Communicating global change

Poster design by Matt Abele

Poster design by Matt Abele

For my graduate Communication Campaigns course at NC State this past spring, a group of us developed a communication campaign proposal for the Southeast Climate Science Center‘s (SE CSC) inaugural Global Change Symposium. Recently, we checked in to find that the good folks at SE CSC were able to implement many of our tactics.

This Global Change Symposium, which will be held on August 28, is a first-time “meeting of the minds” of researchers, faculty, students, administrators at NC State. The SE CSC envisions this event as an opportunity to unite the various efforts across the campus to address global change.

What is global change, you say? Good question! It is a broad term meant to capture many of the complex changes occurring with regard to earth’s environmental, population, and food systems. Effectively conveying the importance and relevance of this broad concept was one of the fundamental challenges of the campaign.


From our proposal

The problem: Engage and persuade a diverse audience of stakeholders to attend the inaugural Global Change Symposium. Audiences included professors/researchers, administrators, and graduate students. SE CSC sought to engage an interdisciplinary group of researchers to unite the varying efforts of researchers across campus.

The solution: Create targeted messages for subgroups by type of audience and academic discipline using strategic channels to both inspire interest and justify benefits of attending the symposium.

As a team, we reviewed literature about communication campaigns, determined campaign goals, conducted focus group with stakeholders, developed messaging and communication assets, pretested messages with stakeholders, and created an evaluation plan. All of this culminated in a 80+ page campaign proposal which we presented to SE CSC in April.

Our team was delighted to find the SE CSC has utilized much of our campaign strategy and used materials we designed in their communication for the symposium on their website and emails, among others channels.

If you will be around Raleigh in August (sadly, I will not be!) I recommend you attend this exciting event to learn the latest about how NC State is addressing global change issues — and potentially get involved.

The Spring 2015 COM 529 Communication Campaigns course was taught by NC State Associate Professor of Communication Dr. James Kiwanuka-Tondo. Our team was made up of the following members: Matt Abele, Ben Lawson, Kelly Long, Tara Watterson, Alexa Wood.

Why this family’s obituary about their son’s death went viral

The Shephards, a NC Triangle family who tragically lost their 23-year-old son Clay Shephard in May, wrote an obituary that stated how he died and asked others to be vigilant. According to the Shephards, Clay died of a drug overdose. His obituary went viral.


Clay Shephard via Apex Funeral Home

As I followed this story during the last few weeks, these questions arose: Why is this news? Why did this obituary in which a family simply admitted how their son died go viral? After all, an estimated 183,000 people worldwide died due to drug-related causes (mostly overdoses) in 2012, according to the World Drug Report 2014.

Still, obituaries for those who have died of a drug overdose rarely read like this one. As Alisa Wright Colopy, a former substance abuse therapist, discusses in the N&O article: “obituaries almost always use euphemisms to address overdoses.” Unless, of course, the deceased is a celebrity, in which case the family often doesn’t have the luxury of privacy. Case in point: coverage of 18-year-old Victory Siegel‘s (from Queen of Versailles) death the same week.

Pulling together your deceased loved one’s obituary usually happens within a cloud of grief and exhaustion. However, when your loved one’s death is due to an overdose, often there is an added layer of shock, confusion, and what ifs. My family and I know this from experience.

So, why not discuss addiction — and its related struggles for the deceased and the family — as openly as the Shephards? Because of the associated stigma. Substance use disorder and addiction continues to be seen among the larger public as a moral failing rather than the disease that it is.

The sad reality is that given this stigma, to admit in the obituary that your deceased loved one was an addict is almost more akin to announcing that he/she was a petty criminal rather than acknowledging that he/she suffered from a disease such as cancer. Having just lost a loved one, many families aren’t prepared to face the questions associated with acknowledging the overdose.

That is why this obituary went viral. The Shephards demonstrated generosity and courage by addressing their son’s struggle openly and honestly. To the Shephards — I’m sorry for your loss. I am grateful for your honesty and advocacy for those struggling with addiction and their families.

