262. What Teaching Looks Like

Video recordings of faculty teaching classes have long been used for professional development. In this episode, we examine Martin Springborg and Cassandra Volpe Horii join us to discuss how still photography may also be used for this purpose. Martin and Cassandra are the co-authors of What Teaching Looks Like: Higher Education through Photographs. Martin is the Interim Dean of Liberal Arts and STEM at Dakota County Technical College. Cassandra is the Associate Vice Provost for Education and Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford University.

Show Notes


John: Video recordings of faculty teaching classes have long been used for professional development. In this episode, we examine how still photography may also be used for this purpose.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


Rebecca: Our guests today are Martin Springborg and Cassandra Volpe Horii, co-authors of What Teaching Looks Like: Higher Education through Photographs. Martin is the Interim Dean of Liberal Arts and STEM at Dakota County Technical College. Cassandra is the Associate Vice Provost for Education and Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford University. Welcome, Cassandra, and welcome back, Martin.

Cassandra: Thank you.

Martin: Thanks for having us.

John: Today’s teas are: …are either of you drinking tea?

Martin: Oh, yeah. In preparation for this.

Rebecca: Awesome.

Martin: So normally, I drink coffee all day. Today I’m drinking one of my favorite drinks, a London fog, which is Earl Grey tea made into a latte.

Cassandra: Very nice. That sounds great Martin. And I have an iced Jasmine green tea, given the summer nature of what we’re doing and being out in California, but I had my coffee earlier.

Rebecca: [LAUGHTER] Well, I appreciate the real effort to have good tea for the day. I have a jasmine black tea today.

Cassandra: Another Jasmine drinker.

Rebecca: A nice summer flavor.

John: And I have spring cherry green tea.

Rebecca: We’ve invited you here today to discuss What Teaching Looks Like: Higher Education Through Photographs. Can you talk a little bit about how this project got started?

Martin: I started this project when I was teaching photography courses, and specifically an Intro to Photography course at Inver Hills Community College in Minnesota. So I had been teaching, I don’t know, maybe three or four years, going into this a little bit in the book, but I was doing nothing but teaching. So I was really wanting to do some of my own work again, and I decided to make this project that both I can work on and my students can work on at the same time. We were learning about documentary photography at the time. We’re talking about photographers, like Robert Frank, other photographers in this area. And just really getting to that subject, I encouraged them to make photographs of their lives as students. And I told them, I would make photographs of my life as a faculty member. So they could just see what that looks like. And I could learn about them. It blossomed from there. So it was a great project in class, and I loved it so much that I wanted to keep doing it outside of class, and even when I moved out of teaching and into educational development, and away from the college, I started doing this project, or kept doing this work, and actually named it something and said I was going to do this thing on my own and made some photographs of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, then that’s where our system was called. I think I presented the work at the POD conference. Cassandra was there, and she liked the work, and she invited me out to CalTech, and I’ll let her take it from there.

Cassandra: Yeah, I was blown away by these photographs when I first saw them. It was around the time that Martin and I were both interacting through the professional organization, the POD Network, and working on conference organizing. So we had some committee work together, and they just stopped me in my tracks. I’d never seen anything like them. I hadn’t ever seen represented what happens in classrooms in this visual, but also visceral, way that got to the heart of what mattered, what I loved about being in a university environment. And at the time, I was starting up a new Center for Teaching and Learning, really working on communicating what teaching was all about, how to engage with teaching. And so Martin’s visit was, I think, the first outside of Minnesota. We got him into classrooms of a great variety of different formats, lecture formats, but also labs, and discussions, and conversations between faculty and students and teaching assistant meetings behind the scenes, and that work ended up being so impactful and important in the change process for our institution. It’s something that we started talking about and building on. And then I think, as Martin went to other institutions, became a part of the conversation. We also had the thought at some point, “Hmm, what if we talked with the faculty whose classrooms were photographed and started to really understand the impact on them.” So from that, we developed a protocol for consulting about teaching with faculty using photographs. And again, it just grew from there, and I think Martin could tell us a little bit about the inspiration for, actually, the book.

Martin: Yeah. So from there, we were talking with so many faculty after making photographs in their classrooms, and really just, in a lot of cases, shadowing them throughout their entire day, in other roles they were in. Getting faculty to reflect on their teaching practice, and other things about teaching, related to teaching, it was just really inspiring, and we thought, “well, this can’t be just kept between us, just can’t be this secret.” So then we started to dig into what else had been done, like if anything else had been done in this area. What could we learn from that? And how could we lend what we had done to whatever scholarship existed out there on this topic? We saw scant offerings out there on this topic. Some people who were doing video consultations, which is a very common way of doing teaching consultations with faculty… set up a video camera in a classroom, let it roll and then have the faculty member watch it and then talk about it. Nobody was really doing the still photograph approach to that. So we put together a book proposal. And really, the book proposal, I think originally was nine chapters, we narrowed it down in scope a little bit. But basically 15 years worth of documentary photography, institutions across the United States under the broad title of “The Teaching and Learning Project.” We billed it as the most comprehensive photographic exploration to date of contemporary post-secondary education in the US, which it is. And then the book proposal also included in those chapters, insights about the state of teaching and learning, challenges and solutions, and how and why to integrate photographs in an educational change and improvement work at organizations, institutions at that college level. And now, we’re hearing back from a lot of people who are diving into the book, and they’re just saying that it’s timeless. And there’s something we really didn’t expect to see. We got some feedback early on in the book proposal process that, well, now that we’re in COVID, this is just going to play as a time capsule of what teaching was. But that’s not what it is at all. And we’ll get more into that I’m sure later as we dive into how it’s being received now. But yeah, that was really the crux of the proposal.

John: What Teaching Looks Like is part of the Elon University Center for Engaged Learning Open Access series. Why was open access important for you as authors for this project?

Cassandra: Yeah, thanks for that question. So as you’re probably getting a sense, and you’ve taken a look, I’m sure, this is a very different kind of book about higher education and for higher education. Not only does it contain photographs, but it’s probably half photographs, it’s nearly 200, and those are really integrated with the text so that they sit in this co-equal fashion, the purpose is also somewhat different. So given these unique factors, we wanted it to be as fully accessible as possible in format and also in terms of cost. So we found that the editorial team at the Elon University Center for Engaged Learning, including managing editor Jennie Goforth, and a series co-editors, Jesse Moore and Peter Felton also had that clear vision and dedication. They were very excited to be able to make the supplementary resources readily available, and to explore the capacity, I would say, and the possibility of this format. Just for one example, we worked very closely with the editorial team on exactly how and what kind of descriptive text would be provided for these nearly 200 photographs. So that descriptive text is embedded right there in the electronic format, in a way that works with screen readers, and it’s also potentially enriching and available to all readers. So the other piece is that we really believed in the potential and the possible impact of the book and helped us zoom out for a moment. And, you know, through your conversations with authors that there are so many more excellent high quality books available and emerging about how to teach in higher education, how to teach in different disciplines, through different methods, and we think those are incredibly important. And now we’re seeing more books, volumes, articles coming out about how change works in higher education, how to structure change, strategies for systemic change, also incredibly important, and Martin and I are working on those things too. The thing that What Teaching Looks Like does that I think is different is it gets at why to change, why teaching matters, why to improve, and provides some new tools in our collective repertoire that engage people’s whole selves in that work. So when we talk about culture change, which is so important to sustainable and systemic change, there has to be that drawing in and sustainable interest in participating so that it’s not purely top down, it’s not a forced experience. The other thing we know is that reflection is so important, pausing to really deeply think about why we teach in particular ways and how to go about change, also incredibly important. And what we found was that, like Martin said, we were missing this whole avenue of engaging with people, and we need everything we’ve got to really tackle the challenges in higher education. So kind of circling back around to why open access. These factors are not necessarily a well-tested formula for publishing in higher education. But again, we think it’s really vital. And as Martin mentioned, the early reception to the book is indicating that it’s landing, so we’re getting messages back in email that you People are saying, like “I’m blown away. This is reminding me what I love about teaching. It’s making me think in new ways,” …and a real sense of excitement about the things that they want to do and the conversations that they want to have with their colleagues.

Rebecca: As an artist and a designer, I was really fascinated by this project since Martin first mentioned it to us, a while back, in part because we don’t typically think of SOTL as something that is visual, or that is documentary in nature. Can you talk a little bit about the methodology and what it reveals that some of these other methods don’t? You’ve started hinting at some of these things, but I’d love to hear more about “why photography?”

Martin: First of all, since high school, it’s the way I’ve communicated. So I’m used to communicating that way. And I think you touched on something.SOTL is typically text based. There’s a lot of great stuff there. But you’d have to dedicate yourself to sitting down with it for quite a long time. And if we’re asking faculty, who was really our main audience for this work, to learn from something, photography was just the first place I went, as far as just being a SOTL project, because still photographs instantly land with you. If you look at something, you have an opinion about it, whether you like it or don’t like it, whatever you see in there, immediately, it hits you at a very gut level, the longer you sit with something, the more you see the intricacies of it and more maybe the message that was intended by the author or the photographer, but because it was familiar to me as a way of communicating, that’s really why the methodology, and that’s why I see it as different from a lot of SOTL work is because it takes so little time comparatively, to get into it. You can use photographs to teach faculty something in far less time.

John: And imagery can be really powerful. When we think back to many historical events, key photographs from those events often have a much longer impact than any text that was written up describing those events. So I think you’re onto something quite interesting here. But could you talk a little bit about the structure of the book, and what readers can expect to find in each chapter?

