In this section, A. C. Kemp describes what inspired her to create the User-friendly Classroom video training series and her process for creating the series, including how she applied user-centered design principles in developing and refining the resource.
Needing More Time to Practice
21G.217 / 21G.218 Workshop in Strategies for Effective Teaching (ELS) is an intensive course that meets only 2.5 hours per day for five consecutive days. Most of the students in this workshop-based course have never taught before. A few have taught prior to taking the course, but need more strategies to improve their teaching. Many teach their first MIT class a few weeks after the workshop.
Given the immediacy with which students need to apply what they’ve learned in the course, it’s a very high-stakes week, and because the time is compressed, it’s essential that the workshop sessions are very carefully planned to maximize the practice of teaching skills and communication strategies.
I first taught this course in 2009, and over the first few years, I adapted and developed materials, homework assignments and activities in order to streamline the class. Nonetheless, I routinely noticed that students needed more time to practice the skills they were developing.
Flipping the ITA Classroom
To address the need for more practice time, I began to think about flipping the classroom. In a typically flipped classroom, students view video lectures at home and do activities in class that reinforce and extend their learning. Therefore, it seemed an odd—and almost redundant—approach for ITA training, as our classrooms were already student-centered and activity-based.
However, I thought that if students could watch and analyze teaching models at home, they could come to class better prepared to practice their own teaching. From my experience facilitating other classes, I knew that, outside of class, students tend to watch a video more than once, and if they are assigned meaningful questions, they may spend as much as twenty minutes on a five-minute video. That meant that adding a five-minute homework video wouldn’t just save five minutes of class time—it would add at least three times that many minutes to students’ learning.
Unfortunately, there was a gap in terms of appropriate videos for my students. Although they had access to OpenCourseWare (OCW) videos of MIT faculty lecturing, these lectures tend to capture exemplary teaching. When you’ve never taught before, trying to match that level of teaching can be intimidating.
The ITAs I worked with requested real-life examples of their peers at MIT who had less refined communication skills and less experience than the seasoned faculty on OCW, but who were still successful teachers because of the strategies they employed. They also wanted to know, preferably from undergraduate students themselves, what exactly MIT students expected of them and how to meet those expectations. I developed the User-friendly Classroom video training series in response to this request.
The Process of Creating the User-friendly Classroom Video Training Series
The process of creating the User-friendly Classroom video training series took several years from the initial idea to publication on OCW, and was only possible due to the support of my colleagues and my students.
First, I created interview questions for undergraduate students with my colleague Jane Dunphy, the Director of MIT’s English Language Studies Program. After further developing the plan for the series, I received funding from the Gilberte Furstenberg & Douglas Morgenstern Fund for Innovation in Language Instruction to record and edit the first video segments. I recruited a diverse group of undergraduates to interview and found skilled ITAs to serve as models for good teaching.
The actual recordings were completed in less than a month, but the editing process took much longer. Since the interviews were unscripted, it took time to identify the best advice and to logically organize the students’ and teaching assistants’ insights.
Making the User-friendly Classroom Series User-friendly
In creating the video series, it was important to use the same principles of user-friendliness that we advocate for in the classroom: learning the students’ expectations, creating materials to meet them and revising the materials based on feedback. In terms of content, the ITAs had requested realistic examples of teaching and advice from undergraduate students and experienced ITAs at MIT. In terms of delivery, some of those expectations were the same ones the undergraduates have of ITAs: videos that were easy to understand and use.
Once I had created drafts of the videos, I began testing them in my ITA training classes. I also received advice from my colleagues in Global Languages and the New England International Teaching Assistant Network (NEITAN). Based on that advice and the feedback I received from students, I edited the videos to improve their user-friendliness.