Section 2: Information for Faculty Mentors
Working with UTFs
Undergraduate Teaching Fellows (UTFs) are part of the instructional team. As faculty mentors in the past have said, "We value and depend on them."
Ensure a good working relationship with your UTF by making sure it is a good fit. Some class situations require special skills. Be sure that your UTF has those skills in order to be successful. The most important aspect of the relationship is to be explicit in your expectations.
- Does the UTF attend class daily?
- Do you want the UTF to ensure the classroom is in order?
- Do you care how the UTF dresses when in this professional environment?
- How soon should grading be finished? If there are multiple UTFs and/or graduate teaching fellows, are their expectations for working together clear?
- Do they each know a role to play?
- Do you want your UTF to speak up in class?
- Talk about the ethics of teaching and learning; how will you deal with students whom the UTF sees cheating?
- Discuss the law regarding students' rights to privacy and have them complete FERPA training (available online).
Introducing UTFs to Your Class
How the UTFs are introduced-both in the syllabus and in the classroom-will influence how the students perceive the Fellows. For the syllabus, it is helpful to explain the UTF program, introduce the student (include contact information and perhaps a biography), and note the roles of a UTF. By outlining what the UTF can do, faculty can avoid misunderstandings.
Introduce the Fellow on the first day of class or soon thereafter. Enumerating the UTFs duties can be helpful and reinforcing. A sense of respect for the role of Fellows and their responsibilities will transmit to the students your trust in the Fellow and the prestige associated with the job. It may also inspire students to consider applying for a UTF job in the future as it gives them insight on what stellar students within the degree can do for meaningful academic employment.
In addition to the discussion on academic honesty, there are issues of integrity in working with UTFs. In general, avoid having the UTF substitute. Using undergraduates for this purpose may put them in an awkward position. When testing, avoid having the UTF as the sole member of the instructional team in the room. If cheating is observed, the student as well as parents may note that the faculty member was not present, which could possibly weaken the case.
Acting as a Mentor
Faculty members assist UTFs in a number of ways, particularly with long-term career goals. Offer career counseling to the UTFs; after all, they are generally considered to be the best of the department's majors. Offer to review the UTFs résumé and provide a critique. Write letters of reference including the concrete examples known of their ability to work; these are invaluable for students seeking graduate fellowships and assistantships (a sample letter of reference is included on page 18). Some faculty members write a formal letter to the UTF following the teaching of a mini-lesson.
Faculty mentors may want to share experiences through a monthly or semester-based meeting. It has been suggested that this would work particularly well for faculty within a college.
Academic Honesty, the Student Code, and the Campus Judicial Officer
Nationally, academic dishonesty has reached epidemic proportions with over 70% of students reporting that they have cheated at some time or another. Be proactive with your class and explain the consequences of cheating. Review with them the Student Code. The Student Code is indexed on the Student Services homepage at http://www.usu.edu/studentservices/studentcode/. Consider having them sign a statement that they are aware of the rules of conduct for academic integrity. The USU Writing Center has an excellent form that it uses for each assignment.
If you see cheating in your classes, document it carefully. Inform the student offender in writing no later than 7 days after the incident. Inform the Campus Judicial Officer (contact information is listed on page 21) of the incident in writing. If you choose to lower a student's grade for the offense, you must inform the student and the Campus Judicial Officer in writing; you must also inform the student of the process to appeal this sanction.
Formative Assessment During the Semester
UTFs can help faculty administer formative evaluation instruments that provide feedback on how the class is working - whether students are learning the concepts presented. At the end of each semester, students enrolled in the class complete evaluation forms. Formative assessment earlier in the semester can improve communication and understanding throughout the semester. Here are two examples of formative assessment.
At the end of a class period, as often as every class period, ask students to write answers to the following questions: 1) what major concept did you learn today and 2) what is still murky or unclear? The questions may be the same each time, or they may vary. Questions may be written on index cards or pre-printed forms. These are anonymous responses. Following the class, the UTF reads and codes all responses to find common themes.
Source: Patricia K. Cross's Classroom Assessment Techniques (AAHE, 1988).
Quality Circles of Focus Groups
Focus Group Feedback
Objectives: 1) provides feedback to the professor on this specific class; 2) helps the university listen to its students; 3) provides an opportunity for students to ask questions about the class; 4) provides a meeting place to meet one another in small groups; and 5) develops critical thinking and assessment skills.