Cassandra: Yeah, I’d be happy to take you through the outline of the book a little bit and preview what you can expect. So in the introduction, we talk a little bit more about the origins of the project itself and some of that surrounding work, which we alluded to a bit here. We also give readers a chance to anticipate how they might interact with the book and think about some strategies for observing the photographs, for taking that pause to really look closely. We continue to do that throughout, of course, but there’s this little primer in the beginning for just interacting with this type of a book, several of the chapters take up place, or a kind of experience in higher education, because we started with really the thematic commonalities that were coming through in these really 10s of 1000s of images that Martin had from multiple different campuses across the United States. Those often pointed to these thorny, challenging questions about what’s current, what’s difficult, what’s interesting about being in higher education today. So in classroom interactions, one of the chapters, it starts out with this quote from one of our participants, “if I were lying on my deathbed, I would want to look at these pictures to know that I did some good teaching.” When we heard that, we just got goosebumps, at least I did, and it speaks to this visceral power that we’ve been talking about. That chapter also looks at what the absence of photographs to date says about the value we place on teaching, what kinds of things we learn when we do have photographs. It’s interwoven with some of the theory and critical perspectives on what photographs are and how they function. We also look at, in another chapter, student perspectives, and really think about the student experience today, what kinds of emotions and forms of engagement, collectively, we’re willing to showcase and what we might be hiding from students that could get in the way of the deeper learning that we’re trying to get at, as well as we know that roles for educators are shifting as we move more toward active and engaged forms of collaborative learning. We also think in another chapter about our interactions with technology and spaces, that interplay that’s also speaking to the importance of those resources. They set the stage and the kind of agency that we might still have and the power relationships that we do have the capacity to change in those environments, and even looking at the nuances of partnerships beyond campus, of community engaged learning. There’s a set of chapters too that take on a little bit more of a philosophical slant. So we look at the productive chaos and the messy nature of education… a sort of deeper exploration of order and disorder, and really a critical admission and questioning of perhaps, the sort of secret aesthetic that we might come to in our experience as educators. Many of us might think that there’s something beautiful about learning, but it’s not something that we say, and we need to say it, but we also need to question it. And then there’s also kind of a real look at the behind the scenes, hidden work, the hidden labor behind education that we almost never show: the work of contingent faculty, adjunct faculty, tenure-track faculty, alt-AC staff, administrators. And we really see the liminality of some of those positions showing up in the images themselves, but also the capacity for that to connect across roles and generate empathy. And then the arc of the book ends with thinking about photographs and change agents, and how they can play a role in campus communities, making intentional, institutional, and educational change through the ways we communicate, how we bring people together through exhibits of photographs, through having this representation in our shared spaces, and then how photographs can have an impact on our teaching practice through the conversations that we might have about them. So every chapter ends with some open-ended questions for reflection, and those are expanded on in the website resources.

Rebecca: I really appreciated seeing the collection of photos and what you were saying about the absence of such photos existing or that documentation existing really resonated with me. I’m working on our graduate student orientation in our new learning management system, which is much more visual, and I’m trying to collect images and represent some ideas, and what I was quickly realizing, at the same time I was looking at your book… this was happening at the same time… was, “Wow, we’re not really great, just generally, taking photos of what learning really looks like or what being a student looks like, or what being a teacher looks like, what being in grad school looks like, because a lot of the things are very staged or focus on extracurricular spaces or they’re just very staged…” it was thinking about other opportunities where I’ve gotten to see something which I appreciate being able to see something in action, but often those seeing of the things in action are staged.

Martin: I’ve given talks to faculty at institutions when I’ve gone to to make photographs. And that’s one of the things that is often in those talks is wrestling with how we project ourselves to potential students and their families, the balance between marketing and what they would love to do, and the reality of what students see when they get to college. They’re often not the same thing. So we project a lot of images that don’t represent ourselves in truth. And I think that’s potentially why students are shocked often when they get to college. And they realize that, “oh, this is a wild mess,” in a lot of aspects. “This is crazy. I don’t know if I can take it.” What I’m trying to say is, if we do have more photographs available to students, sadly, if we’re able to have discussions around those truthful photographs… I won’t say truth… but around those honest photographs, then I think we circumvent a lot of that, we take some of the shock away from what it is to be in college, what it is to be a student, what it is to be a faculty member. If we showed photographs like this to our graduate students more often, they would understand what’s ahead of them when they teach their own classes. They get that in the teaching assistant roles, of course, but there’s more in those photographs to learn in that respect.

Rebecca: Yeah, the authenticity of the collection is really impactful. I really also appreciated all the companion resources, and would love for you to talk through some of those. There was multiple things that you’ve included, not only within the text itself, but also as this companion material on the website. And there were a couple that I was particularly interested in that I hope you might walk us through. One of them is the close reading and observation activity. Can you share a little bit about that?

Cassandra: Yes. And in fact, if you’d like we can try that out a little bit right here. Are you game for that, Rebecca and John?

Rebecca: We can try. We can try anything.

Cassandra: Alright. So the companion resources, as you alluded to, includes a set of close observation, close reading exercises, which excerpt, one photograph or sets of photographs around several themes, and then offer some prompts for reflection, conversation, discussion. We imagine that these… and they are actually…. being used in a reading group and book groups. I have given workshops on my own campus and Martin and I have done similar things in conferences where we take this similar method and really work with a group. It’s a great warmup, gets people very engaged, gets them thinking, also a wonderful activity in the context of reflecting on teaching. So lots of different uses, but I’m gonna have John and Rebecca, and Martin, if you like, open the resource called close reading and observation exercises, just to the first photograph that you find there. So it’s on the second page. And it’s called Introduction, close reading exercise. Is everybody there?

John: And we will share a link to all the resources, especially this one, in the show notes.

Cassandra: Fantastic. So let’s just start out by engaging, looking at this first photograph. And I’m going to ask John and Rebecca to share what you notice, in this image… start to describe it. Of course, we’re on audio. So your description will be helpful for listeners, and it will tell us something and yourself something about what you think is important and what stands out. What do you see?

Rebecca: I just want to verify that we’re looking at the figure 2.01.

Cassandra: Yes, 2.01.

Rebecca: So what I see is two groups of students, and each group is organized around a computer monitor. In the group that’s closest to us, I see a diverse group of students. And there’s one student who is gesturing with his paper at the screen, two students leaning in to see this screen, and one student hanging back a little bit… looking, peeking at what’s on the screen, but not quite leaning in like the other two are.

Cassandra: Awesome. Thank you. So there’s no wrong answers here. All of those are things that are present in the photograph. John, is there anything you would add, just at first glance, of what stands out to you?

John: Well, the students all seem focused on the same material, they all seem to be actively engaged in the activity, which is not something we always see in classrooms.

Cassandra: And as you think about, look at this photograph a little bit more, is there anything in it that maybe seems typical or atypical?

Rebecca: I think the level of focus is not always typical, as John mentioned, but it’s also, like a super win [LAUGHTER] when that level of focus is there. So I’m feeling the winning happening. It gives a teacher who is probably walking around the classroom, and you’re feeling like, yeah, the students are into this thing. So I can’t see that. But I’m feeling that.

Cassandra: Yeah, well, and that emotion is coming through in the details that you already have observed. So Rebecca, you pointed out some of the expressions and the body language that you’re noticing in this photograph, some of those signs that you see about what engagement might look like, what happens when students are getting engaged, that sort of leaning in, and the gesturing that’s happening. So there’s this action that you’re noticing as well. One more little question is this, you might not be able to tell from the photograph, the person closest to the lens, whose back is toward us, and who has the piece of paper gesturing toward the screen is actually the professor, the teacher in this setting. So any thoughts about knowing that about this image now, what might be going on and what you notice about the roles?

Rebecca: To me, it seems like the faculty member is checking in on something that’s happening, and now they’re having a conversation and maybe some explanation of where there was a misstep. And really the leaning in of like, “Wait, I want to know the answer. I want to understand this better.”

Cassandra: Yeah, fantastic. So I don’t want to go on too long. But I think, hopefully, that demonstrates that just with that moment of looking and some prompts and questions, you start to really get deeply into the photograph, deeply into the experience. And if we were in a course design institute, we might use this prompt and this image, to start to open up a conversation about how we want to structure in-class work, once we have some learning outcomes defined, the big goals of the course. And think about different ways we want to get students engaged and what that’s going to be like for the instructor. If we’re thinking about active learning, we might use this as a starting point to really reconsider the role of the instructor, the moves that they need to make, how to check in with students, we also might be thinking about student groups and how they’re interacting. So there’s lots of ways we can go and it’s that sort of open-ended, reflective quality that is really exciting, and I think fun to engage in and can open up some new possibilities.

John: And it’s especially nice to see all these resources provided with an open access piece of work, because that often doesn’t happen. These are really useful and powerful supplements that make these tools much more usable for professional development.

Martin: Another thing that I want to mention, in reference to this question about additional resources is the guide to photo-based consultations that Elon has on their site. So this is just really us offering our complete template to conducting a photo-based teaching consultation. It’s exactly, with very little modification, what Cassandra and I used every time we sat down with a faculty member that we photographed and guided them through reflection on their teaching practice using the photographs as a reference point, and I think it’s a very powerful way of conducting a teaching consultation, it was often an emotional experience for the faculty that we talked to, and I don’t even remember how many of these we did, we did quite a few at several institutions. They’re all very valuable experiences.

Cassandra: There’s a standalone published article about the teaching consultation framework and some of the findings about what we coded as incidents of reflection and different kinds of reflection that came through in these photographs. And then material from that same study is also incorporated into the book. So readers will see it again, less as the formal research study, and more as a compliment and an accompaniment to the images around these different themes.

Rebecca: We’ve talked a bit about the photographs that you’ve taken and the discussions around the photographs. Can you talk a little bit about the process of actually making the photograph and what the interaction was like with a faculty member to set up that opportunity? And then to follow them around all day? [LAUGHTER] And that was like, and how do you keep that authentic?

Martin: I’ll just start by saying it’s not easy, and it especially wasn’t easy in the very beginning. The first people I photographed were my colleagues, because they were colleagues and also friends, they trusted me. They’re like, “yes, you made this work in your class of yourself, for your students. But how are you going to do that of me in my class?” So it took some getting used to in the very beginning, and then we have like a two pager guide to making photographs in the resources on Elon site as well. But the biggest thing to remember is that things were more than likely be a little weird for about five minutes, you just have to keep making a lot of pictures, and only after you make a lot of pictures of the first few minutes that you’re there that people just tune you out, it does happen. You just have to trust the process, it’s just, you see all the photographs in the book. I had been in those classes with that faculty member trailing that President for some time, and they acted as though I wasn’t even there. And then the photographs, you can see that the people are acting naturally, as though nobody else is in the room with them. That’s my biggest piece of advice. For those that are wanting to do this on their own, I think that the biggest thing to keep in mind is that those moments will come. And you have to remember the ultimate goal of why you’re there and what you’re doing.

Cassandra: One question that we often receive is about permissions for the photographs, which is very important to protect the privacy and let people course consent and elect in to being represented in photographs. So everything that’s in the book, and in Martin’s body of work, every single person has consented actively and signed a photographic release. And when you’re working in your own institution, it’s a good idea to consult with your communications colleagues, potentially General Counsel, just to make sure that you’re following your own institution’s guidelines. Sometimes there’s a blanket photographic release that students elect into or out of that you can access. And in this case, because Martin was also exhibiting and presenting the work outside of the institution, that separate release was very important.

Martin: It’s important to note as well, that the release form gives equal use rights to both myself and the institution. So we have a shared ownership of the images, when I’m finished photographing at a location. And I just give them a complete set of the photographs that I made, so that they can use them for whatever purposes they need to use them for. I’ve almost always worked just with Center for Teaching and Learning staff. They’re going to use those photographs to really put teaching and learning out there visually as a priority at their institutions, and many of them have done that.