Thesis: How do doctors talk to patients about sensitive topics?

During the last couple of weeks, I’ve been putting the final touches on my thesis research project. The question in the title of this post is the general question I’m pursuing with my thesis research.

A recent article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education reminded us that “despite decades of research, hundreds of campus task forces, and millions invested in bold experiments, college drinking remains as much of a problem as ever.” Thus, alcohol intervention conversations between medical providers and students about alcohol can be crucial to reducing problems associated with college binge drinking.

Presenting at my oral defense

Presenting at my oral defense

However, medical providers sometimes avoid alcohol-related conversations or brief alcohol interventions. So, I pursued with my thesis research the more specific question of, how do medical providers in university health centers communicate with patients about the sensitive topic of patient alcohol use?

Results from my qualitative analysis of 14 interviews with medical providers suggest that medical providers utilize the following communication techniques during alcohol-related conversations with patients:

Reading, writing, editing, reviewing, diagramming, etc etc etc!

The process: reading, writing, analyzing, editing, reviewing, diagramming, reflecting, etc etc etc!

  •  gathering more information (beyond screening data)
  • creating a nonthreatening environment
  • providing education about consequences
  • eliciting patient ownership
  • providing tips for harm reduction
  • continuing the conversation

Additionally, providers reported the following communication challenges to conducting brief alcohol interventions in this context:

  • choosing how and when to start the conversation
  • diagnosing a resistant population
  • establishing necessary rapport for a sensitive conversation
  • maintaining credibility despite uncertainty about the efficacy of interventions

With my poster at the graduate research symposium

I presented this research at the 10th annual NCSU Graduate Research Symposium earlier this month. My hope is that some of this research will be helpful to medical professionals in the field. I am also looking forward to submitting this research for publication. For now, I’m glad to be wrapping up this phase of my research!

With my committee at oral defense, from left to right: Chair, Dr. Deanna Dannels; Dr. Jessica Jameson; and Dr. Kami Kosenko

With my committee at oral defense, from left to right: Chair, Dr. Deanna Dannels; Dr. Jessica Jameson; me; and Dr. Kami Kosenko

I began this project more than a year ago and cannot be more excited to see it all come together! My thanks to the medical providers who met with me, the health center administrators who helped with this project, and to my committee.


Happy Valentine’s Day – here’s a condom

Yesterday, I visited my friends Leah Arnett and Heather Spencer of the NCSU Student Health Center, who have been helping me with my thesis research. They are in the midst of a fun valentine campaign to promote availability of condoms for students on campus. They asked if I’d be willing to help promote it by snapping a photo with their valentines package – a card with a cute note and several condoms. I said yes.

Leah knows I’m a big fan of the NCSU Student Health Center and the high quality medical care they provide for me and the entire NCSU student body. They even let me keep my valentine to give to my husband. Score! FB condoms I like the playfulness of this campaign. Hoping the students of NCSU will take advantage of this resource this valentines day!Thanks again to Leah Arnett for all her help on my thesis!

Top Five Thesis Memes

Like many other graduate students out there, I’m in the thick of writing my thesis this winter. I’m researching the challenges and opportunities faced by medical providers when discussing patient alcohol use with patients. More specifically, I’m looking at how university medical providers communicate with college-age patients regarding binge drinking alcohol. It’s

Of course half of the time when I’m “writing my thesis,” I’m looking at #thesismemes. I’d like to share my favorites with my fellow thesis-writing friends. Here are my top five favorites:

Naturally, a cat meme to kick us off:


via thesis kitten

And of course, these classics:


via thesis memes


via thesis memes

Ah, the dreaded defense!

via dudelol

via dudelol

Now for my final pick. It is not actually a meme, but rather, my favorite song written about thesis-ing, John Sampson’s When I Write My Masters Thesis. Fellow thesis writes, I trust you’ll enjoy it!

