RES.21G-001 | Fall 2020 | Graduate

The User-friendly Classroom

Ways to Use the Videos and their Associated Teaching Materials

In this section, A. C. Kemp describes how she uses the User-friendly Classroom training video series in her own teaching, and how other trainers and individuals might consider using them.

Designed with Others in Mind

I designed the User-friendly Classroom video training series and its associated assignments for use at MIT, but at the same time, I tried to make them flexible enough so that they could also be used by international teaching assistants (ITAs) and ITA trainers in other educational contexts. I also believe these materials will be useful for individuals who would like to teach in an American educational context but who don’t have access to formal training. Anyone with access to the internet, whether at home or in a public library, can watch and evaluate the videos in the series. To evaluate their own teaching based on the criteria in the videos, teachers just need a smartphone and/or a few friends to serve as observers.

How I Use the Materials

In 21G.217 / 21G.218 Workshop in Strategies for Effective Teaching (ELS), which meets for one week in January, I incorporate the User-friendly Classroom videos into a syllabus that also includes topics such as conducting office hours, leading discussions, using the board and creating lesson plans.

I ask students to watch the five videos and to complete questions and activities related to them (Assignments 1-4) before our first class meeting. Although I initially worried that it might be too much, I assign this work more than a week in advance, and students are generally eager to get started.

During our first class session, students introduce themselves as if it were their first day as an ITA (Assignment 5 (PDF)). It can be challenging for the students to remember all of the criteria for successful introductions—especially since the students tend to be nervous, so each introduction is limited to two minutes. That way, the students can focus more on being user-friendly than memorizing a long speech. Another way I help them focus on delivery is to write reminder words on the board in the back of the classroom (e.g., smile, make eye contact), which they face as they address the class.

During each introduction, I ask students to evaluate their peers using the same criteria as presented in “The First Day” video: approachability, enthusiasm, knowledge, confidence, preparation and organization. Since it can be difficult for new educators to attend to all of these specific behaviors at once, I assign each student one or two of the criteria to focus on. 

The presenters are also video recorded during their introductions, and their videos are put on a private online site, so that they can evaluate their introductions in more detail as a written assignment for the next class (Assignment 6 (PDF)).

Later in the week, as we look at more detailed skills, such as using visuals to improve communication, we revisit the “Phase Diagram” and “Lift” videos in homework assignments. We consider the techniques used by the ITAs in the videos and which of those techniques students might try in their own teaching. After evaluating the teaching demonstrations in the videos, students experiment with the techniques in classroom exercises.

I’m excited to add two new videos on virtual teaching in Fall 2020, which I will be using in this class in the future. “Ohm’s Law” and “Graph Theory” show online lessons taught by ITAs. These can be analyzed in terms of user-friendliness and compared with face-to-face lessons (Assignment 7 (PDF)). As with “Phase Diagram and “Lift, these will be used to help students get ideas and improve their own teaching.

How ITA Trainers Can Use the Videos

How others incorporate these videos into their programs will depend on several factors, including what subjects their ITAs will be teaching and how much time the ITAs have to prepare before their first class. You might want to formulate your own questions or add videos of ITAs at your university as models. For example, I’ve focused on STEM subjects because the majority of our students at MIT—both graduate and undergraduate—are majoring in STEM subjects. However, at a liberal arts college, it might be useful for trainers to record their own ITAs leading a discussion in literature or teaching a recitation in art history.

Making these supplemental videos can be very simple. One video camera—or smartphone with video capabilities—can be placed at the back of the classroom so that both the ITA and the students can be seen. I would recommend videotaping a 5 to 8-minute block of class time to show to ITAs-in training and having them use the questions in Assignment 2 (PDF) to evaluate the teaching captured in the video. Shorter videos, I have found, allow for more in-depth analysis.

Don’t worry about choosing perfect teaching models—these videos should help ITAs learn to evaluate themselves and get ideas for things they might try—not to imitate an ideal. Trainers might also want to develop discussion questions specific to their own educational contexts and to add practice activities specific to their students’ needs.

However teacher trainers choose to use them, I think the videos work best as part of a program designed for students. I think of these materials as a springboard—a new way of looking at teaching—that informs other activities you might do in your classroom, rather than as a standalone resource.

How Individuals Can Use these Materials

To use these materials on your own, I recommend watching all five videos and answering the questions in the assignments that go with them. Then, if you can, recruit a few friends to watch your introduction (Assignment 5 (PDF)) and ask them to give you feedback, using the criteria in Assignment 6 (PDF).

If you don’t have an audience, record yourself. Watching your recording can be eye-opening, both figuratively and literally! One of the most common problems students have is making eye contact with an audience, whether it’s real people or empty chairs that stand in for them.

I also recommend that individuals without access to a teacher-training class seek out online video examples of instructors teaching in their own subject areas. Although watching professionals can be a bit intimidating, those videos can still provide ideas for teaching subject-specific concepts.

What Do You Think?

I hope each person who comes to this site will use the materials in a way that works best for them. I’d be delighted if you would let me know how you used the User-friendly Classroom video training series and its associated teaching materials, and what your experience was. Did the materials meet your expectations? Which activities did you add or change? What other resources would you like to see? How could I improve the materials? Please share your feedback.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2020
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Videos
Written Assignments
Instructor Insights