John: You visited many campuses and lots of classrooms. What were some observations that stood out in terms of really effective practices or effective activities that were occurring in these classes?

Martin: That’s a tricky word, “effective,” I think. So I’m going to dodge that question, I think, a little bit and talk about the different things I saw that on face value wouldn’t seem like they would work in terms of teaching students things, but ultimately did work to teach students things. So one part of the book that Cassandra mentioned earlier, that messy nature of teaching and learning gets into a situation I was in at one of the institutions where it was this kind of like a giant office hour or recitation session for students in an enormous class with three or four hundred students. It was right before an exam. There was a lot of nervousness in that room. Students were crammed in there together and they were all just sort of tossing notes back and forth… literally through the air, in some cases… handing laptops back and forth from table to table. But in that mess, were also a lot of TAs and the professor of the class, just making round after round after round, consulting with students. And that, if you were to just walk by, would be very loud, as it was loud and chaotic. And you would think “what’s happening here? What good could possibly come from this?” But if you get into the nuances of those photographs, those still photographs, you’ll see that sort of emotion and caring that’s in those interactions between the TAs and the faculty member and those students. And you’ll see on student faces, those moments where they’re like getting it, those “aha” moments. If you teach, you know the face, and those faces, or in those still images, I’m gonna dodge the most effective methods and go to those kinds of moments where I discovered something that to the outside wouldn’t appear to be working, but actually was working very well.

Rebecca: Were there any other really prominent moments, Martin, that really stuck with you?

Martin: There are so many. One situation I was in, I’ll always remember it. So I photographed a large lecture class, it was at night. So there were some students at the back of the room, and the hockey game was on their laptops. They weren’t paying attention to the lecture, it was nine o’clock at night. And then there were other students very engaged in that class, what I wanted to do was capture everything that was happening. When I make photographs of a complete class, which is always what I do, I never want to go into a class and photograph for 15 minutes and exit, I want to be there at the beginning before class starts, and then photograph even after it ends, and students coming up and talking or asking questions. Because that’s the whole thing. So I make probably hundreds, easily, of photographs. And then I whinnow that down to about 60 or so. And then I give those photographs to the faculty member to reflect on for teaching consultation moments that we have, because there are bad photographs, you’re gonna make a lot of bad photographs. But I try, in those 60 or so, to give them a summary of what happened from everything that was happening in that class. Well, this one faculty member just didn’t believe that that was what was happening. He just didn’t believe it, and wanted to see every single photograph and the timestamp on the photographs to know exactly that I got the whole class. And he wanted to see them not in black and white, he wanted the color just because he knew that they existed. I take color photographs, and I make them black and white. So that stuck with me and the reaction after I said “fine, I don’t mind giving you all these, here they are.” But the reaction after that was like, if you can summarize the email that would summarize it as like aha moment where it’s like, that really did happen. All that stuff was going on. I’ll never forget that. I don’t know why. But that’s one moment, one opportunity that stands out to me amongst all the others.

Cassandra: On the flip side, if I can add, there have also been these really striking conversations when instructors were having the chance to observe maybe the student in the back corner of the room that they maybe don’t engage with directly as much or who is quieter, and seeing them get really excited when the instructor is somewhere else in the room. So there was also a lot of seeing things for the first time, seeing students get excited, and recognizing the real difficulties that students are sometimes facing. There’s one image that I don’t think is in the book, but I will always remember seeing this and talking with the faculty member about it, where a student was in a class, computers were being used. There’s lots of stuff in the room. But this one student had laid very carefully on the table next to the computer a white food service uniform that was clearly needing to stay clean and crisp and pressed probably for the job that the student was going to go to after class. And that student was also engaged in the class, but clearly juggling a tremendous amount of life and work. And that’s all there in that image for that faculty member to reflect on and understand.

Martin: We could go on for a really long time. I want to mention two other photographs that stood out to me. So there’s one of a faculty member conducting office hours. And in the office, she’s really intently working with a student. And then you can see the student is really struggling to get it, like physically, the hands on the head. And then outside down the hall, you can see a line of students sitting on the floor waiting for their opportunity in the office hour. I think to me that just sums up what office hours should be and what they are. And it’s a thing that people don’t understand. If you’re not faculty you’ve never taught before, you’re outside of higher education, you don’t understand that that’s a part of faculty work. You can see that same struggle lined up in the hall many times more for that faculty member. And then one more photograph that I want to mention, because it’s funny, and both Cassandra and I laughed hysterically about it. So I photographed a large exam happening. This is one of those exams where it’s proctored by a graduate assistant and it’s timed, it’s very, you got to do everything by the book. This one student in the front row taking this exam is in a panda suit, like a panda costume [LAUGHTER], and it’s just a beautiful moment.

Rebecca: [LAUGHTER] These things do happen. I wanted to pick up on one more thread that you had mentioned at the top of the conversation, which is the power of… and you’ve hinted at some of these examples… the power of these photographs to instigate change. Change, perhaps for that faculty member, and I’m pretty sure I heard both of you imply that it could happen beyond the faculty member too, and I’d love to hear a little bit more about that.

Cassandra: Yeah, I could start this one off. And Martin, please feel free to jump in, of course. Some of the ways in which campuses were, first of all, initiating a project to capture photographs, and then really creatively engaging their communities with the photographs were pretty striking. So one example comes from the University of Michigan, and we’ve discussed this and have some wonderful reflections from colleagues there in the final chapter of the book. Looking at the largest courses on campus, this initiative was really trying to understand what was happening in them, what students were experiencing, what faculty were experiencing. And so that set of photos served as both a kind of baseline for the project, and an interactive tool to engage with those communities about how to change those courses, how to make them better, how to consider what would be most important. In other cases, campuses, and we did this actually on my own campus, created exhibits of photographs in museum spaces, but also in other kinds of spaces in a Center for Teaching and Learning, in an important office on campus. We’re hearing of more places that are also doing similar things now. Some temporary exhibits really brought presidents, and provosts, and deans, and chairs together with faculty teaching the courses, with these large-scale photographs that sparked new kinds of conversations, conversations across disciplines, across administrative and faculty, potentially, sometimes what’s perceived as barriers or misunderstandings. And in some cases, we heard stories about people walking off with the photographs because they wanted them for their own offices for their own.

Martin: They were told they could leave with their photographs at that one event.

Cassandra: That’s good.

Martin: They didn’t steal them.

John: One of the things you mentioned, Martin, was faculty being surprised by what was happening in various corners of the room. And that’s an issue that I think might be really enlightening information for people teaching large classes if they don’t normally walk around their classroom. Because nothing you said there seems surprising to me, I’ve been teaching classes of three or 400 students, and I generally get in often 3 or 4 thousand steps during an hour and 20 minute class because I’m as likely to be teaching from the back of the room or working with small groups of students as I am to be up at the podium. Or at least that was true until very recently. I’m hobbling around a little bit right now, and that actually is a concern I have going into this semester, that I’m going to be a little bit less mobile for the first few weeks. I had a bit of an accident a while back that broke my leg in a few places. So I’m very concerned about not being able to be out there with students for at least part of the semester. But I think it does illustrate the importance of being out there amongst the students. And we’ve often heard people talk about teaching by walking around, and it’s a really effective technique, and having these photos can encourage that in cases where faculty members are skeptical about what you observe in portions of the class.

Martin: Yeah, I don’t want to make it sound like that was the only large lecture situation that I found. I did photograph quite a few large lecture courses where the instructor was up and down the stairs, constantly making the rounds around the room all the time with a Bluetooth headset, rather than being behind the podium. You’re right, you talk about effective teaching methods, and that’s definitely one for those large lecture courses. Not only having the instructor in there, but also having TAs, graduate assistants wandering around constantly, and using the time and the space to conduct group work because you do get around the room.

John: We always end with the question. What’s next?

Martin: One thing that we’ve been able to do since the book has come out is engage more communities. I’m still asking myself what’s happening. What is my life right now? Because soon after the book came out, we gave two book talks to a contingent of educational developers in Asia. It’s this organized two events for people who wanted us to talk about the book with them. And just due to the reach of the book, and what Elon has been able to do, promoting it in that way, it’s so exciting to be engaging more and more communities of folks about the work. Also, we have institutions that are inviting us back, and mounting exhibitions of the work. So one example is St. Louis University, this fall in their museum of art is mounting an exhibition of the work that I made there. I’ll be going back there to make more photographs this fall, as well as Brown University. And I guess the third thing I want to mention for next things is we’re just hoping to build on models from the book, and conducting more educational development and teaching related professional development.

Cassandra: I’ll just add, we’re really excited to observe how communities pick this up and run with it, we’ve talked a little bit about those supplementary resources. So it’s really an approach that campuses can adopt, adapt, and run with. So for example, in one of the recent discussions with the SOTL Asia network, one faculty member was very excited to start to work with students on them documenting and sharing their own experiences as a way for them to reflect on their post-secondary experience, and really be able to communicate it in a different way. Others were immediately thinking about all kinds of contexts that they realized had never been shared about their own learning contexts, their own classes, sort of specific forms of special kinds of classes or environments that they realized were really important and should be shown and should be captured, those kind of hallmarks of the institution or the program or the community. So we’re finding that often just this idea of communicating with images brings to mind the images that haven’t yet been made and the engagements that haven’t yet happened about those representations, those forms of teaching and learning. And we’re hoping to have more of those conversations and to engage with more folks around the work that they’d like to do.

Rebecca: Well thank you so much for sharing your work. It’s really interesting, exciting, and really something we haven’t seen before, and so we’re looking forward to sharing it and spreading the word.

Martin: And on that note, I’ll say one more thing about what’s next. We just talked about this the other day. So now we have this visual baseline of what teaching looks like, and we can refer back to it maybe in 10 years and see how teaching has changed visually.

Cassandra: It’s been wonderful speaking with you. Thanks so much for having us on Tea for Teaching.

Martin: Yes, thank you.

John: Thank you both for joining us.


John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.


252. Thriving in Academia

Graduate programs focus on preparing students to become researchers and practitioners in their disciplines, but generally offer little support for those choosing to pursue teaching careers. In this episode, Pamela Ansburg, Mark Basham, and Regan Gurung join us to discuss some strategies that new faculty can use to support a transition to a career at a teaching-focused institution.

Pamela is a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Metropolitan State University of Denver, Mark is a behavioral neuroscientist at Regis University, and Regan is the Associate Vice Provost and Executive Director for the Center for Teaching and Learning and a Professor of Psychological Science at Oregon State University. They are the co-authors of Thriving in Academia: Building a Career at a Teaching-Focused Institution, which was published earlier this year by the American Psychological Association.

