At noon on a recent weekday, 45 grad students from all over Stanford campus flocked to a basement conference room. They sat in tables of four or five, introducing themselves and enjoying deep-dish pizza.
What brought them away from their offices, research, and teaching? The chance to learn—quickly, and in a fun format—some teaching tips from their peers.
The event was the winter “Eat. Talk. Teach. Run!” (ETTR) lunch, part of a series put on by Stanford’s Center for Teaching and Learning. The ETTR concept was created in 2011-12 by Howard Chiou ‘06, an MD-PhD candidate, and Brian Croxall, PhD, at Emory University’s Laney Graduate School. They had two goals:
Chiou and Croxall found that a few key elements made their format successful: free food, a reason for discussion, and a firm time limit. They come, eat, talk about teaching, and “run” back to class or the library. Here’s how it works.
At Stanford’s January ETTR event, VPTL Assistant Director Tim Randazzo introduced four grad students who would each give a four-minute “flashtalk” on teaching. He told the audience that, after the talks, they’d be voting, as table groups, for the most useful talk.
George Philip LeBourdais, of Art and Art History, spoke on the value of having students slow down and observe carefully. He recounted how Louis Agassiz, the biologist, used to have students observe a sunfish for three weeks straight. LeBourdais described the assignment he gave students: to examine a painting for three hours. Yes, that’s not a typo: three hours, 180 minutes. “It helps the students ask the big questions, like ‘why am I doing this?’ ‘Why am I here?’” he said, to laughter from the audience. It also, he reported, gave students surprise at what they could discover, even at the end of the three hours, and greater appreciation for the art.
Jeremy Hsu of Biology shared tips on teaching unfamiliar material, a situation that arises all too often for many TAs. Besides the obvious tactics of studying texts and asking teaching team members for help in learning, Hsu advocated talking less in class. “Fight the impulse to go into ‘lecture mode,’” he said. “Instead, use active learning techniques and model the thinking process for students. Increase your learning as well as the students’ by working through new concepts together.”
Bioengineering grad Midori Greenwood-Goodwin followed Hsu’s talk appropriately with three active-learning strategies she finds effective:
Finally, Stacy Hartman of German Studies described how she uses Google docs to improve her teaching of writing. Google docs help students focus on the process of writing, not the finished product, she said. They also allow for online office hours, in which she and the student can share the document from different locations to comment and edit it real-time. Online peer evaluation is a snap, and groups can collaborate on projects together easily.
The speakers were all well-organized and entertaining, and they all kept within the 4-minute time limit. Next, the audience helped themselves to more pizza as they discussed which talk to cast their table vote for. “The voting really motivates them to discuss the talks in depth,” said Randazzo later. “They’re much more engaged than if we just said, ‘Discuss.’” They had to defend their choices and really grapple with what was said in order to come to consensus.
After ten minutes of animated conversation, Randazzo tallied the votes. Midori Greenwood-Goodwin won the prize, in this case the book Tools for Teaching, for her talk on active learning strategies.
Before the hour was up, the event was complete. The attendees were well fed, better connected with their peers, and inspired with new tips for their teaching.
ETTR Poster describing the original concept by Chiou and Croxall, Emory University
ETTR Recipe Card: how to do it yourself