How to tell your co-workers that you don’t drink

As the writer of a recent Time article about our research writes, it’s not always easy to explain why you’re turning down a drink at work-related social functions. Time4ab

My research conducted with Dr. Lynsey Romo and colleagues and published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research, involved talking to working professionals who abstain from drinking about how they communicate with co-workers about their abstinence. Some participants reported being concerned about the negative impact of their alcohol abstinence.

So, how do you “spill the beans” to colleagues that you’re a non-drinker? How do you address it the heat of the moment at a social function where your colleagues are drinking and asking why you aren’t?

Well, our research revealed several ways that participants dealt with this.


First, avoiding the confrontation by “passing” as a drinker. As one participant reported, “I’ve held a beer bottle for hours, to the point where it’s warm.”

Being Forthright

Some participants came straight out with it about their non-drinking status, finding that it quickly settled the issue and prevented future conversations about the topic.

Using Excuses

Another option is to use vague excuses or explanations to diffuse the situation. First, choosing to emphasize abstinence from alcohol as a personal choice that applies only to you, not your judgement of others. Additionally, humor can be helpful here. One participant said she sometimes joked that she was allergic to alcohol when people questioned why she did not drink. Finally, as profiled in the Time article, health excuses are also an option:

  • “Not drinking is my secret to weight loss.” – Not drinking is the way you keep fit.
  • “It’s that pesky toe fungus again.” – Use of antibiotics prevents you from drinking.
  • “Sorry, I’ve got a marathon.” – Early mornings, training and physical prevent you from being able to drink.
  • “Ugh, migraines.” – Migraine medicine requires that you don’t drink.

Read more about our study, An Examination of How Professionals Who Abstain from Alcohol Communicatively Negotiate Their Non-drinking Identity, here.

Does workplace volunteering in groups improve employee relationships?

Image via Natesh Ramasamy

This is the general question I asked last spring when I undertook my first solo qualitative research paper. In fact, initial results from my study suggest yes, company-sanctioned group volunteer events fulfill the following relational functions for employees who volunteer together:

1. Create a positive experience together

Participants emphasized the positive nature of participating in company-sanctioned volunteer events with fellow employees. Volunteer events in the study often involved rituals to mark the occasion, such as wearing company t-shirts and photographing volunteer activities to share at the office. Brandy, an administrator at a hospital, said “I’ve yet to see a volunteer walk out [a volunteer session] with a frown on their face” upon participating in her company’s weekly reading tutoring volunteer program. Brandy said that her and other company volunteers have shared stories with one another about how the volunteer events serve as a “stress reducer,” adding that “if you’ve had that bad day, [after] going to [tutor], you’ll have a better day.”

2. Network to develop contacts in the company

Participants such as Robert, an engineer at a large company, discussed the social networking function of company volunteer events. Because his company employs more than 2,000 people at his location, Robert said he is “constantly seeing new faces” at the volunteer events he helps to organize. Robert added, “there are lots of examples of folks that I didn’t know before and now interact with at least personally… [Also] folks who I may have known who they were, didn’t know a whole lot about them, but had some tangential work connection before, and got to know them through volunteering. And then that connection was strengthened and we’ve ended up working in other ways together since then.”


3. Build deeper relationships with known colleagues

Other participants expressed how volunteering together helped to add layers of depth and understanding to relationships with colleagues. Brad, who works as a designer at a small firm, said that after employees at his company met family members of their colleagues at a company-sanctioned volunteer event that was open to family, they tended to “look out for each other more.” Brad said that after that experience, employees are more likely to help another employee who is swamped with work so that his or her family life doesn’t suffer. Brad added that volunteering “makes your work relationship better because you just realize, oh, they’re people just like you, they go home to the same stuff just like you do and they have the same responsibilities and the same things they care about.”

4. Leverage company impact in the community

Additionally, participants reported that they preferred to volunteer with their fellow employees rather than alone because they can accomplish more together and with the backing of the company. Robert reported that he sees volunteering with this colleagues as an opportunity to “make a much bigger impact.” He added that groups of employees “make a difference” through the 1,000 hours of service his company logged for a local food bank in addition to helping attract financial sponsorships on part of the company through employee advocacy for the food bank.