Show Notes


John: Graduate programs focus on preparing students to become researchers and practitioners in their disciplines, but generally offer little support for those choosing to pursue teaching careers. In this episode, we discuss some strategies that new faculty can use to support a transition to a career at a teaching-focused institution.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guests today are Pamela Ansburg, Mark Basham, and Regan Gurung. Pamela is a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Metropolitan State University of Denver, Mark is a behavioral neuroscientist at Regis University, and Regan is the Associate Vice Provost and Executive Director for the Center for Teaching and Learning and a Professor of Psychological Science at Oregon State University. They are the co-authors of Thriving in Academia: Building a Career at a Teaching-Focused Institution, which was published earlier this year by the American Psychological Association. Welcome, Pamela and Mark, and welcome back. Regan.

Mark: It’s great to be here.

Regan: Thank you, John and Rebecca.

Pam: Thank you.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are… Pam, are you drinking tea?

Pam: Earl Grey, because I like a classic.[LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: How about you, Mark?

Mark: Well, we’re in Colorado, which is home of Celestial Seasonings. So when I’m drinking tea, I’m always drinking a Celestial Seasonings tea, usually Sleepy Time, even during the day.

Regan: Are they sponsoring this podcast or something, Mark?[LAUGHTER]…

Rebecca: …Right. Yeah…

MARK’: …I’m in the Pacific Northwest, hours behind all of you. So I’m actually still on my morning cup of coffee.

Rebecca: Alright, that’s fair.

John: And I am drinking ginger tea.

Rebecca: Nice. I have some Jasmine green tea now.

John: Oh, very nice…

Mark: Nice.

Rebecca: And for John’s benefit, It’s been like an evolution over the day of what kind of tea I’m having. [LAUGHTER]

John: Rebecca is at home. I’m sitting in this control room for this old recording studio. So I’ve got this tea… and this tea…. And this tea.

Rebecca: He had to pack them all this morning [LAUGHTER]…

John: …and this tea. And, two of them were insulated, so they’re still warm. [LAUGHTER] We’ve invited you here today to discuss Thriving in Academia. PhD programs generally provide fairly solid training for grad students planning for a research-focused career, but most PhD students don’t end up in research institutions, they end up in teaching-focused institutions, and your book is designed to ease this transition. How did this book project come about?

Pam: It came about from a conference presentation. We were at a conference, the three of us met up and started catching up and talking with one another, and thinking about where our careers had led us. Regan and I have been friends and colleagues for, I don’t know, 25 years or so. And even though we were never in the same physical location, we had a long history. Mark, and I are married, and so when we all got together, we’re kind of talking about where the time had taken us and what we wanted to do, and what are the things that we were learning about, and basically, our interactions with our junior colleagues and the questions that they were asking. And we started to realize that we had some knowledge that we thought would be helpful for people going on this career path.

Mark: One of the things I think we all talked about that first dinner was we were all in positions where we were mentoring younger faculty or newer faculty, and we were seeing them have the same challenges and make some of the same mistakes that we had made, that we had seen early career faculty make over and over and over again. And we thought, well, there should be some resource. There needs to be a book. Certainly, there must be a book out there. And it turns out there wasn’t. And so then we were like, well, we should write it, a guide to having the career out a teaching-focused institution, instead of how to do research.

Regan: Yeah. And I think just an important thing for me to add is, picking up on what Pam said about we met at a conference, it was a teaching conference. And I think that’s important. It was a teaching conference, and it really made us realize how often it was only at teaching conferences that people felt like they could out themselves as being passionate teachers. And I think all three of us have had the occasion of being at a non- teaching conference, a conference in our field and going to a session that was on teaching. And then especially having grad students come up and say, “Oh, I’m so glad I can talk about teaching here, because I can’t do that at my research institution, or with my mentor or anywhere else.” And I think that really fueled our fire to say, we need to sort of unpack that hidden agenda about how it is at a teaching-focused institution where service and research is still important, but the fact is teaching is primary, and what does that do to your psyche, by things like that. So that’s why it’s sort of neat that it happened at a teaching conference, because we looked around at all these people who really didn’t have another home to really talk about teaching and share what the additional challenges of teaching does when you’re in higher education.

John: We were so impressed by the book here that our Provost is buying copies of the book for all of our new faculty and we’re going to have a reading group this fall with them working through it through the semester…

Pam: …Oh, thank you,…

John: …we were very pleased by this…

Pam: …we really appreciate it. And, we hope it will be very useful. I think it will be.

Rebecca: You’ve talked about this already a little bit. But can you talk about who the primary audience for the book is? And is it while they’re in school? Is it right when they’re looking for a job? Like, when’s the best time to engage with this book?

Mark: We really tried to write it for all of those audiences. So certainly, the book starts with just a finding: what is a teaching-focused institution, how do you know one when you see one? How do you find one? We talk about how do you find the jobs that are there? How do you prepare yourself for those jobs? But we also talk a lot about what does that job look like? As John said, during the intro, most PhD programs don’t train you to teach, certainly, and they definitely don’t teach you about advising. They don’t teach you about how to be a good committee member, how to do mentoring, all of those sorts of things.

Pam: And you also don’t have those role models. When you’re in a PhD program, your advisors are researchers. And so that’s who you get to model yourself after. So that was another reason why we thought this book was useful.

Mark: And then as we started writing it we started to realize, well, what about people that are in the middle of their career? There are some unique challenges to that at a teaching-focused institution. So then we said, well, we should include that. So that’s another potential audience. There’s a whole chapter on mid and late career, how do you stay invigorated? How do you handle a transition into being a chair or a dean or a provost? How do you handle potentially switching institutions? So we really think the audience is anybody who is in a teaching-focused career or contemplating a teaching-focused career.

Regan: And I think one particular fun part is by virtue of the fact that we’re all and maybe I should put my co authors on the spot here. What are you guys? Are you mid career? [LAUGHTER] What do you call yourself? Yeah, don’t let the gray hair or lack thereof fool you. I mean, the reality is, all of us have been around for some time. And the neat thing of that is we not only reflected on folks where we are, and a few years ahead of us, but… and this is the part of the book I loved in particular… was it’s packed with our stories of different points in our career. So we’ve got stories in there from when we were grad students, from when we were junior assistant faculty and associate faculty. And so in that way, I think you can really see yourself no matter where you are in your career. And there are three of us, we all read each other’s chapters, that was one of the most fun parts for me was to read Mark’s and Pam’s stories, because each chapter ends with a personal story. And each of us took turns writing that and it was a lot of fun to get the first look at Pam’s story or Mark’s story. Because there were things that even though we’ve known each other for some time we haven’t talked about, but it immediately, I think, invites the reader into the different stages of careers.

Pam: And I think depending on where you’re at in your career, parts of the book will resonate differently with you. So when you’re just beginning, if you’re in graduate school, you really are just trying to understand what the job is, once you take on the decision to become a professor at a teaching-focused institution, then it gets real. And you really have to figure out what do I need to do here. And then, even if you’ve been in the role for a little while, we have some, I think, neat tips about efficiencies and ways to take and model your career and make choices to help you really feel fulfilled as you go through.

Regan: I just want to add one more thing, I think educators or especially grad students, but even educators in general, forget often that there are close to 4300 colleges and universities in the US itself… 4300. Yet, when we’re in grad school, so many of us are so often just thinking about that small number of research schools. And what’s neat about this was it was the recognition of the fact that there are so many varieties of institutions…. 4300 out there… that’s a lot of variants. And I think all three of us have realized in our careers, in the work that we do, that the absolute bulk of faculty and instructors at those 4300 institutions never get the chance to talk about teaching or talk to peers about the challenges of being at a teaching-focused institution. And I think that’s the eyes in which we set out to write this book is to say, if you’ve never had the chance to be to a teaching conference, or to have that support structure or have your teaching champion, join us and read this book, and it’s really written with that voice. And I mean, it’s not your dry book, the three of us let ourselves and the publishers let us, be more conversational in places, which I think really invites you into that conversation.

John: The faculty that grad students are working with see the reputation of their institution being partly reflected by how many of their grad students end up in top universities within their discipline. And there’s generally not a lot of discussion of other options or, if there is, it’s often a discouragement of that, that maybe people should apply at teaching colleges as a backup rather than as their primary market. Yet, that’s not why all grad students chose to go to grad school, many people would like a career in a teaching-focused institution. What advice do you provide in the book for students who are looking at alternatives, who are trying to choose between a research-focused institution or a teaching-focused institutions? What sort of guidance do you suggest? What factors should they consider?

Mark: Before I actually answer your question, or let one of my co-authors answer your question, I think you hit upon one of the real driving forces about this book, which is that as a grad student, as Pam mentioned, your mentors are researchers typically, but the whole incentive structure… You’re right, at a big research university, the things that are prioritized, that are incentivized are doing research, and then making sure that your students do research and contribute. And so once you go to a teaching-focused institution, even though you’re still going to do research, you’re still gonna do scholarship, you’’re still gonna do all the parts, but the incentive structure is much different. And that’s a big change from being a grad student. But as far as the advice, it seems sort of obvious, but one of our main pieces of advice is get experience teaching. The more experience you can get, the better. And we have a lot of sort of suggestions about how to go beyond just being a TA as a grad student, but how do you connect with maybe community colleges or teaching-focused institutions that are nearby so that you can become an instructor of record for a course or two, because really, that’s the only way to know which way you want to go. You’re trying to research, you’re doing that, as a grad student, you really need to try your hand at the teaching part and see how that feels.

Pam: And I would also add that reaching out to find somebody who is at a teaching-focused institution in your field and, send an email and just explain who you are… you’re a graduate student, you’re exploring this as a potential career path… and would they be willing to give you 15 minutes of time just to explain what their daily life is like? Because I think as a graduate student in a PhD program, you don’t really have a good window on what the daily activities of a professor at a teaching-focused institution is. And so just hearing somebody talk about what do they do on a daily basis and what are the challenges and what are the advantages and why they made the decision to go into a teaching-focused track is another strategy.

