Hannah Heath-Engel

Writing Fellows Reflections

How would you characterize the experience of working alongside teachers from other departments in the Faculty Writing Fellows project?     

The experience has been very positive: I have had the opportunity to learn about teaching strategies in disciplines very different from my own, and to get a sense of what the students experience in courses outside of my department (in terms of instructional techniques, assignment/test design and goals and evaluation).

As a new teacher, I particularly appreciated the opportunity to meet and share ideas with other teachers (both new and experienced). I found (to my surprise) that many teaching strategies that work in other disciplines (humanities, for example) can be effectively used in MedLab courses. I also found that I need to rethink what I expect students to “already know” from their English and humanities courses – information that will be useful for me in future semesters.

Has participating in WID spurred significant changes in the way you think about teaching in your discipline?

Yes, it has: in our department active learning is a major component of our laboratory sessions, but (in most cases) not of our lecture sessions. We would like to incorporate more active learning into our lectures, but it is difficult to find the time (our courses are very content heavy). After participating in WID, the idea of incorporating more active learning into our lectures seems much more feasible. I think that in the long run it will be possible to adjust the format of my lecture sessions so that active learning is increased and lecturing is decreased, without compromising on required content.

My experience with the WID group has also made me realize the importance and benefits of giving feedback to students early and often, and of structuring the feedback so that it is clear and constructive. Using some of the strategies described in Bean, I hope to be able to improve my evaluation techniques without significantly increasing the amount of marking that I have to do.

Do you expect these changes to have an impact on student learning in your courses?

 Yes, by incorporating more active learning strategies in my courses (including the use of “writing to learn” exercises) I hope to increase student engagement and critical thinking, and thereby to promote understanding as opposed to memorization. I also hope to be able to better evaluate student comprehension – and, as a result, to help those students who are having difficulties – through the use of improved evaluation techniques, modeling of “good” answers and increased use of short in-class assignments.

 I have already incorporated several of the above aspects, specifically:

  • In-class and take home writing assignments, based on (1) case studies requiring critical thinking (2) explaining a concept to a non-expert and (3) writing about a technique after it is covered in a lecture. 
  • Modeling of “good” exam/assignment answers in class
  • More detailed and effective evaluation rubrics

 I plan to continue developing new activities and assignments, using suggestions and resources from the WID group. My overall goal for next year is to increase active learning in my classes, and to decrease time spent lecturing. To this end, I plan to increase the number of short writing based assignments that I use in class, and to incorporate group-based active learning exercises into my lectures.

 Do you have ideas for next steps as a WID Writing Fellow, and future writing pedagogy projects? 

 I know that there is a shorter WID project (the WID Spring Institute) that is being implemented  – I think that this is an excellent idea. I would like to suggest short “up-date” WID sessions for previous participants (unless these already exist) – I have really enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the other WID fellows, and would like the opportunity for further discussion.  I think that the promotion efforts already in place are effective: I heard about WID both through my colleagues and at a PED day, and I have been sharing my WID experience with other teachers in my Department.

I have really enjoyed participating in the WID project, and I now have a number of ideas that I plan to implement in future semesters, and to share with members of my department. My only regret is that I didn’t have more time during the semester to focus on WID.  I hope to be able to stay in contact with the WID group, and to continue sharing ideas. The organizers did an excellent job, and I would like to thank both Ian and Anne!


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