Teaching: suggestions, advice and mentoring

For faculty the time between semesters includes reflecting on the previous semester, developing and revising courses, and adopting a few teaching resolutions.

Over the years, I have spent many hours during the breaks between terms updating class plans for the next term. I often read books, articles and blog posts related to teaching for inspiration and strategies.

So I read Shayla Love’s New York Times article on seeking and assessing advice — ”How Should You Be? Try Taking Suggestions” — with interest to see how her insights could apply to teachers.

Love’s article included her research on the origin of the suggestion box and interviews with five university faculty who study different aspects of advice – from communication science to workplace psychology.

One of the people Love interviewed was University of Chicago philosopher Dr. Agnes Callard. Dr. Callard discussed the differences between instructions, suggestions, advice, and mentorship. And all of these apply to reflecting on and improving your teaching.

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Creating your teaching philosophy

What is the value of writing a teaching philosophy? And why is a teaching philosophy required in most faculty job applications and teaching award nominations?

Even experienced teachers say that writing a teaching philosophy can be difficult. Writing a teaching philosophy would be more challenging for graduate students, most of whom have been teaching for only a year or two. So why are teaching philosophies a required part of one’s teaching career?

During my faculty career at the University of Florida, I was fortunate to teach a pedagogy course for graduate students in the College of Journalism and Communications. I really enjoyed working with the graduate students to help them develop and expand their teaching competencies and their outlook on teaching and learning.

As a major assignment for the course, the students developed a teaching portfolio to be used in applying for faculty positions. The portfolio included their created instructional materials, a syllabus, and a teaching philosophy.

As a current member of UF’s Graduate Student Teaching Awards Committee, I’m reading some very effective teaching philosophies that are part of their nomination portfolios.

Writing a teaching philosophy can help you look at the big picture

Developing a teaching philosophy can help determine how you view your students, structure your course, and present as a teacher.

Let me share a few examples from some of the candidates (and some winners) for the Graduate Student Teaching Award.

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Promoting your new college course

The new academic year is starting at almost 4,000 colleges and universities around the country. What will make this a special year for many faculty is offering a new course that they have developed.

Typically when you develop a new course, you are excited about exploring and teaching a new topic and sharing a great learning experience with your students. But that excitement can turn to disappointment when you find that only a few students have registered for the course, and your course is cancelled because it doesn’t have the required minimum number of students.

Let me offer some suggestions for promoting your course based on my own experience in creating new courses and from my experience serving on the University of Florida’s General Education Committee and the College of Journalism and Communications Curriculum Committee.

Don’t count on the course to draw students without your active involvement in promoting the course. Even if you have developed a great course, the first time you offer a course, you are likely to have some difficulty attracting students.

Your new course probably isn’t listed in the university’s catalog and may not be included in your college’s advising materials. So students may not be aware of the course.

Even if they learn about your course, the course is competing with the established courses in the curriculum that students are familiar. Your new course is an unknown.

Develop written descriptions to use in promoting the course – from a one-page flyer to a tweet.
Provide specifics about the course that would appeal to the students. List course objectives, assignments, etc. In addition to the course title and number, include the course meeting time so students will know if the course will fit into their class and work schedules. Explain how the course fits into the major or minor – or why it is a great elective. Include a brief bio of you, and explain how students can obtain more information about the course.

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University of Florida Graduate Student Teacher Award winners for 2021-2022

UF Graduate Student Teaching award winners2021-2022
Graduate Student Teaching Award winners and members of the Selection Committee. Photo by Eric Zamora

Congratulations to the 19 graduate students who were selected as the University of Florida Graduate Student Teaching Award winners for 2021-2022.

Award Winners

Pearis Bellamy – Psychology
Recep Celebi – Mathematics
Savannah Gramze – Astronomy
Joseph Hoft – Sociology and Criminology
Haley Johnson – Theatre and Dance
Lindsay Lloveras – Psychology
Nicolas Macaluso – Chemical Engineering
Ioannis Michaloliakos – Physics
Cristovão Nwachukwu – English
Emily Pappo – Natural Resources and Environment
Anthony Smith – Classics
Ar’Darius Stewart – Theatre and Dance
Nathaniel Strauss – Physics
Nieves Villaseñor III – Music
Anita Walsh – Economics
Lauren Weisberg  – Teaching and Learning
LingQin Xue – Physics

Calvin A. VanderWerf Winners

Leandra Merz – Geography
Hank Samuels – Teaching and Learning

Selection Committee

Connie Shehan, Chair
Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Sharon Difino
Clinical Assistant Professor of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences
College of Public Health and Health Professions

Julie E. Dodd
Professor Emerita of Journalism
College of Journalism and Communications

Ifigeneia Giannadaki
Assistant Professor of Classics
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Martin Gundersen, Jr.
Associate Professor Emeritus of Architecture
College of Design, Construction and Planning

Valeria Kleiman
Associate Professor of Chemistry
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Sujata Krishna
Lecturer & Learning Assistant Coordinator of Physics
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Gillian Lord
Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Studies
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Jon Reiskind
Associate Professor Emeritus of Biology
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Lynn E. Sollenberger
Distinguished Professor of Agronomy
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Bradley Walters
Associate Professor of Architecture
College of Design, Construction and Planning

Lorna Dishman
Executive Assistant I
Graduate School


I am honored to serve on the Graduate Student Teaching Awards Committee to promote the importance of teaching excellence. Every semester, I am inspired by the hardworking, creative and caring graduate student instructors I observe.

I appreciate the University of Florida and Dr. Nicole Stedman, Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate School, for making this award program possible.