Regan: Yeah, this is why I love having two co-authors because we all come at things from such different directions. When I heard your question, John, I immediately thought of the importance of mentoring. And we had a really good time writing about mentoring: both how to find a good mentor, but then also how it’s important to be a good mentor. And that’s where I first went to, which is many times our mentors are very well meaning and looking out for us and looking out for the best, but it’s often the best according to them. And I think I was very fortunate that I had some mentors who, even though they were really training me to be Research I University people, when I said I really wanted to teach, they said, “Okay, I respect that and let me help you.” And I know that’s not the case with many mentors who you may even shudder to mention the fact that you are looking at a small liberal arts college, or that’s where you’d like to go. Full disclosure, Mark and I both went to Carleton College, a small liberal arts college where teaching was a big deal. And the faculty were passionate about teaching. And I know I took that with me through my grad schools. And I was a postdoc at UCLA. I was in grad school at the University of Washington, both big Research I schools, but thankfully, my exposure to a liberal arts school where faculty loved to teach, I knew it was possible. I knew it was possible. I always hung on to that. And I always think about those grad students who didn’t have that kind of exposure to passionate teachers who only have a Research I exposure but who still want to teach, how do we let them know that teaching is an option and that’s where I think Pam’s advice is so good. Find somebody who is passionate about teaching, either at one of those teaching schools, or I will add, elsewhere in your discipline, but find your champion who is willing to say I will support you in going to a teaching-focused institution.

John: One other thing I think that is becoming much more common is, even in research institutions, there are more people hired as professors of the practice or some similar name, where there are some people who specialize in effective teaching. So there may be people in more and more departments now who could serve in that mentoring role without even having to leave the institution. That was very uncommon when I was a grad student, but it is becoming a bit more common now.

Rebecca: Thanks for sharing your story, Regan. One of the things that you made me think about is how lucky I was to have some of the mentors I had in graduate school because I got to teach a special topics class as a graduate student and write my own class and try it out my last semester. And it was a really great experience for me. And I also wanted to just note here, we’ve been talking a lot about PhD programs, but the same thing also happens in programs like MFA programs that are also terminal degrees, but might have a slightly different context. But there are those that are really focused on the creative practice and being in a research institution versus teaching as well. So that does kind of span across those kinds of programs as well.

Mark: Regan, I think is more tenacious than I am. I remember sitting in that Carleton classroom, looking at my professors and thinking, hey, this is what I want to do. But then I also know that as I went on, and got a master’s degree and PhD program, and then as a postdoctoral researcher, I kind of forgot that, I forgot that dream. It was easy to get indoctrinated into the “I’m going to be a researcher, I’m going to strive for the Nobel Prize, I’m going to do this.” And it wasn’t until I almost accidentally ended up teaching my first class, which I did only because my first child was born and I needed the extra money. And I sort of surreptitiously, without my PI and my postdoc knowing, signed up to teach a class. And then when I got in front of a classroom full of students, it sparked that memory of like, “Oh, I remember why I started this journey, I started this journey, because I wanted to be like those passionate professors that I had as an undergrad.” And I had forgotten that along the way. And then I’m one of those people who had to sort of do a pivot without a lot of support, where I had conversations… I adore my advisors and the PIs I’ve had over the years, and they were wonderful mentors in many ways, but they were lukewarm at best in supporting that transition to a teaching-focused institution. So I’m one of those people who had to sort of swim upstream to get to where I am.

Regan: I love that story, Mark, because my undergrad experience actually was the opposite. And when I sat in class as an undergrad, although I respected the passion, teaching was the last thing I thought I would do, I had absolutely no idea. I was brought up in the classic Indian tradition of, “Hey, go be a doctor, go be a lawyer.” And I’m grateful to my parents to saying: “Psychology, sure, give it a shot.” But I was completely PhD research. That was all I could think about. And I mention this, because there will be many people listening or reading, who likewise may have come to teaching out of the blue. Through my grad program, we didn’t have to teach. So Rebecca, when you said you got a chance to teach, wow, that’s great. There are many folks out there who never get the chance to teach because it’s not part of the plan. In grad school, I did not have a chance to teach. But a friend invited me to do a guest lecture in their class. And that one hour changed the trajectory of my life, because the highs that I got from that 50 minutes, of the reactions, of the feedback of what it felt like, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. But, and this is what I was gonna say Rebecca, in response to your story, but then it was hard work. People be prepared. If you want teaching experience, sometimes you’re gonna have to work very hard to do it. And that’s why, I think, Mark, you mentioned going and looking at if there’s a course at a community college that you can teach, that’s what I had to do at a postdoc. I was a postdoc at UCLA, fully funded, and I wanted to teach. So I went and taught at a college an hour away, because that was the only place that had an opening for a course. So, be prepared to really fuel that teaching passion. It may take time and effort as part of the whole deal.

Pam: I’ll just tag on to Regan. I had the same experience as Regan, I was research all the way, no interest in teaching whatsoever. In fact, when I got into my PhD program, I was really upset because there was no research assistant positions, and I had to have a TA position. And I fought, I went to see the chair and I said, “I really don’t want this. I really want to be a researcher.” And he said, “Well, do you want money? Do you want the TA? and I thought, “Okay, I guess I’ll be a TA” and I just was like, “This is gonna be horrible. I’m gonna hate it, but I’ll do it for the money, fine.” And the same experience, Regan, I had to run review sessions for an introductory psychology class. I walked into the class with the worst attitude you could have ever imagined, and within two minutes, I was in love. A total turnaround. It was a really amazing experience. And so I would say like, sometimes you don’t know where you’re headed, and the advice I give to my students is: “Be open.” I wasn’t particularly open. I got forced into a situation and then it changed my whole life.

John: Which comes back to that advice that you talked about earlier of trying to teach your class just to see what it’s like, because it would be very easy for many people to go through grad school without realizing that that’s something that they really do have a passion for, or that may be something that they just never want to do. So,[LAUGHTER] having that experience is really essential. I was in a position where I was planning on going into research until one of the professors left very suddenly. And with a couple of days, notice, I was teaching a course. And I decided from that point, that’s what I wanted to do. I was on a fellowship, I didn’t have to do any teaching. But once I did, it pretty much determined the path of my career.

Mark: It was one of the fun things about writing this book was, we would write two thirds of the chapter, and then we would read it and we would email each other and say, “Man, we’re making the sound like a terrible job. We’re making this sound like it’s really hard.” And then we would say we need to add in, what’s the reward? Why do we do that? And I think the final product does a good job both sort of addressing how difficult it is, how much time it’s going to take, what is this job really like? But then also, why do we do it? Because it’s not for the money. We all do it for the joy you get from doing all of these things. And even not just the teaching. But we talked about the satisfaction of service done well, the satisfaction of involving students, particularly undergraduate students, in your scholarship and your research. And so I think, as Regan was saying earlier, it’s a very accessible book, because it does talk about the difficulties, but it also talks about the joys and rewards from doing this job..

Rebecca: It’s funny, Mark, that you mentioned that you had initially taught for the money. So did I. I didn’t do it, because I wanted to teach, necessarily, but then we stay because of other things.[LAUGHTER] So one of the things that you talked about is thinking about some of the challenges and surprises and maybe positive things of working at a teaching institution. What are some of the things that are different at a teaching institution than at a research institution that people should think about?

Mark: There’s so much. [LAUGHTER]

Regan: I have actually a number because when we first talked about this book, talked about it, even the idea for it, I was at one institution, which is a very teaching-focused institution, and then very recently moved to a Research I institution. Now, that said, I sit in the Center for Teaching and Learning, so I am surrounding myself with teaching and learning. But it really opened my eyes to some of those really big differences that I do see out there. And I think the biggest difference, is in the fabric of a teaching-focused institution, our constant conversations about teaching, where I know that next to every day, I would get coffee with a colleague at my teaching-focused institution, the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, and we talk about teaching, or we’d pop out of our office, and we’d talk about teaching, or we’d walk to somebody else’s office and we’d say, “Hey, I’m playing with this assignment. What do you think about teaching?” …and that doesn’t happen with the same frequency at Research I schools. I think, what does happen though, here and this goes back to Pam’s comment that I’m going to take up a notch, Pam said, “Hey, find somebody at a teaching-focused institution.” I’m going to modify that a little bit to say, even at Research I schools, if you’re interested in teaching, find somebody who’s interested in teaching, because just a couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with a colleague here at Oregon State. And he said a very interesting thing to me at lunch, where he said, “I don’t get to talk about teaching a lot. But I wondered what you thought about this.” And it was this great conversation about student attendance and recording lectures or not, but the way he tentatively put it forward as the “I never get a chance to talk about this. But here, was what I want to talk about.” That was so neat and in stark contrast to when I was at a teaching-focused institution, we had chances to talk about it all the time. In fact, for me, at a teaching-focused institution, I needed to create opportunities to talk about research, because our default was to talk about teaching. So that was one big difference.

Pam: I would also add that service is a much bigger expectation at a teaching-focused institution than at a research-focused one. So not only are you balancing the demands of teaching, and having all the pleasure of talking about teaching and experimenting with teaching, and keeping your scholarship reasonably productive, you’re also really expected to contribute quite a bit to your institution or your department through service. And sometimes that can get a little bit out of control if you don’t make smart decisions about where you’re going to spend your time in terms of doing service. So I would say that that that is one of the things that is really never really explored very much, but really is a large part of the job at a teaching-focused institution, is service.

Mark: And since Regan and Pam talked about teaching and serving, I guess I could talk a little bit about advising, because I think that’s another big difference. When I was in grad school, when I was a postdoc, when I looked at the people that were at the research institutions, they never talked about advising. If they did, it was sort of obligatory, get it done as quickly as possible. Whereas at most teaching-focused institutions, although there are some that have professional advisors that are doing that, but oftentimes, it’s the faculty that are advising students and doing that academic advising, the career discernment advising, and I think that’s a big difference, too. And I think that’s one of those things that isn’t obvious at first, when people think about a teaching focused institution, they obviously think about teaching, they know that they’re probably going to do some scholarship. But many people, until they have the job, don’t realize how much time you’re going to spend, both formally and informally, advising students, …and especially that informal advising can take up a lot of time at a teaching-focused institution.