5. Collectively build company culture

Finally, participants reported that they took pride in helping to shape and encourage a culture of giving back in the company through volunteering with colleagues and increasing the visibility and participation in the volunteer program. Describing the volunteer recruitment process, Sue said “[Company name] people are really good people and so everybody will pitch in,” reflecting how volunteerism helps define the employee workforce at her company.

Given that each of these functions are only accomplished through volunteering within a group of other employees (as opposed to volunteering alone), the relational nature of these functions is revealed. Based upon these results and previous research, I propose that volunteering together at company-sanctioned volunteer events helps to cultivate social capital within internal relationships among employees of the company who volunteer together.

I’m considering expanding this project to include more data so stay tuned! Want to read more about the method of this research or see more? Click here to download a PDF of the initial results.

Note: To protect privacy of those who participated in the study, participants, organizations, and companies involved are all kept confidential and listed with pseudonyms where relevant.

Nondrinking at my first academic conference

Nondrinking at my first academic conference

Well, perhaps I did have a glass of wine or two while attending the International Communication Association (ICA) Groupconference in Seattle a few weeks ago. I use the word “nondrinking” with regard to a paper accepted to ICA which I co-authored with my colleagues (listed below!) entitled Neither Shaken Nor Stirred: How Professionals Who Abstain From Alcohol Communicatively Negotiate Their Nondrinking Identity.

This research helped uncover communication tools available to those who do not drink for managing their nondrinking identity and stigma they may face in the workplace. Additionally, this project helped me clarify my research interest in interpersonal communication about substance use/abuse and addiction. I will be exploring this further for my thesis, which I’m starting this summer.

ICA session screenshotAt ICA, I attended sessions about topics such as stigma and mental illness and top health communication papers, and met researchers from across the world who are researching similar to me. Overall,  my first academic conference was a success! Thanks to the NCSU Department of Communication for funding to attend the conference and to Dr. Lynsey Romo for the opportunity to work on the project.

Teaching Philosophy

Teaching Portfolio Contents

Inspiration: Symbols of Teaching

Candles v2

Candles at my sister’s engagement party

Teaching Symbol: Candle

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov

Teaching is giving light, giving of knowledge, to students. As explored in my reflection post, one way to look at teaching is as gift-giving. The wax and the wick of a candle, together, create light. There is no light without the wax and wick. They burn away, and, in the process, release the gift of light into space. A candle does not talk about light, it GIVES light, just as a teacher gives light.

Glass v2

From my blue glass collection

Teaching Symbol: Glass

“The intellect of the wise is like glass; it admits the light of heaven and reflects it.”  – Augustus Hare

A teacher not only generates light, but reflects students’ light back to them. Glass is transparent. It reflects and refracts light. By doing so, the teacher helps students see personal areas of strength and areas for improvement. This is often enacted through the grading process, which should be viewed as an opportunity for learning and feedback rather than merely assigning an assessment.

My home library

My home library

Teaching Symbol: Bookshelf

“As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together.” – Parker Palmer

Teaching is a unique opportunity to bring your entire self to the classroom, including every book you’ve ever read! Teachers draw on multiple strands of knowledge, experiences, readings, and passions. In one class session, a teacher might call upon experiences from different stages in life, work projects, and topics from different courses taken years apart, at different schools, and concepts from books read decades before. Examples may be planned and integrated into the lesson, or shared as they come in the moment, as discussed in my research about improvisation and teaching.

Eraser given to me as a gift

Eraser given to me as a gift

Learning Symbol: Eraser

“Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.” – Sister Corita Kent

Learning is doing. Students are sometimes afraid to make mistakes. The learning environment should affirm the process of trial and error and allow for mistakes. Just as teachers who would seek to create collaborative discussion through improvisation know to accommodate and accept student contributions to dialogue, so learners must be willing to share and possibly make mistakes. Learning happens from acting, from making mistakes, and from reformulating our understanding.

