroom Media group was very helpful in dealing with questions on classroom technology and making sure that my classroom had the equipment that I needed.
Question #2: Can you tell us about something that you learned during your initial two-day New Faculty Orientation that you have found helpful this year?
A: The New Faculty Orientation did an excellent job of providing many of the tools and resources available to be an effective instructor. The most important things I learned were how to use the Learning Management System, how to write an effective syllabus and becoming familiar with the overall classroom technology. In addition to these basics, I was introduced to other tools (e.g.,clickers) that I didn’t try to use my first semester, but knew I would want to eventually incorporate into my class.
Question #3: Did you participate in any of the other new faculty activities during your first year?
A: I participated in the Summer Faculty Institute which was an excellent program to get ideas for improving my teaching. The combination of both internal and external speakers was excellent. Since this was held just after the end of the Spring semester, I could readily reflect back on my first year of teaching and have an uncluttered mind to start to think about the set of improvements to make in future semesters.
Also, I participated in some of the social-type activities for new faculty. Most notably, there was an opportunity to visit the Winterthur Museum and get a behind the scenes tour that you wouldn’t be able to get on your own. These activities provided wonderful opportunities to get to know new faculty as well as learn more about the local area.
Question #4: What advice would you offer new faculty about their first year at UD?
A: My advice to new faculty is to think about the transition to teaching as a multi-year effort and not try to do too much in your first one or two semesters. There is so much going on with the first year of teaching that it can be easy to become inundated with the many different things to think about. I set some basic goals for my first year of teaching and worked to do well against these basic goals. I then could work on gradual improvement each subsequent semester by implementing one or two changes per semester to become a more effective instructor.
In other words, I felt that I could only do so much at any one given time. I didn’t want to take the risk of trying to do too much at once and then be less than successful with the basics.
Question #5: Is there anything you learned during your first year at UD that you would like to implement this coming year?
A: I’ll highlight two key things I learned during my first year. This first is around the use of clickers. I didn’t use clickers at all during the fall semester but started to use them during the spring semester. I found this to be an effective tool to improve engagement with the students especially in a large auditorium setting. But my main learning was that it isn’t simply about whether you are using clickers or not. Rather, the way in which the clicker is used can be the difference between significantly improved student engagement vs. a marginal improvement.
At a minimum, clickers can track attendance and create some basic level of student interaction. My learning was that there is an art to using clickers and this deals with the quality of the question being asked and the discussion around the question. A good clicker question is one that is answerable by the students but requires them to think about more than one basic concept to find the correct answer. There can then be a rich discussion around why four of the multiple choice questions are the wrong answer and why the one is the right answer. My goal with each new semester is to keep adding more high quality clicker questions that can get to this rich classroom discussion.
The second key learning is around the number of opportunities for students to earn points for their final grade. For my first semester, the grading criteria was based on just two exams (a mid-term and a final) and homework. This created an inordinate (and unnecessary) amount of pressure on students to do well on exams. For example, a 25 multiple choice question midterm exam worth 40% of the final grade means that each question is worth a full 1.6% of a student’s final grade. I have adjusted this to have three exams and other opportunities to earn points that makes each exam question worth less overall, but still retains the right incentives to learn the material well.