Pam: So to tie it back to the question about applying and being prepared for an academic position, these are things that would be helpful to be at least conversant in: “How would you approach your service commitments? Where do you see spending your time? Be able to speak about your advising philosophy as well as teaching and your research.” I think that would make a competitive applicant.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about the advice that you offer related to balancing things like academic advising, teaching, research, and service, and all the other things that we didn’t even talk about? [LAUGHTER]

Mark: Well, this is the big challenge. We talk a lot in the book about trying to do two things at the same time. So can you integrate some of the research into the classroom? Can you combine those so that the research becomes part of the teaching? Can you involve your students in part of the research process, both as part of the research lab, but also as part of the classroom experience? We talk about being really intentional about service, not saying yes to everything. There’s great pressure, especially on early in the career faculty, to say yes to service requests, particularly when they come from a chair or a dean, how can you possibly say no? And we discuss in the book that you actually can say no, and sometimes you should say no. And how do you do that gracefully? How are you intentional about those service activities, so they don’t take over everything. And then I tell this story in the book about my early advising, I got no training in how to do academic advising. I was handed a sheet that had the degree requirements and told, “Hey, meet with these students.” And I memorized the sheet, and I got pretty good at getting students registered for classes. And I could get students in and out of an advising session in 20 minutes. And I was looking at all my colleagues who were spending an hour or more with every student, and I thought “You guys are crazy, get the student in, tell them what classes to take, get them out of your office, sign the form, so that I had time that I could do research.’ I didn’t want to be spending time advising them. it took me several years to realize I was actually missing the point, the point of academic advising at teaching-focused institutions, and particularly the institution I was at, was not just get the students registered for the next semester, it was to help them figure out career discernment, help them figure out how they were going to navigate the difficult courses, how they were going to balance the courses, to get to know them, so that I could write letters of recommendation for them. And with several years of experience then suddenly, I became one of those people that spending an hour or more with every student. But it takes a while to figure out that balance.

Regan: To add to that is the notion that how you balance is going to vary and what you balance is going to really vary at where you are in your career. And I think going back to your earlier question, Rebecca, was “Who’s this book for?” …and our very neat response, which is “everybody along the spectrum,” …something we really tried to address in all over the book is remember, this will be different for you depending on where you are. And so we have parts where we’re like, “Hey, if you’re a grad student, remember this, if you’re a tenured faculty member, remember this.” So I think that how to balance varies on where you are in your career. Now that said, that’s not answering your question on tips to balance, it’s just kicking the can down a little bit. So I will address how to balance. I think at the end of the day, there are just so many different productivity tips and tools. And I think our best suggestion is, remember that there’s no one planner or app that works for everybody. And in fact, I’ll go so far as to say for many of us, an app is not the way to go. Go old school. Something we did in our household yesterday is my spouse pulled out a sheet of paper, a ruler, and a felt pen, and drew out the month of July so we could write on what our two kids would be doing during the week so they could plan and balance their summer. And I think sometimes, in this world of apps and technology, we keep looking for an app to help us balance where sometimes it’s going old school and writing it out or drawing it out in a journal or a calendar and going that route. The key suggestion here is: find a way that’s good for you. Don’t stick with something that’s not working. I think that’s a really key part that we wanted to share over the years is… I don’t know about Pam and Mark, but I know I have tried different things and have settled on what works really well for me in terms of creating balance.

Mark: And one of the things I learned from writing the book with Regan, is this idea that sometimes you have to be creative about thinking about how you’re going to get scholarship done. I was in this mindset that I needed to be able to block off big chunks of time to research. And so I was constantly trying to find six hours on three consecutive days so that I can do this. And then in reading Regan’s, what he wrote for this book and talking to Regan, I had this realization that well, I can reconceptualize how I do that and maybe it is work on scholarship for just long enough until it loses efficiency, and then switch to something else. And do that until I lose efficiency, and then switch to a third thing, and then come back. And this sort of not trying to say, “Well, I have to have these huge blocks of time, but say I’m gonna do something as long as it’s productive. And as soon as that stopped being productive, I switch to the next thing,

Pam: Both Mark and Regan offered very practical, down-to-earth, advice and mine’s going to be a little bit more abstract, philosophical. It’s important for me to always know: What am I doing this for? Why am I doing whatever the thing is that I’m doing? And is it important to who I am as a professional? Does it match my goals? And my goals may be determined sometimes. If I’m not tenured yet, it may be determined by other people, but always sort of looking at it from a strategic holistic viewpoint so that you can make the decisions about what kind of research do you want to do? How do you want to integrate that with teaching? What about service? How can you come up with a coherent, connected professional life? And for me, that has always been really important, and it’s really helped me balance because I can have a sense of what I’m trying to do and who I’m trying to become as a professional. And then when opportunities are available, I can always match that against “Does this fit what I want to do and how I want to proceed as a professional?” Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do and things that don’t fit exactly. But for the most part, there’s so much to be done. You really do have a lot of control about what specific things you do. It’s just important to know who you are and where you want to be heading.

John: One of the things you address in the book is mentoring and finding support for your work. Many campuses, maybe most campuses, will provide formal mentors, but that doesn’t always work as well as institutions hope. Could you give some suggestions on how new faculty can develop mentoring support in their new positions?

Pam: I think one of the best things to do is to look around your institution and identify people that you admire. Who has the career that you’d like to have? Who is involved in the things that you’d like to be involved in? …and then reach out to them. So I think that’s a quick short answer. But you can do that relatively easily. Just being around in any university, you’ll start to notice people who are doing different things, and you’ll start to develop admiration, reach out to those people.

Mark: And I agree with that and the only thing I would add is it doesn’t have to be at your own institution. Look around, look at your professional societies. Look at the people that you’re collaborating with, find the people, like Pam said, who have the career you want. Reach out to those people. Most people are flattered to be approached and say “Hey, can you give me advice? Can you informally mentor me?” Most people are happy and eager to do that if they’re approached..

Regan: And something that relates to both of those, especially at your university, you will see some usual suspects, the people who are always showing up at the things that you’re showing up at, those are great people to grab some coffee with or another beverage with…

Rebecca: tea…

Regan: tea… exactly…

Rebecca: always tea. [LAUGHTER]

Regan: Kombucha. This is Oregon, go for some Kombucha… [LAUGHTER] and just chat some more. So be on the lookout for those people you see often because there is actually something to connecting with somebody in a different discipline at your university. There are many, many benefits to that and we talk about that a fair amount. But I’m going to take what Mark said and some folks may say “Oh, I’d never do that.” So here’s something that I would actually underscore. You’d be amazed at what you will hear if you reach out to somebody else and say “You know what, I’ve either read some of your work or I’ve seen you at conferences or whatever, would you mind touching base every so often?” And I say this because this happened to me, where somebody out of the blue, who I did not know just reached out and we’ve been meeting every month for close to a year now. And this was somebody out of the blue. And I think there are many of us out there who would be happy to do those kinds of things, especially if your discipline doesn’t have a built in mentoring connector kind of thing. And for all of you out there who are psychologists, the Society for the Teaching of Psychology has a mentoring site where you can find mentors for you. So not every discipline has that, but do not poopoo the possibility that just reaching out will get you a connection. Now mind you, just like anything else in higher education, reaching out may get you nothing, and the person may not even respond, but like I tell my students in this day and age of things going into your junk folder, don’t give up after one email, give up after three, because who knows where email messages go nowadays.

Rebecca: One of the things that you address in the book is about preparing for all different roles in all different stages of the career. And I know that when I was applying for jobs, I was peeking around the corner of what tenure might look like. And then after I was tenured, I was peeking my head around wondering what it’s like to be a full professor. And now I am peeking my head around wondering what’s next. [LAUGHTER] So what advice do you have, as folks are moving through their continuum of their career and peeking around corners? It’s often a mystery what happens next.

Pam: I think seeking a mentor who is at that next stage is a great way to get a better view of what that looks like. And maybe more than one because my experience is that as you progress in your career in academia, there are lots of different paths you can take, lots of different ways people can go. So I know that Regan’s definitely in the administration and of things, Mark is heading there, I’ve popped in and out of administrative roles, but I keep coming back to faculty roles. I think there’s a lot of ways you can design your career as you go, and so having multiple mentors and multiple models is a good way to get that look ahead.

Mark: My answer, Rebecca, to your question was: “Well, that’s the reason we wrote the book is so that you could get a better peek around those corners.” And I would add also to what Pam just alluded to, there’s a reason that this is a three-author book, that it’s not just a single person story. And sort of serendipitously, the three of us have had very sort of different careers within this umbrella of teaching-focused institutions, and so you get those multiple perspectives. And so peeking around the corner, looking at my transition from pre-tenure to post-tenure looks different than peeking around the corner and looking at how Pam did it or how Regan did it. But in our book, you get all three of those. And so you really do get more information that way.

Regan: Yeah, and Rebecca, going back to your situation, I’m going to say something I think somewhat controversial in that I don’t think everybody needs to go through the same rung of higher education and climb one rung after the other. We talked about balance a little earlier, let me say this bluntly, you may be able to get a lot more balance if you’re not a full professor. You may be able to get a lot more balanced just once you get tenure without needing to then push yourself to that next level. There’s more responsibility with more levels. And I think to get a little Pam and philosophical here, it’s a state of mind. What are you comfortable with? And I like to say: Are you being challenged? Do you look forward to going into school? Or do you look forward to your work? If it is, do you need that rank? Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a whole separate story about the tenure track versus the fixed term. That’s a separate issue. But especially in the traditional tenure-track moves, and also in ranking more for fixed term. And really ask yourself, are you happy where you are? Are you happy with the challenges? And that’s when you look around the corners and look around different corners? Because as Pam alluded to, maybe you look around into the administrative corner and you go, “No, I don’t want to go that route.” But by the same token, you may look around that corner and go, “Wow, I love the challenges there.” But it’s totally okay, if you don’t. You’re not a lesser person if you decide not to go up for full, if you decide not to go into administration. And the last thing I’ll say that is a little pragmatic, is this is why volunteering for committees is wonderful, because then you get a taste for those different corners and whether you want to go those routes or not.

Mark: And one thing I would add, we’re talking a lot about tenure and, more and more, there are institutions that are not tenure institutions. In my institution right now we have two different types of faculty, some who are on a tenure-track tenure system and some who don’t have a tenure system. The title of the book is Thriving in Academia, and we do talk about: “Can you be thriving in academia as an affiliate faculty for your entire career?” I think that’s very possible. I know people who’ve done that, so it doesn’t have to be that traditional route of a tenure-track position and then tenure and then department chair. We really want people to thrive, whatever works for them. And if that means that you’re at an institution where you’re just on multi-year contracts for your whole career, that’s great. How do you make that work? If you are in a position where you want to be an affiliate faculty member and teach classes at multiple different institutions? Can you build a thriving career out of that? Yes, absolutely, certainly you can. All of that is part of the book.

Regan: Mark’s commenting about the different tenure-track versus fixed term and contracts… To push that a little further, I think the constitution of higher education and how it’s done is looking very different. Something that we didn’t touch on at all in the book, because it was written mostly prior to the pandemic was remote learning. There are things coming down the pike, how do you deal with different teaching modalities? How do you deal with remote work? These are two major ways that higher education is changing. And you’ve got to hope that folks at your institution are looking ahead and not just rushing to get back to normal, where normal wasn’t the best place to be.

John: So maybe another book on How to Continue to Thrive in Academia, when the world’s falling apart?