My house plant

My house plant

Learning Symbol: Plant

“We are exploring together. We are cultivating a garden together, backs to the sun. The question is a hoe in our hands and we are digging beneath the hard and crusty surface to the rich humus of our lives.” – Parker Palmer

Students undertaking the learning process, as with plants, must move toward the light. Each plant is in a different position in relation to the sun and requires varying amounts of light or water. Each student has different questions to answer in their lives. To do so, they must understand the value of light and how to cultivate their growth. The sun cannot by itself grow a plant. As with plants, students receive light, but they must also take responsibility for their growth.

Light bulb

Light bulb

Learning Symbol: Light Bulb

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Just as learners are nourished by teachers, and plants are nourished by the sun to eventually contribute oxygen to the air, students must translate the light they have received. Students must make their knowledge into a contribution. They become their own producer of light. Just as many modern energy-saving light bulbs include a spiraling bulb, this is an upward spiral and an ongoing process learning and contributing to the world ones knowledge and gifts.


Teaching Philosophy

A teacher creates and facilitates learning moments or experiences. The teacher brings a number of tools and strengths to creating these experiences: passion for the subject, pedagogical research, content knowledge, knowledge of students, consideration of student outcomes, willingness and ability to improvise when called for, responsibility for grading and providing feedback, preparing and planning lessons,  managing logistics such as attendance, concern regarding teacher position and evaluation, and more. It takes skill and artistry to bring all of these facets (or a relevant combination of them) to the classroom. With so many at times various priorities, it is important to ground one’s teaching in reflection and continual improvement.

As reinforced in the Constructivist tradition, I do not see the class session as a transfer of knowledge from students to teacher, but a structured learning experience includes an exchange back and forth between teacher and students, who are active learners. My teaching experiences thus far have been characterized by active learning opportunities to synthesize and apply class concepts.

When teaching Human Communication Theory, I created an opportunity for students to begin synthesizing the bulk of the material learned up to that point in the course by revisiting the theories already and learned doing some comparison and application. When teaching a writing workshop for Communication and Technology, I aimed to both get students started on structuring their resumes and facilitate peer to peer sharing. So, the learning activity I created involved choosing from a list resume headings those that were most relevant to student experience, then choosing one experience and drafting descriptions of student responsibilities and accomplishments. Then, students shared their points with a partner to hear them verbally and begin refining. A lecture can be engaging but a lecture that includes active learning moments and activities that get students to apply and synthesize concepts in the safety and supportive learning environment is another thing. That’s a learning experience!

In meeting with students outside of class and providing feedback on assignments, teachers relationally are able to give individualized help to students. Grading, rather than merely an assessment of student performance, is a significant function of teaching in which one gives specific feedback to each student in a timely manner so it can be incorporated as a learning experience for later assignments. Feedback on compositional writing (whether it be a full paper or a short essay response within a larger multiple choice assessment) is a rich form of feedback that enables students to grow their writing and communication skills, particularly when it includes examples of improvement and engages the student in finalizing it. My feedback to students on papers often says “Name, I see where you were going with X, however, it is easily missed. Consider rewording to inserting a new phrase such as x. Which best communicates your point?”When students seek additional guidance from the teacher outside of class, it is an additional opportunity to model the learning process. As a teacher, I seek to create scaffolding in these instances to help the student climb to where they need to be rather than carrying the student on my back, shouldering 99% of the burden. Student learning is a shared responsibility between teacher and student. Rarely does the teacher say, “this is exactly what you need to do.”

So, what does my classroom look like? As a visual learner who has experienced many classrooms that prioritize auditory learning, it is important to me to create a learning space that engages students both visually and aurally. This often means lecturing or activities accompanied by Power Point visuals. When possible, I also strive to create an environment in which students see themselves as a cohesive team working together to learn rather than as an isolated student competing for a better grade than fellow classmates with whom they never speak. This means I facilitate activities and opportunities within the classroom to build connections and learning moments between fellow students.

