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Developing a Graduate-Level Pedagogy Course: A Test Case at Florida State University

Michael Furman

Florida State University

Purpose:

            The vast majority of graduate programs in Classics offer no formal coursework or training in pedagogy at either the M.A. or Ph.D. level. In many cases a ‘Teaching Center’ conducts a cursory (usually one- or two-day) university-wide, policy-based training prior to the first semester. Of the few programs which do list a pedagogy course in their catalog, inquiries found that many are ‘ghost’ courses (listed but never offered). These practices fail to reflect the growing importance of teaching in defining the role of Classics within the university and the shifting reality of employment options and outcomes for M.A. and Ph.D. students. This paper argues in favor of the development of a required pedagogy course within a Classics graduate program and provides a template for this development using Florida State University’s FLE5810: Teaching in Classics.

Argument:

            Ensuring that graduate students are excellent teachers is extremely important to both the health of the program and the job prospects of graduate students. In Spring 2019 at Florida State University, graduate students were the sole instructors for 85.5% of all undergraduates enrolled in ‘introductory’ Classics courses (<3000 level). This represents 36.5% of the total undergraduate enrolment in Classics and indicates that the first point of contact within a Classics department is likely to be a graduate student.

As a discipline, we only have one opportunity to make a first impression on a student, and that impression can determine whether a student will continue to take Classics courses. The application of ‘thin-slicing’ in the college classroom has been well documented by social psychologists but largely ignored by instructors. As Classics programs are facing cuts, enrollment gives us a quantitative justification for continued support and investment. By focusing on pedagogical training for graduate students, we provide the best conditions for undergraduate enrolment and retention.

Instruction in pedagogy is also critical to graduate student outcomes upon completion of their degree. Florida State University has found success with our M.A. graduates in particular. These students take FLE5810 before teaching their own sections. This formalized training combined with independent teaching experience has allowed many of our M.A. graduates to find employment as teachers in private secondary schools throughout the country. For Ph.D. candidates hoping for an academic career, formal pedagogical training reflects the increasing prevalence of teaching-centric jobs (adjunct, teaching track, and VAP) in comparison to tenure-line openings, particularly as a first job straight out of graduate school. The question now is how do we design this training, and this paper lays out and explains (with examples) the guiding principles for FLE5810 at Florida State University:

  1. At its core, this course facilitates innovation. FLE5810 allows graduate students take the pedagogical principles they learn and apply them to lesson and syllabus design. This results in new exercises and approaches which means our ‘core’ courses are constantly evolving.
  2. Evidence-based approaches to teaching from other fields including social psychology and educational research are vital. Relying on anecdotes from our own experience stifles innovation and requires the indefensible assumption that every classroom is the same. We cannot hand graduate students a hammer when they might encounter a screw. We should provide them with a toolbox.
  3. Active learning is essential to creating a successful learning environment for undergraduate students. The evidence is overwhelming that active learning is more effective than lecture, and to become dynamic teachers graduate students need to be familiar with active learning techniques. A handout of active learning resources accompanies this paper.
  4. The best teaching is both reflective and expressive. Graduate students engage in exercises that help them define their teaching philosophy. This includes understanding current trends and debates in higher education. FLE5810 utilizes a weekly article review to fulfill this goal.
  5. Students learn to be critical of teaching through the observation and evaluation of current faculty. The evaluation form accompanies this paper.

Session/Panel Title

Classics Graduate Education in the 21st Century

Session/Paper Number

42.3

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