Regan: There you go. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I’ll look forward to reading that when you guys are done with that. I’ll be the first purchase. [LAUGHTER]

John: So we always end with the question: “What’s next?”

Mark: For me lunch, lunch is what’s next. [LAUGHTER]

Regan: With the message being: don’t forget about your physical needs to thrive in academia. [LAUGHTER]

Pam: Exactly, exactly. [LAUGHTER]

Regan: That was the subtle subtext over there.

Mark: ….self care, Regan.

Regan: Actually, I was mostly jesting, but I just finished a project writing about how to help students study. And the last chapter is self care. So, sleeping and eating and family time and social support, and we don’t talk about that enough. I think something I have seen over the last year is a lot more of us on social media and in these places, being more direct about “Look, people take time for yourself.” And I think, honestly, my big answer to the “what’s next?” is how do we give each other the permission to do that. And I don’t think we in higher education are very good at that yet.

Mark: I had a colleague one time that was from Europe. And he was just appalled at what happened at our institution, which was that everybody ate lunch in their office at their desk working. And he just thought this was crazy, that you wouldn’t stop working, go somewhere, have lunch as a separate event. And I often think about that when I’m sitting in my office having lunch and thinking this is ridiculous, I should be able to take the time that it takes for me to have lunch away from work, not trying to eat and answer emails, I should be able to go somewhere, have a mug of tea, have my lunch, and have that time. And that’s just a small example, I think, of what Regan’s talking about. We need to set up a system…

Rebecca: Well, you all had me at lunch….

Mark: At my university, I was instrumental a couple years ago in just getting a faculty lounge so that we had a place that faculty could go that wasn’t in their office, that wasn’t open to students, so that we could spend a little bit of time not doing the job for a moment.

John: There was recently a podcast sometime in the last month or so, I think it was Rough Translation, where they talked about someone who went from the US to France, and that person wanted to have lunch at her desk, but there was a tremendous amount of peer pressure to get her outside, to leave the office, even if it was raining or cold, there was pressure on her to get out of there. And it was a bit of a transition for her.

Mark: I think one of the next steps that I think we’re all interested in and hoping for is really just continuing to share this information. So the book is out there now. There are starting to be conferences that are in person. We are starting to do presentations at conferences about parts of the book. And I know, talking to Pam, we’re very excited about being able to go to conferences and talk about: How do you be intentional about your service? How do you deal with feeling burnt out as a mid-career faculty member. …These workshops and conferences and, as Regan alluded to very early on in this conversation, talking to each other, about teaching, about teaching-focused institutions. For me, that’s the thing I’m really looking forward to is getting back to where we can gather as a community and have those conversations and share each other’s knowledge.

Pam: And I think hearing feedback from readers also will be really helpful because, as Regan said, we conceived of the book before the pandemic, finished writing a little bit of it during the height of the pandemic, and we’d like to hear from readers about how things are different for them now and how we can address some of those challenges that they might be facing that we didn’t anticipate in the book?

Regan: Yeah. And I think, definitely striding into next steps, I can’t help but think how we… and I mean the three of us… can better leverage psychological science, because this book was about teaching and teaching-focused institutions and the three legs of the stool of teaching, research, and service. But especially when you try to address the bulk of the questions, whether it’s balancing, whether it’s productivity, the reality is the psychological knowledge out there that can help you do it better. And what I haven’t seen yet is how do you really explicitly leverage what we know about stress and coping and planning and judgment and decision making, and all these psychological topics to help the teaching enterprise. So if you were to say, “Hey, what’s a potential fun next project that builds on this?” That’s definitely something that comes to mind where we unabashedly say here’s how you can do these things. Because I think it’s the pragmatics of how to do things that are important. We have a lot of pragmatics in the book, but especially and I love the reader feedback element, Pam, especially with reader feedback. I know people go: “Give me an example. Give me another example. Give me another example.” So pragmatics and leveraging some of those theoretical things that we know about aS psychologists, I think, really good scope for that.

Pam: I think about maybe adding a workbook component to this sort of thing where there are really practice exercises and practical, even though I do like the philosophical. But, as teachers, we do know that people need concrete examples. They need to work through things. They need to try to problem solve, not in the situation where they’re doing the problem solving for real. And so adding some piece like that, I think, would be valuable. And some of that is figuring out how to do your balance. I’ll admit I’m not very good at that. I eat at my desk all the time.

Mark: I’m happy to say that I have become somewhat notorious on my campus for skateboarding during lunch. I do a little laps around the campus on my longboard and everybody laughs at the old guy trying to be cool, but at least gets me out of my office.

Regan: Mark, we need a Tik Tok of you skateboarding with the book. Viral… That’s gonna go viral.

John: …holding the book.

Regan: That will go viral. That’s gonna go viral.

Rebecca: I think so. Well, thank you all for joining us and sharing all your insights in this book. We’re happy to share the book and share this episode with our listeners.

Pam: Thank you and we’d love feedback from the book once you run your sessions. We’d love to hear what people have to say.


John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.


247. Picture a Professor

What does a professor look like? In popular culture the professor is white and male—a sage on the stage. In this episode Jessamyn Neuhaus joins us to discuss the role context, employment status, and embodied identity play in our teaching realities and experiences.

Show Notes

  • Neuhaus, J. (2019). Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds Who Want to Be Effective Teachers. West Virginia University Press.
  • Neuhaus, Jessamyn (forthcoming, 2022). Picture a Professor: Interrupting Biases about Faculty and Increasing Student Learning. West Virginia University Press.
  • Harlow, R. (2003). ” Race doesn’t matter, but…”: The effect of race on professors’ experiences and emotion management in the undergraduate college classroom. Social psychology quarterly, 348-363.
  • Garcia, Nichole M. (2018). “You Don’t Look Like a Professor.” Diverse Education. March 29.
  • Jessamyn Neuhaus twitter: https://twitter.com/GeekyPedagogy
  • Pittman, C., & Tobin, T. J. (2022). “Academe Has a Lot to Learn About How Inclusive Teaching Affects Instructors.The Chronicle of Higher Education. February 7.
  • Mejia, Donna (2021).  Explaining Fumble Forward. YouTube video/ April 19
  • Pictureaprofessor.com
  • Hogan, Kelly A. and Viji Sathy (2022). Inclusive Teaching: Strategies for Promoting Equity in the College Classroom. West Virginia University Press.


Rebecca: What does a professor look like? In popular culture the professor is white and male—a sage on the stage. In this episode we discuss the role context, employment status, and embodied identity play in our teaching realities and experiences.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist&hellip

John: &hellipand Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer&hellip

Rebecca: &hellipand features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guest today is Jessamyn Neuhaus. Jessamyn is the director of the SUNY Plattsburgh Center for Teaching Excellence and a Professor in the History Department at SUNY Plattsburgh. She specializes in the study of pop culture, gender studies, and teaching and learning. Jessamyn is also a recipient of the State University of New York’s Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence, and the editor of Teaching History: a Journal of Methods. She’s the author of Geeky Pedagogy: a Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds Who Want to be Effective Teachers. And Jessamyn is the editor of Picture a Professor: Interrupting Biases about Faculty and Increasing Student Learning, which will be released by West Virginia University Press this fall. Welcome back, Jessamyn.

Jessamyn: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are&hellip Jessamyn, are you drinking tea?

Jessamyn: I’m drinking coffee. I need to mainline that caffeine as much as possible. And I’m drinking Green Mountain Coffee Island Coconut,

John: &hellipand I am drinking English breakfast tea this morning.

Rebecca: Ah, we match today, John. [LAUGHTER] But mine’s decaf.

John: Since we’re recording five podcasts today, I have six cups of tea in various thermoses here with me, because I’m not going to be leaving this room for quite a while. We’ve invited you here today to discuss Picture a Professor. Could you tell us a little bit about the origin of this project?

Jessamyn: Sure, I’d be glad to. I think it really started when I was doing the research for Geeky Pedagogy. And the first chapter in Geeky Pedagogy is about awareness. And it has four kinds of realities that all instructors need to be aware of and cultivate awareness of: identity matters, learning is hard, who our students are, and who we are. And when I was researching that chapter, I read a 2003 article by Roxana Harlow, a psychologist, it’s a 2003 article in Social Psychology Quarterly. And she used the phrase “disparate teaching realities.” And that really stuck with me because of the way it foregrounded: this is a reality&hellip that people’s teaching context shapes their labor as an educator, and that they are not equal, that they are disparate, they’re not the same, that we do not have the same kind of teaching workload, depending on all kinds of circumstances in our individual contexts. Employment status really matters. Embodied identity really matters. Department culture, student population and discipline, all those things really matter. I think too, one of the origins of this project was my background in popular culture, and studying popular culture, and the way that the primary representation of college professors in popular culture is very, very limited. And also, not coincidentally, kind of opposite of myself, the professor we see most of the time in movies and television is the white guy. And he is usually, if he’s being depicted as a good educator, he’s super dynamic and performative. And students are sitting entranced as he lectures and they magically learn, just because he’s such a wonderful classroom performer. So as an introvert, and someone who’s never going to be a kind of super dynamic, high energy, always entertaining performer, that stereotype was lodged in my head, and writing Geeky Pedagogy was a way that I was trying to address and dismantle that super professor stereotype. So as my scholarship of teaching and learning continued, I increasingly became aware of all the intersecting aspects of our identity that might play a role in our teaching work.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about the title: Picture a Professor?

Jessamyn: Sure, an early version of this project, a working title or phrase that kept coming up was “you don’t look like a professor.” Hearing that phrase is a common experience, as explained very well in an article in Diverse Education by Nicole Margarita Garcia. She wrote an article by that same name, “You Don’t Look Like a Professor” and she points out, very compellingly, that no matter what the intention of that statement, the result is the negation of one’s expertise and authority. It’s an undermining of the knowledge and abilities that someone has in their role as an educator. Again, it’s not necessarily the intention of the random stranger or the student or the colleague who says, “You don’t look like a professor.” That might not be their intention, but that is the function. You don’t look like a professor, so someone else does. But as the collection started to come together, and I was working with the authors, and I was talking to the contributors about a title, it started to take, I guess, what I would think of as a more positive direction. So at first, the whole collection acknowledges that reality, that those stereotypes are there, and that that disempowering and disrespectful response happens. But then what? What are you going to do with that? How are we going to respond to that? And every contributor to this volume, while acknowledging that reality, also believes in the ability of students and our world to rethink and remake that stereotype&hellip to challenge it and to re-imagine it&hellip remake the role of the professor, even more than just diversifying the image that might be on our TV screens or movie screens. These authors are arguing for really reimagining our roles and redistributing power. They believe in the transformative power of education. So, Picture a Professor really is the nod to the strategies that are being explored in this volume, and that we can, collectively in higher education and as a culture and society, we can picture a professor as anybody, in any body, moving past the gendered and racialized and other kinds of embodied aspects of that stereotype to reimagine what’s possible.