In my classroom, students are invited to learn through actively engaging in and participating in the learning experience. I expect students to take ownership of his or her learning and responsibility for incorporating new knowledge into his or her own experience. Students can expect to take out of my classes sharpened writing and communication skills, and increased knowledge of the subject matter and comfort both speaking and writing about it. My teaching philosophy is to creatively engage students in active learning  experiences, and to transparently relay feedback while modeling the learning process for students.


Teaching Evaluation

Teaching Portfolio Contents

Faculty Teaching Evaluation & Reflection November 2014

DOWNLOAD full evaluation form

Excerpt from faculty teaching evaluation conducted by Dr. Joann Keyton:

Overall, Ms. Watterson’s manner of presentation was firm, but friendly. She called on students by name. When moving from descriptive to analytical presentations in discussing an example speech, she skillfully pointed out where the speaker/author was strong and influential in the speech at the same time acknowledging that the use of language in the speech destroyed his credibility…Ms. Watterson is a proficient teacher who used a variety of methods of instruction to keep students’ interest and to reinforce material. During this class session, she used powerpoint, document camera, handout, notecard activities, mini-lectures, and question-answer sessions. Activities varied from more abstract conceptual understanding to specific instances of placing this information into practice in students’ speeches. Each activity served to reinforce the material previously learned and its application to students’ future speeches.

Post evaluation reflection:

I will work in including more explicit transitions between blocks of the class that help to relate previous lectures and activities to the following lectures and activities. I will also more deliberately stimulate participation from students in class who speak up less often by offering more low-level questions and prompting certain groups of students for responses (i.e. “somebody from this side of the class tell me…” or “somebody from that corner tell me…”).

Peer Comment Log & Reflection October 2013


The following comments were collected after I co-taught the weekly meeting of our graduate class, Human Communication Theory. Each student in this masters-level course was required to teach or co-teach one session of the course. My classmate, TJ, and I co-taught a session six weeks into the course about relationship development theories.

As co-teacher, I was responsible for the opening activity and the second half of the lecture. My goal for the opening activity was to have students 1) compare and apply the three theories in the unit and 2) to review and compare theories covered in units 1-5, which had not been covered since the beginning of the course other than in fleeting mentions in discussion.

I asked three of my classmates for feedback. I requested feedback mostly regarding the design and implementation of my introductory activity, called Name That Theory. Peer #1, Peer #2, and Peer #3 (a student who demonstrated confusion during the activity) provided feedback.


The Name that Theory activity began with splitting students into four groups, each of which received a research scenario in which “researcher x” explores a hunch with regard to relationship development. Each group was asked to evaluate and choose one of the three theories from the unit to apply to the research question. Each group was also asked to select one theory from the previous five units that was most relevant to apply. The groups then presented their response and why they chose each theory. After each group presented, I revealed that the research scenario was an actual study which was simplified for the activity. Then I revealed which theory was applied by the researcher in each case. Three of four of the groups correctly applied the theory that was used by the researcher!


After teaching the class I thought the Name that Theory activity had been helpful and engaging for students, though I had a few thoughts as to how I would tweak my delivery. Given feedback from my peers below, I would add one extra step to my delivery of instructions for the activity. I would employ narrative style to run through an example of how to complete the activity by saying, “So, here’s an example of how your group might respond: Having read researcher x’s scenario, we think uncertainty reduction theory from this unit is most relevant to apply because Y, and social exchange theory from units 1-5 is most relevant because Z.”

I also received constructive criticism from my peers with regard to overall lecture delivery and discussion leadership. Two nuggets stood out to me which I will incorporate into my teaching in the future. First is keeping my energy up toward the end of a lecture. Once I have successfully kicked off a teaching experience, my energy lags after the initial adrenaline rush. I will look for ways to keep energy up as the class session comes to a close. Second, I’ll work on leaving more silence after asking questions of the class for students to consider the question and formulate a response.

