University News

Workshops introduce new professors to U.

Contributing Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2012


Setting foot on campus for the first time can be a daunting experience for new faculty members. To facilitate the transition to teaching at Brown, the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning ran two workshops Jan. 23 and 24 — an orientation for all new faculty to Brown  and a workshop geared to faculty who will teach for the first time. 

The Sheridan Center provides biannual workshops for new professors at the beginning of each semester, as well as seminars throughout the academic year. These seminars provide new faculty members with input from current students and faculty to facilitate their adjustment to Brown’s environment. 

The orientation intended for all faculty new to Brown is invaluable for giving junior faculty members a “general sense of what the Brown student is like,” said Ethan Pollock, associate professor of history and Slavic languages, who helped lead the general new faculty orientation. Pollock described himself as less of a leader of the new faculty orientation and more of a mediator who guides discussions without lecturing. Pollock said it was imperative in the workshops that current professors not extrapolate from their own experiences and impose their lessons on other disciplines. 

Each discipline is distinct in its teaching style, and the formats of classes vary, Pollock said. For this reason, it is more valuable for new teachers to be able to ask questions and provide feedback, he added. 

Pollock also led a workshop in the fall. These workshops are generally more widely attended because it is the start of a new academic year, Pollock said. 

Fiery Cushman, assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, attended the orientation programs in the fall. He previously taught as a graduate and postdoctoral student at Harvard. But he said he still felt apprehensive when he joined the Brown faculty in the fall. Teaching as a professor for the first time is reputed to be “the hardest year of your life,” he said.

Nick Coleman GS led the “Teaching for the First Time” seminar, which is held for first-time instructors, including graduate students, fellows and other new faculty. The soon-to-be instructors who attended the seminar were enthusiastic and original, Coleman wrote in an email to The Herald. 

Cushman said the workshops provide a way to “learn a few of the tricks” of teaching at a new institution and to place the peculiarities of the Brown teaching system, such as shopping period and the open curriculum, in a classroom context.

This semester will be Assistant Professor of Epidemiology Chanelle Howe’s first experience teaching her own class. Like Cushman, Howe attended a workshop last semester. She said the experience gave her a chance to learn about student expectations.

Upon joining Brown’s faculty, Cushman said he heard about its “outstanding body of students.” The Sheridan Center not only recruits senior faculty members to direct its panels, but also involves undergraduate and graduate students alike.

 In addition to the workshops, Howe said her background as a graduate teaching assistant at Johns Hopkins University also guided her understanding of how students learn best. 

Cushman said students have a wide variety of interests and responsibilities, and understanding the student in full is essential to being an effective teacher.

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