John: You collected a very interesting and diverse group of authors in this collection. How did you find all these authors? How did you select them?

Jessamyn: I put out a call for papers on Twitter. And that really was probably the most important way. I also utilized some of my own networking and connections to reach out to potential contributors. But a big percentage of the people in this selection found me and found the call for papers through my Twitter account. And I think we may have talked before about this, I was really late to social media. Twitter was my first foray in 2019. Because I had just written Geeky Pedagogy and so wanted people to read it, that I was willing to do the unthinkable, [LAUGHTER] which was go on social media to try to get people connected with that book. But it turned out, to my surprise, that it’s been a really great way to connect with a lot of different people in academia and higher education in a way that hasn’t been possible for me working at a small, rural, very isolated, really small state university, and also just being kind of naturally adverse to conferencing and networking anyway. Twitter’s really been my most important personal pedagogical learning network since 2019, and of course, the pandemic just upped that a thousandfold. When I was even more isolated here in Plattsburgh, New York, it was a way to connect with all kinds of people that I wouldn’t just happen to meet otherwise. And that helped me get a lot of interest in the book. I had way more submissions than I had room for. And that was not easy. I’ve been on the receiving end of that email saying, “I’m sorry, this isn’t going to be&hellip” &hellipmany, many times. So I knew exactly how discouraging that could be. So it was a good problem to have, but that was a process, letting people know that there wasn’t gonna be room in the volume for their piece. So I had the luxury of really choosing a highly diverse group of authors and I mean, diverse, not just in issues of identity, but in academic disciplines, in stages of their career. This volume has authors in all stages of their careers, and geographically, so I guess I’m really proud of that.

Rebecca: I love that. In some ways, this book may function as a really key piece of activism so that when they pick it up, and it says picture this is a professor&hellip Like, we have a whole new version. You kind of describe that a bit when you’re talking about the title. But I love that when you open the volume, it’s everything counter to this stereotype. Can you talk a little bit about what you’re hoping that this project will achieve?

Jessamyn: Especially since the pandemic, there has been increasing awareness and attention paid to what many people are terming: the need to humanize higher education&hellip which always begs the question: ”what were we doing before that?” [LAUGHTER] But that recognition of students’ diverse experiences and the really pressing vital need for inclusive teaching practices, recognizing students as individuals in unique life circumstances, framing diversity as an educational asset and increasing our pedagogical practices that maximize opportunities for everybody to succeed, and which I 100% agree with. But also, in addition, as human beings, because students are people and human beings just like us. As human beings, students bring expectations, assumptions, and stereotypes about college teaching and academic expertise into the classroom. If we’re going to talk about: “We need to humanize higher education,” that also includes recognizing and dealing with the human, gendered, racialized, and more, stereotypes about what college teaching and learning looks like. So for example, a recent Chronicle of Higher Education, co-authored with one of the contributors to Picture a Professor, Dr. Chavella Pitman and Dr. Thomas Tobin&hellip they recently published an article that got a lot of buzz&hellip very rightly so&hellip in the Chronicle of Higher Education about, “Hey, if you are going to recommend inclusive teaching practices, keep in mind that embodied identity matters and teaching context matters, and how any one person might implement a teaching strategy really can be influenced by their employment status, their gender presentation, their ethnic, racial identity, their speaking voice, their discipline, their department culture.” That was a gap that I saw in the scholarship of teaching and learning and teaching advice, generally&hellip otherwise, very, very excellent advice and evidence based practices that failed to adequately acknowledge and recognize that our individual teaching context also matters. That was part of Geeky Pedagogy, too, that being an introvert, being not necessarily socially skilled, plays a role in how I’m going to do some of the things that, yes, the evidence shows this is something an effective instructor and educator does. So what does that mean for me, though? How can I make it work for me in my teaching content? So my hope for the Picture a Professor project&hellip what I hope it can do&hellip first, is empower and inspire college educators who recognize their own experiences in navigating student preconceptions and biases, and stereotypes about expertise and authority. But I also hope, and it’s certainly intended to help all readers recognize those systemic inequities in college teaching and how that shapes what can happen in individual classrooms and at the same time, gather strategies for their own classrooms as well, things that you can do right now. And this was something James Lang recommended the first time around in Geeky Pedagogy, and I resisted. But this time, I was like, “Yes, that’s a good idea.” [LAUGHTER] He recommended that each chapter have a bullet point list of teaching takeaways and Picture a Professor does that. And those teaching takeaways are insights and actionable strategies that will help anyone teach more effectively with the caveat that of course your individual context matters, and you will have to adapt and shift and change and some things may work better than others. That would go against the whole premise of the book to say everything works for everyone all the time. There’s nothing like that with college teaching. There’s no magic elixir you can swallow and then magically, this will work for everyone, every student all the time. That’s not how teaching and learning works. But those teaching takeaways really are thought provoking and insightful and should inspire anyone reading to think about how it might be adapted and used in their own classroom.

John: English breakfast tea though, is is a very nice magic elixir, but it may not solve all those problems.

Jessamyn: Caffeine is the magic elixir, yes.

John: &hellipwhich has long been used in higher ed.

Jessamyn: Yes.

John: Your book is divided into four parts: the first day, making connections, anti-racist pedagogies, and teaching with our whole selves. Could you tell us a bit about some of the topics that are addressed in each section?

Jessamyn: Yes, absolutely. Each section offers specific actionable strategies related to that title of the section. So the first section about the first day is all about the vital central importance of the first class meeting. And that’s a great way to start the collection because it takes this truth from the scholarship of teaching and learning, which is that the first day, really the first five minutes, of an in-person class and the first time a student logs into an online class. In some ways, those are the most important five minutes of the entire term. Because first impressions matter so, so much, and it’s so, so vital for students to be engaged right away. In addition, though, the first day takes on even increased importance when an instructor is navigating student expectations and presumptions and assumptions and stereotypes about “what a professor looks like,” or how a college class works. So the strategies that are explored in this section, they all take that foundational good teaching, effective teaching practice, plan extremely carefully for your first day, your first few minutes. And then, in addition to having a fantastic first day, here are ways to interrupt those biases to acknowledge and work with and help students overcome those stereotypes using things that we know work. So active learning, very careful preparation, going to your classroom and scoping it out if it’s in person before the first day so you’re very familiar with the physical space. Engaging students immediately with the content, which has this two-pronged effect. So one, you get students engaged right away&hellip it demonstrates that you care about their learning, you love the content, and you’re going to get them engaged, which is of course helpful for their learning. Also, it demonstrates your expertise, your knowledge, and it gets students right away from the first day knowing I know what I am talking about, and I love this subject, and I’m going to get you to engage with it as well. So that’s some strategies from the first day. Part two, making connections, similarly takes concepts that the scholarship of teaching and learning has shown are vital to student learning: building trust and building rapport with students and the authors take those strategies, explore for how to do them while also contending with student assumptions and expectations. So they look at things like encouraging student metacognition, collaborative rubrics, co-creating a grading rubric with students, and experiential learning&hellip all evidence-based effective teaching practices, and the authors build on those to show, and also these are ways to help students picture you as the professor. Part three digs into some specific anti-racist teaching strategies as ways we can increase student learning and at the same time, challenge stereotypes or de-center a certain limited depiction of professors from the student and instructor standpoint. So like I was saying about the purpose of the selection, humanizing higher education, anti-racist teaching strategies are important for creating inclusive classrooms for our students. They are also important for helping to chip away at the disparate teaching realities that instructors face as well. So that section it was important to me to include that for those reasons. Part four, teaching with our whole selves, gives specific teaching strategies for disrupting bias that students may bring into the classroom, while paying close attention to helping instructors be successful professionally in the classroom helping students learn. So there’s some reflective aspects to those essays, instructors reflecting on the ways they’ve been able to use classroom practices like picking a bias index, for example, in the discipline or creating classroom communities where fumbling forward&hellip that’s Donna Meija’s phrase&hellip fumbling forward is normalized as we struggled to learn, or like Dr. Pitman’s final chapter on the review process and the ways that women faculty of color can proactively get a wide range of feedback about their teaching, and include documentation and evidence from the scholarship about the different biases that women faculty of color face&hellip how to include that in your review process, working towards professional success.

Rebecca: So everyone wants to know, when exactly can we get this book?

Jessamyn: The release date that West Virginia University Press is saying is November of 2022. I’m hopeful it might be out a little bit sooner. And you can also see a lot more information about each author and a detailed table of contents at our book website, pictureaprofessor&hellip all one word&hellip pictureaprofessor.com.

John: And we will be interviewing a few of the authors in there. So there’ll be a little bit of a teaser for some of that information coming up over the next several months.

Rebecca: I know I’m really excited to read it when it comes out.

John: I’ve had it on preorder since I saw you tweet about it.

Jessamyn: And I couldn’t be happier that it’s coming out close to Viji Sathy’s and Kelly Hogan’s book: Inclusive Teaching. That book is going to be a real game changer on inclusive teaching practices to build inclusivity in the classroom. So I think the West Virginia University Press series is really addressing significant major issues and gaps in the scholarship right now.

John: It’s a wonderful series. And I think we’ve interviewed most of the authors now, actually, and we’re looking forward to seeing more coming through. And we did have a chance to meet Viji Sathy and Kelly Hogan just a couple of weeks ago here at the SUNY CIT conference. And it was really nice to see them in person after reading their articles and interviewing them on the podcast a few times.

Rebecca: So we always wrap up by asking what’s next, Jessamyn?

Jessamyn: Well, in the immediate future, there is a bonus chapter to Picture a Professor that I promised in the introduction that I wrote. I don’t actually have a chapter in the book, besides the introduction, and that was because I got so many outstanding contributions and proposals that I took out my chapter to leave more room for other people to be published. So I promised in the introduction to include my bonus chapter, which is going to be on student course evaluations and how that intersects with these stereotypes about being a professor. It’s an issue that a number of the authors mention and discuss, but not as the sole focus. So that’s the bonus chapter that will need to be done by November so I need to get going on that. [LAUGHTER]

John: So will there be a Picture More Professors coming out?

Jessamyn: I certainly hope so.

John: Well, thank you. It’s always great talking to you.

Jessamyn: Thank you for having me. I love Tea for Teaching. Everybody should listen to it all the time.

Rebecca: And we can’t wait to read the book.

Jessamyn: Thank you


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Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.