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Teaching Circles

Every semester, the Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning sponsors a variety of Teaching Circles where faculty come together to discuss a teaching topic of shared interest. These have proven especially useful for many faculty over the past several years, and we encourage faculty to consider leading or participating in a Teaching Circle this semester. Teaching Circles generally meet on three specific Fridays from noon until 1:00 in Neilson Browsing Room with lunch provided (see below for this semester's dates).

The following are Teaching Circles that are continuing or currently forming for fall 2014 with others to be announced. If you are interested in joining one of these groups, please contact the faculty organizer noted below. If you have ideas for other Teaching Circle topics, please contact Floyd Cheung to discuss it further.

Fall 2014 Dates:

September 19
October 24
November 21

Online/Blended Learning
Joseph O'Rourke, Associate Provost

The Online/Blended Learning Teaching Circle will examine the concept of "flipping" or "blending" course content and learning activities. We will discuss a variety of methods for taking first exposure to content outside the classroom, potentially freeing more class time for problem solving, group activities and other active learning.


Design Thinking
Borjana Mikic (Engineering)

This group of faculty and staff from wide-ranging disciplines meets regularly to discuss the ways in which we develop 'design thinking' in our students; that is, the application of processes and methodologies associated with design to identifying, framing and solving problems (or creating experiences) in any domain or realm.


Standards-Based Grading
Joshua Bowman (Mathematics & Statistics)

Providing useful feedback to students is a critical part of any assessment method. Traditional grading methods - using points, percentages, or letters, for example - tend to collapse or obscure information that students could use to improve their understanding of specific topics. Such forms of grading treat grades as linear measures, which can divert attention from the variety of material we as instructors expect students to master. Standards-based grading, also called standards-based assessment, is an alternative method of giving feedback that deliberately focuses on the individual skills, knowledge, and competencies students should acquire. By eschewing linear measures, standards-based grading provides targeted feedback to students on both areas of strength and areas that need greater attention. Such reporting methods are already in use in many primary and secondary classrooms and schools. We will discuss how they may be implemented in courses at the college level, and the benefits they have for both students and instructors.


Teaching with Objects
Kiki Smith (Theater)

Most disciplines here at Smith are built around the word and texts. Most of us learned from text and are trained to teach from texts. Most of us use text as the basis of discussion, analysis and research.

What if there is another way to spark discussion and analysis in the classroom? How about teaching with objects, with material culture? How can we learn to use objects as a learning tool? And what is available and useful to use?

Please join a teaching circle to explore and share methods to teach with objects. We can discuss

Anyone who works with objects in class already and can help us avoid pitfalls would be very welcome.

Diversity in the Curriculum
Dawn Fulton (French Studies)

This group will discuss strategies for promoting our students' awareness of how power and privilege function in society. We will exchange ideas on course development, mentoring, teaching approaches, and curricular planning to think about how to clarify and support the College's commitment to diversity in the classroom.


Making Cross-Cultural Connections through Online Partnerships
Rebecca Hovey, Dean for International Study
Janie Vanpée (French Studies, Comparative Literature)

This group will expand on a May 2014 Faculty workshop, Global Collaborations through On-Line International Learning, sponsored by the Lewis Global Studies Center. We will explore various models that have been used successfully to connect students across borders and languages, establishing virtual collaborations on common projects with peers in other parts of the world. The technology to link students, instructors and classrooms, and to integrate these connections partially into collaborative assignments between geographically distant classrooms or fully into a co-taught course, is widely available today. We will brainstorm about ways to enhance global perspectives in our teaching and discuss a range of possible collaborations, from ways to engage the foreign universities with which we already have agreements, to inviting colleagues or experts in a field to join in a class discussion through a virtual connection, to imagining how we can connect with our study abroad students as cultural and linguistic informants and virtual participants in classrooms and courses on the Northampton campus.