Peer Comments

Peer #1 – Design of the activity was effective.  The “researcher x” stuff always gets me confused. I’m not sure if a more personal message is not good pedagogical standards.  The overall theory was VERY effective and a good review. Delivery of the activity – You explained the directions very well.  You also have great connection with your classmates, so I’m sure getting “control” in the beginning was a little odd.  My only suggestion would be to work on how you navigate the friendship-leader thing to make sure you’re heard. Overall leadership of class discussion – Very effective.  You asked great follow up questions and praised all of us for relevant comments.  Your wrap up was also really strong.  My only thought for improvement will  be to keep up your energy towards the end.  Jump us get us moving, whatever it takes. Overall, you were a rockstar!

Peer #2- I loved the concept of the introductory activity. You seemed to do a great job distilling actual research questions. (I may steal that for my own students! Well…a version of it.) Also, it had the added bonus of helping the class connect to past theories we’ve studied. Sometimes I feel like the class is one long string of unrelated theories, but this helped me apply what I already “knew” to what I was not as familiar with. Getting a student to connect a new concept to an established one is REALLY difficult. Bravo! You had great non-verbals. You smiled, had an open body posture, and nodded encouragingly. Your facilitation was also good. My one note (if it can be called a note) is that while it is difficult, I would recommend waiting a bit longer once a question is posed to the group for a reply. I can usually gauge the comfort level of the discussion leader by how long they wait for everyone to respond to a question. Sometimes people may have a point (and sometimes they don’t) but they may be actually thinking through it. When I’ve asked my own students, they’ve said things like “the time seems to go really fast after a question is asked because I’m thinking so hard,” whereas for me, I’m thinking “Did they not understand? Why is nobody talking? Is it hot in here? Maybe I’ll ask another way. They seem pensive…or are they just playing on their phones?” I try to make non-threatening eye contact during questions. Sometimes the introverted ones will just glance at the leader, waiting to be called on. This gives me time to breathe as I smile and scan the room, and it sometimes identifies those who HAVE ideas while everyone else is contemplating. I know you did not have much time left at the end of the evening to cover your material, but you did well finishing so quickly! It seemed like you were able to cover everything you intended to cover. As a total side note, I thought the PowerPoint presentation was clear and easy to follow. Also, it seemed to meld nicely the times that you were “leading” and the times TJ was “leading.”

Peer #3- I really liked your activity! I can’t really think of anything that needed to be changed. Maybe if you had structured the assignment with less options? Maybe it would have made the assignment more clear. Perhaps, used a map design to explain the activity?


Teaching Self-Evaluation December 2013

Toward the end of the semester in the class for which I was a teaching assistant, I was asked to teach a writing workshop in the professor, Dr. Schrag’s, absence. We decided the purpose was to prepare students for the upcoming assignment to write and format their own resume and cover letter for a job in the field. Additionally, I wanted to share some general academic writing tips.

I started the class with a question about Thanksgiving break to warm up the large lecture hall of about 50 students. I told students I was looking forward to the break, as I know they were, and asked who was traveling for Thanksgiving. I also asked who was traveling the furthest. Starting the class in this manner acknowledged that the context and flow of this class session would be different than that of Dr. Schrag’s lectures. It also acknowledged that students have a different relationship with me as their teaching assistant than with Dr. Schrag, as he doesn’t often pose questions such as these about students’ lives.

I continued this practice of asking questions and waiting for students to respond throughout the class session. As we talked about resume writing, I asked who has had an internship; who is a graduating senior on the job search; based on what we discussed just now, how could this resume be improved, etc. During nearly every example of the writing tips segment, I asked how the sentence could be improved, giving the students the opportunity to edit themselves rather than telling them how to improve. In this way, I feel that I effectively brought active learning into the class session.

