Academic jobs are scarce. Candidates who make the short-list and get an in-person interview have a lot to prepare. You travel to the place, go to a lot of meetings with Department Heads, Deans, the Search Committee, have any number of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, give a research talk if you’re looking for a position with a research component, and do a “teaching demo.”
Someone I’ve been helping just landed an awesome, tenure-track teaching position. Before their interview, I shared this long list of advice on the teaching demo. I’m not suggesting causation or anything – this person is super talented – but apparently this advice didn’t hurt.
So, if you’re interviewing for a post-secondary, academic position with a teaching demo, here are some things to think about.
Do the background reading…
Higher ed is shifting (thankfully) towards evidence-based instructional strategies. You need to be familiar with the Freeman et al. Active Learning study (item #6 here. Also read the summary by Aatish Bhatia and the commentary by Carl Wieman.) Sure, it’s STEM but it easily applies to Social Sciences and the Humanities. While you’re there, you might look at #5 (Wieman) and check if there’s anything applicable in #4 (DBER)
I also recommend
- Deans for Impact document “The Science of Learning”
- this amazing article, “Getting under the hood” by Sarah Eddy and Kelly Hogan about the importance of the instructor providing structure in the classroom
- Review the institution’s statements about equity, diversity and inclusion. If you use their language and phrases, it’ll show you did your homework and you genuinely care about these things.
- Just in case you’re tempted to talk about learning styles, read this letter debunking the myth of learning styles (and be prepared to debunk learning styles if someone asks). To me, and many of my colleagues in Centres for Teaching and Learning, the presence of “learning styles” in a candidate’s presentation or application is a litmus test – if they describe how they tailor their instruction to students’ learning styles, that’s not a good thing. Seriously, don’t do that – it could cost you the job. What you can say, by the way, when someone asks about learning styles is something like,
it’s true that students feel they learn best by reading or drawing or listening or hands-on, etc. They have preferences. The theory of “Learning styles” – that if an instructor knows a student’s style, they can personalize the instruction for that student – has been debunked. Incorporating learning styles can be harmful because if an instructor uses them, they give a student an easy excuse: “Oh, I’m a visual learner and the instructor only did auditory. Not my fault I failed that test…” What we DO know is people learn from seeing the same concept in more than one context: if you have an important concept, teach it visually and talk about it and give students hands-on practice and…
It’s not but this sure looks like a teaching demo. (Image: Berkeley Center for New Media. Shared on flickr CC-BY-SA)
Very likely you’ll have to teach a demo lesson. Might be 20 min, might be longer. They might give you a topic, or ask you to pick.
Some things I’ve seen in successful ones (and things that would’ve helped in unsuccessful ones):
Be prepared for two rounds of questions, one immediately after you finish your demo and another later with the “teaching committee” (likely a group of teaching-focused instructors and someone from the institution’s Teaching and Learning Centre). And maybe a third round of questions if you have dinner later with the host and a select group.
Immediately after the demo, you’re not likely to get questions about the content from faculty members in the audience (“Can you explain the difference between meiosis and mitosis, again?”) That would take an audience member role playing as a student and if they’re not, they won’t (unless Dr. Smith is being an a**hole, as usual, and then you let the audience sigh, and you answer him as if he’s a student.) You should expect some questions about the design and delivery of the lesson.
- “How do ensure students will come to class prepared?”
- “Can you tell me why you chose to use [technology] in this situation?”
- “What were your learning outcomes for this lesson?”
- “How would you assess this?”
- “How have you addressed [the common misconception]?” (This might be from someone familiar with the discipline-based education research, testing to see if you’ve done your homework.)
- “I think I caught it but just in case, how did you address the diversity of the students you could expect here at Institution?”
- “What’s your approach to students on their phones and laptops, Twitterbooking and chatsnapping all the whole time?”
For these questions, and others you hope (that is, anticipate) they’ll ask you, prepare some slides for the end of your presentation. When they ask about assessment, flip to the slide with the homework and exam questions. When they ask why you chose active learning, flip to the slide with the graphs from Freeman et al., Eddy & Hogan, Wieman. SHOW THEM YOU DID YOUR HOMEWORK.
This is a lot of work
Yes. It is. Just like the hard work you put into your CV, cover letter, and research talk.
My point is this: don’t give the Search Committee any reason to reject you. Instead, give them every reason to hire you.