Colleagues create textbook during pandemic

Published! Middle Tennessee State University colleagues (from left to right) Dr. Sally Ann Cruikshank, Dr. Keonte Coleman and Dr. Christine Eschenfelder pose with their newly published textbook in the  School of Journalism and Strategic Media’s student news studio. Photo by Dan Eschenfelder

When I received word from Dr. Christine Eschenfelder that she and two of her Middle Tennessee State University colleagues had written a textbook during the pandemic, I wanted to hear how they did it.

Dr. Eschenfelder, Dr. Sally Ann Cruikshank and Dr. Keonte Coleman, all faculty in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media, were motivated to write “A Complete Guide to Television, Field, and Digital Producing” to fill a need in the curriculum in their school and in other communication programs.

During the pandemic, they developed the concept for the book, secured a publisher, and wrote the book, in spite of all the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

I asked the three to share their experiences in writing the book.

Dr. Christine Eschenfelder is an associate professor and recipient of the MTSU Outstanding Teaching Award and broadcast industry awards. Her research focuses on broadcast journalism education, newsroom diversity, and women in broadcasting.
Twitter: @cceschenfelder

What inspired you and your two colleagues to write “A Complete Guide to Television, Field, and Digital Producing”?

We all worked in television news before our careers in academia. I was an on-air reporter and producer. Sally Ann and Keonte were also producers. Television news producers are in great demand. It’s an important and exciting job that many students don’t know about.

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Librarians assist faculty in using Open Education Resources (OER) and library-licensed materials

When you design a new course or update a course you’ve previously taught, consider talking with your librarian to help identify course resources.

April Hines
April Hines encouraged library use during the Student Involvement Fair, held in the courtyard of the College of Journalism and Communications.

I asked April Hines, librarian for the University of Florida College of Journalism and Mass Communications, to share insights about the work of librarians and how librarians can enable faculty to utilize Open Educational Resources (OER) to provide up-to-date, free course materials for students.

Hines is chair of the Education and Behavioral Sciences Section (EBSS) of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). She earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from UF and a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of South Florida.

Faculty often think campus librarians are solely focused on helping students who are in the library. What are some of the ways you are involved in helping faculty? 

April Hines: Much of my work happens beyond the physical library space – especially during COVID-19. Faculty will often ask me to be a guest speaker in their classes (either in person or virtually) to teach specialized research skills or to discuss topics related to information or media literacy.

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Improve class discussions with Bloom’s Taxonomy

So many class discussions could become an improved learning experience for students with a little more guidance from the instructor.

That assessment is based on observing classes as a member of the University of Florida Graduate Student Teaching Awards Committee.

I’ve been listening to class discussions in a wide range of disciplines – psychology, educational technology, acting, kinesiology, history and microbiology to name just some.

Some instructors have led probing insightful discussions, but many discussions remained at a superficial level.

The instructor posed a good opening question that often results with a student providing a very concise “correct answer.” The instructor validates the student’s response but often moves on rather than digging deeper into that correct answer.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a good reference for designing questions to guide small-group or full-class discussions. The taxonomy originally was published in 1956 by a team of University of Chicago cognitive psychologists and named after Benjamin Bloom who was the committee’s chair.

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Teach with Zoom breakout rooms

Zoom breakout rooms are a teaching tool being used more frequently as universities invest in the application and as instructors become more familiar in setting up and using the breakout rooms.

Zoom image

Having students work in breakout rooms can provide a change of pace in class and enable more students to engage actively in class.

As a member of the University of Florida’s Graduate Student Teaching Awards Committee, I have observed graduate students utilizing Zoom breakout rooms in a wide range of subject areas. Whereas instructors typically only make brief visits to breakout rooms during class, I have been able to observe the full time students are in a breakout room.

Based on my observations, I’m offering a few suggestions for using Zoom breakout rooms.

Develop an effective breakout room assignment.

Creating a good breakout room assignment is like creating a good small group discussion activity for face-to-face classes. Consider what a small group discussion will accomplish in a more productive way than a full-class discussion.

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Covid-19 and teaching advice

I’ve been part of the University of Florida’s orientation for new teaching assistants for a number of years. My topic has been advice for having a successful start to the school year.

Dr. Julie Dodd speaks at UF TA orientation 2019

This was what my presentation looked like at the 2019 orientation for new teaching assistants. Photo by Daniel Brotherton

Prior to this year, the 400 new teaching assistants would meet in a large auditorium for the orientation.

Due to Covid-19, this year’s orientation went online.

Over four days, part of the orientation was held live via Zoom, with about 100 different TAs attending each day.

Dr. Julie Dodd presents at UF TA orientation 2020

This is what my presentation looked like for the 2020 TA orientation. Click on the link at the end of the post to watch the video.

The other portion of the orientation, which included my presentation, were recorded videos. (At the end of this post you can click on a link to watch the video.)

In creating my presentation, I considered what would be helpful advice for starting a school year in a pandemic.

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Improving teaching with technology resources

How can you use technology to improve your teaching and create a better learning experience for your students?

Kortni Alston at NABJ conference

Kortni Alston critiques a resume tape with a student at the National Association of Black Journalists Regional Conference in Dallas.

I talked with Dr. Kortni Alston about that question.

Alston, assistant professor at North Carolina A&T State University, discussed  strategies she uses that have been particularly helpful when she adapted her teaching during the pandemic.

Alston earned her MBA from Morgan State University and her Ph.D. in Communication at the University of Florida, writing her dissertation on positive psychology issues related to job satisfaction.

Prior to teaching in higher ed, Alston was a television reporter, a director of news and public affairs for public radio, and was director of external affairs for the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta.

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