PPT 1.2

I know from my research about improvisation and collaborative discussion in teaching, that the less structured nature of collaborative discussion leaves the teacher more vulnerable to moments of uncertainty, though it allows students to more actively create their own learning experience. In fact, a student did catch me off guard early in the lesson with a question to which I didn’t know the answer. Part of me was annoyed. I’d spent hours preparing this lesson not even five minutes in, this diversion happened. I fumbled through a joke that acknowledged I was a new teacher and that of course a student would ask me a question to which I didn’t know the answer. Then, I recovered and said that though I don’t know, I encourage students to look that convention up in the APA book if it’s relevant to their papers. I reminded them that APA conventions are easy to look up even online.

Ultimately, I feel I handled this situation relatively well. Given a do-over, I would have omitted the joke I made before my response to the question. However, I saw that this was a great learning experience for me as a teacher. It forced me to see that though I’d prepped for hours and hours, I can’t possibly know the answer to every question I may be asked as a teacher. Though to a novice teacher this can feel exasperating, accepting this notion and practicing my response when thrown curve balls such as this allows me to bring ease and grace to similar moments in the future.

Aside from the odd curve ball, I really enjoyed teaching this writing workshop because I was able to bring to bear my own experience in the professional world and as a job searcher. I brought to the class and showed a copy of the NCSU Career Center Job Search Guide I received as an undergraduate student (which I used to design the lesson and cited in my visuals), and shared that I still use it personally. I talked about specific experiences of mine and shared concrete tips that I used in my own life, for example, when submitting a resume and cover letter by email, send a .doc Word file and PDF of each so the employer has exactly what he/she needs; and, include an image of your signature in the closing of your cover letter to add a personal and professional touch. I planned to share my example of the first press release I wrote during my internship. My supervisor handed it back and it was covered in pen marks. I intended to share this when discussing the importance of concise writing skills in professional settings but, unfortunately, I forgot in the moment to share this example.

It was important for me to reinforce the foundational nature of good writing skills as a student and as a professional, and thus the relevance of this lesson. My plan was to illustrate that the workshop was relevant in the following ways: 1) writing resume and cover letter for the assignment due the following week, 2) writing good papers in this course and all academic courses 3) writing in the work place, and 4) writing resumes and cover letters to get an internship/job in the future. However, when I verbalized this point, I got stuck in a loop of trying to articulate how the academic writing tips intersect with resume and cover letter writing, rather than running through the four points listed above in a clear manner. If I were to teach this workshop again, I would begin and end by stating these four points clearly and succinctly.

When the class session ended, I felt it had gone well, though I wondered how to assess my own teaching. One fairly non-engaged student stayed after class to ask a question. He said the workshop was helpful to him. Several others stayed to ask questions. The student who had thrown me the curve ball question, who I had worked with throughout the semester on his writing, also stayed after to compliment my teaching. Though this feedback and engagement after class was encouraging, it was important to me to self-reflect on what went well and what could be improved.

Upon reflection, I felt the Power Point visuals were important to this workshop. Combining verbal discussion of proper formatting and grammar with concrete visuals helped students engage with the material. The messages that received the most participation were the writing tips, particularly the opportunity to point out basic typos and errors. I announced to the class that the examples were anonymously pulled from their own papers that were turned in this semester. Though this is not always possible to do, I think it added another layer of relevance to the lesson. Giving students the opportunity to critique and improve passages from their own and their classmates writing helped them step into the role of editor and understand how errors distract the reader from the writing content. I also had them critique a resume.

Power Point visual - parts of the cover letter

Power Point visual – parts of the cover letter

Though this is a lecture style course, the writing workshop received good participation, particularly during my break out activity. I gave students five minutes to pick which section headings to include in their own resumes based upon their strengths and to draft bullet points highlighting their responsibilities using action verbs. Then, they shared their work with a partner to refine their work and share ideas. Most students were very engaged in the activity. Several groups asked me the same question: how should I word that I handled cash at the cash register?

Overall, the visuals and the collaborative discussion were effective in engaging students in this lesson. This teaching experience has given me the tools to better handle curve ball questions and to more clearly articulate multi-pronged points in the future.