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Table of Contents

Teaching Resources

Talking Shop

Technically Speaking

I Remember Professor...

Good Teachers on Good Teaching

Mutual Benefits

A Win-Win-Win-Win Situation

Viggo Mortensen '80 Remembers

Laurentian Reviews

Alumni Accomplishments

Table of Contents

Talking Shop

By Neal Burdick ’72

 Let’s say you have x-ray vision and can fly. Hover above 62 Park Street, the Center for Teaching and Learning, someday and peer through the roof. Go ahead, it’s not a fraternity house anymore. Inside you might see a group of people engaged in lively discussion, with one or more participants clearly in charge.

This reminds you of any typical seminar on campus. But there’s one difference. The leader is a professor, as in most seminars—but so are the students.

You’re observing a session of “Shop Talks,” a program of the Center for Teaching and Learning that enables faculty to get together in a structured setting and brainstorm issues of common interest and concern. No one remembers who thought up the name, but program coordinator Elizabeth Regosin, assistant professor of history, says it was the “brainchild” of Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs Kim Mooney.

“ I started talking to a few people on the Faculty Development and Teaching Committee, in particular Liz Regosin, the new convener of the committee, about a new approach to bringing faculty together to talk about teaching,” Mooney says. “We wanted to tap into the passionate dialogues about teaching that we had all experienced with colleagues. We were after informal presentations with a lot of interaction. We also wanted to identify topics that bridged the academic disciplines.”

Mooney launched the program in the spring of 2000. Kerry Grant and Natalia Singer, from English, led the first Shop Talk, on providing feedback on student writing, and Grant Cornwell ’79 led a session on how to generate good discussions in the classroom. The response was encouraging enough that the program took root.

Responsibility for Shop Talks now rests with the Center for Teaching and Learning, with Regosin as coordinator. She says, “I keep my eyes and ears open at various formal and informal gatherings of faculty, to get a feel for what people are doing in their classrooms. We’re never at a loss for a topic or a presenter, which speaks to the creativity and generosity of our faculty.”

 Ruminating on the success of Shop Talks, Regosin (left) says, “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked out of class and thought, ‘Gee, that didn't work very well. What went wrong?’ I’d go in search of one of my colleagues to seek advice. Just as often, I’ve walked out of the classroom and thought, ‘That was so great! I can’t wait to share it!’ and that’s just what I’d do. My own best teaching practices have come out of conversations like that, and I’ve overcome so many challenges with the help of my colleagues in departments all over campus.”

Shop Talks is a way of formalizing and broadening those conversations. “Rarely is there a single ‘expert’ in front of the room,” Regosin explains. “One person will lead with an idea or a set of questions and others will share their best practices, raise questions, and voice their concerns. I haven’t been to a Shop Talk yet that hasn’t crossed over disciplines in some meaningful way. I’m not just the coordinator, I’m also an attendee, and my teaching is the better for it.”

Regosin has not labored alone; others have constituted what she has dubbed her sub-committee. Artur Poczwardowski, assistant professor of psychology, says, “Shop Talks have been successful because they deal with ‘how-to’ and sharing of insights and experiences.” Adds Erin McCarthy, assistant professor of philosophy, “Shop Talks are inspiring because they promote dialogue about teaching among faculty. I often come away with new teaching tools to integrate into my classes.”

Just after leading a March 2003 Shop Talk, “On Creating a Know-ledge Pool: Reviewing Student Peer Review,” Paul Graham ’99, visiting assistant professor of English, described his PowerPoint session:

“I proposed the topic because peer review, in which students evaluate each other’s work, is central to teaching creative writing these days, and there’s new pedagogical theory that says that’s not always a good thing. I stand somewhere in the middle of this debate, and I was attracted to the idea of opening a discourse with my colleagues. There were 20 of us, from the humanities, the natural and social sciences, the First-Year Program and more. There was general agreement that peer review is a good pedagogical tool, though with limitations, and the discussions about how to make best use of it continued out the door.”

Graham, who has participated in several Shop Talks, says he sees their value as giving faculty an opportunity to “question the assumptions we bring into the classroom and think carefully about what we do and how we do it. Shop Talks, properly done, can make a good teacher better,” he says.

That, it would seem, is the general consensus on campus.