For Those Who Volunteer (Students in the Class)
You have a window into the classroom experience that the faculty member does not, and your insights and feedback provide useful information.
What do you need to prepare to meet this assignment? Think about the class in terms of assignments; offer feedback. Bring your notes to the meeting so you can refer to them when you are talking. To receive credit, you must participate in the conversation, and you must also be attentive to dialogue etiquette, which means 1) sharing the floor; 2) drawing out others by asking questions; and 3) making meaningful contributions.
The role of the UTF is to kick off discussions with a question, to take notes, to clarify responses by asking probing questions, to keep the students on task, and to thank the students for their feedback and insight.
In 2005-2006 the University named the first Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Fellows. The award currently recognizes one outstanding teaching fellow in each of the seven colleges, the Honors Program, and the library each academic year. The selection process includes an essay on what the UTF program meant to the participant and a letter of support from the faculty member. Past winners are listed on pages 22-23.
UTF Assessment Form by Faculty Member
Only required the first time using a particular student as a UTF during an academic year; optional thereafter. Submit electronically to your Associate Dean and Executive Senior Vice Provost Larry Smith. Please submit within one week after the conclusion of the semester. Your response helps us improve this program and gives students meaningful academic employment.
Sample Letter of Reference for a UTF
This letter is to provide you formal feedback on your lecture in my Multicultural Psychology (PSY 4240) course on October 5, 2005. The class format is didactic and there are approximately 15 students in the class. You have been serving in the capacity of Undergraduate Teaching Fellow. This lecture was one of the activities initially agreed upon at the beginning of your appointment. Your lecture on Writing was delivered the day that the first paper (of three) was returned to students in class. The delivery of the lecture was timely given that students had just received feedback on their papers and could use that experience to assimilate information that you were presenting.
Overall, you did an excellent job. Your style of teaching is very lively and engaging. You were astute to involve students in class discussion from the very beginning. This to me was impressive given that the audience was, in effect, a group of peers. Students were attentive, asked questions, and were engaged into participation from the beginning of your lecture. You had particularly good ability to allow a certain degree of silence in the classroom so that the students could have time to think about your questions and respond. You were neither too quick to fill the silence nor too slow to let it be uncomfortable. In addition to allowing time, you also showed very good skill in rephrasing students' comments and using them to spring forward to the next topic. This sense of timing is rare in novice teachers.
In presenting your material, I observed a couple of strengths worth noting. First, your slides were well organized and easy to read (both font and color contrast). They contained enough information to guide the students and your discussion without being overwhelming. Second, you printed out your slides and referred to them occasionally to find your place or add a point. You used your notes skillfully to stay on task, yet showed enough independence from them to project confidence in your knowledge about the material.
In addition to using your PowerPoint slides as a teaching tool, you also used the white-erase board. You used the board sparingly and to demonstrate examples. This is excellent use of the board. It is easy, when writing on the board, to speak to it (instead of the class) and become disengaged from the group. Using it sparingly minimizes these interruptions. Your reference to an outline on the board was very helpful and easy to understand. This is not only my opinion, but I noticed many students nodding and taking notes during the example.
Finally, I was very pleasantly surprised by two "details" that have notable impact on teaching. First, you seemed to know all of the students' names and used their names to call on them when they were volunteering comments. Kudos! Second, when you had the opportunity, you tied your material to the class requirements. Even though sometimes these ties seem obvious, I find that students can stay focused and better understand the relevance of class lectures when the ties are made explicit. This can be challenging to do, and you seemed to be able to do it effortlessly.
As a side note, I'd like to commend you for the timely preparation of your slides. Having ample time to review them was very helpful to me. I believe that your slide presentation represented the first time that I have reviewed slides-be it for class or research presentations, from graduate or undergraduate students-and made no significant comments or changes to the originals!
Your teaching ability is that of a much more experienced educator. I commend you on your preparedness for the class content you covered as well as for your excellent process skills in teaching. You projected confidence in your knowledge of the topic and in your ability to share that knowledge with students. This is combined with your obvious energy and enthusiasm to create a skill set that is desirable in any college teacher. Thank you for your contribution to the Multicultural Psychology course.
Dr. Melanie Domenech Rodriguez,
Ph.D. Assistant Professor