Pedagogy Students Learn by Doing

Pedagogy Students Learn by Doing

Pedagogy Seminar Overview

Instructors: Tom Ehrlich and Mariatte Denman
Department/School: VPTL/VPUE and Graduate School of Education
Course: Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

Resources:  Detailed syllabus, complete with course goals.

Course Description: Seminar
Audience: Graduate students pursuing teaching careers in higher education
Schedule: Once a week, 10:00 AM - 12:50 PM.

Male Black grad student, mustache, beard, seated in class among others,, smilingTeaching & Learning Strategies

Ehrlich says that despite the class being a seminar, it is not a traditional roundtable discussion. Instead, the class is broken into half-hour segments. Students move around a lot and engage in discussion, and over the course of the class, each student has the opportunity to teach their own module.

Ehrlich also describes a method the students study and employ called “backward learning” in which the prospective teachers (the students in the class) decide what they would want their students to know by the end of the class, and work backward from that goal to create a lesson plan.

Out-of-Class ActivitiesEhrlich and Denman have each student work with a master teacher who will grant them an interview and let them visit his/her classes.  Students write and post the interviews and reflections on their observation experiences. 

Yale University has a gallery called “Talking Heads,” which features what Ehrlich calls “the very best faculty.” Students watch the online lecture videos as a way to observe other teachers and learn from their styles. Ehrlich and Denman are also bringing in a guest speaker, newly arrived Assistant Professor of Education and Senior Research Fellow in VPTL Candace Thille.  She is founding director of Carnegie Mellon’s group called The Open Learning Initiative, which offers online classes to anyone interested in teaching and learning.

Two female Caucasian grad students in a classroom, listening, smilingIn-Class ActivitiesDiscussion, feedback, and formative assessments.  The class also offers many demonstrations of teaching that the students watch. They then write reflections on what they have observed. Ehrlich and Denman give “mini-talks” on a certain subject that the students are probably unfamiliar with. They then encourage students to critique their teaching methods gain a better understanding for what works best when trying to teach students new material.

Assessment:  Written reflections and, depending on career goals, either an annotated course syllabus or an analytic paper.

Goals:  Ehrlich emphasizes that his main goals for the class involve being as clear as possible, especially within the syllabus. “I really believe in trying to spell everything out, to say as clearly as we can what the outcomes are, what the rationale for the course is, what the processes are, and everything we can think of,” he says. The syllabus outlines the desired course outcomes, including gaining understanding about how to be an effective teacher and how to strengthen those abilities as a teacher and learner. “The basic aim is to come to understand how to shift from the role of student, which they’ve been all their lives, to teacher in a low-stakes, high-yield way,” says Ehrlich.


Thomas (Tom) Ehrlich is former Dean of the Stanford Law School, former Provost at Penn, President Emeritus of Indiana University, and author, co-author, or editor of 14 books. He has also helped shape higher education in the U.S. and abroad with his influential work through the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching his many publications in the areas of university/community engagement, service learning, civic engagement, and the nature of liberal education.


Mariatte Denman holds a Ph.D. in German with designated emphases in Critical Theory and Feminist Research and Theory from the University of California at Davis. Prior to joining the Stanford VPTL team in 2004, she was an assistant professor in German studies at Duke University for four years and also taught as an IHUM postdoctoral teaching fellow at Stanford. Her interest in how students process memories continues her scholarly work in German studies that also focused on the cultural and literary formation of memory