By: Dr. Amy Neaves, Senior Faculty Development Specialist, Office of Faculty Development
Dr. Neaves: Today, I’m speaking with Annette Moore, Teaching Assistant Professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management at NC State University. Her background is in parks, recreation, and tourism management. She has a Ph.D. from NC State from 2013. Her current interests in research include strengthening family bonds through participation in family recreation, service-learning and engagement with the community, and also what’s currently come up for her is her work with her leadership teams as students, so Annette’s going to talk to us about that today. Welcome, Annette!
Dr. Moore: Thank you so much, Amy. I really appreciate you inviting me to come and talk with you and to share something that really has transformed how I teach, so I’m really delighted to be able to share my story.
Dr. Neaves: Perfect, thank you so much! So, describe for us the leadership teams for the courses that you’ve been teaching.
Dr. Moore: Great! Primarily, I use them in my intro class, but then more so, I use them in my recreation program planning class, which is a junior-level service-learning course. We have two class periods and then a two-and-a-half-hour Wednesday afternoon lab, and during that time, students are in small groups partnered with a community agency where they are planning and running programs in the community. So my course assistants really are critical to the success I think in that class. I’ve been working with students as course assistants in that program planning class since 2013 or 14, so quite a few years now, and it really literally has transformed how I teach– that I am very collaborative by nature– and working with students who have been through the course and who are now able to team up with me to help lead the course has been phenomenal. So what the students do is provide some guidance during class. They sit with the groups when we’re on campus, and they meet with them in breakout rooms when we’re on Zoom, but they monitor how the groups are doing, answer questions… they certainly provide support because they’ve been through the experience. They know what it’s like. They know what the questions are. They know what the workload is like, and they can provide some great guidance. They also serve as kind of informal tutors to those groups because even though I like to think that I’m not very imposing, I’m still the teacher, right, and I’m still the one that holds the grade, and so I find that students will be very comfortable talking with their peers, that course assistant, and saying, “What is she even talking about here?,” “What does she mean?,” or “Can you describe this?,” so certainly when we’re in the classroom and we can see that the students are kind of scratching their heads, not understanding, sometimes, course assistants will just pop in and say, “Think of it this way” or be able to provide an experience from themselves, to be able to say, “Here’s how I use this” or “Here’s how it played out when I was in this particular setting.” which is much more relatable to their peers. So, I really love that about working with course assistants. They also co-create assignments with me and class activities. We meet every week–just the leadership team–and go over how things went last week and what’s coming up next week, and they provide invaluable perspective for me in terms of how to improve what I’ve done in the past to make it more relevant to the students currently, so that’s great. They also are like pulse checkers since they’re meeting with their groups, that they can say, “Annette, we’re going way too fast” or “We need to go back and review these concepts because they’re not getting it.” So I tell you they have just transformed how I teach.
“I’ve been working with students as course assistants in that program planning class since 2013 or 14, so quite a few years now, and it really literally has transformed how I teach.”
Dr. Neaves: What are some of the benefits of being a leadership team member or a course assistant?
Dr. Moore: Well, I hear all the time from my course assistants–and actually, we’ve done some OFD poster sessions on this–lots of benefits that they are receiving. They report all the time that they have gained confidence and experience in leadership, in public speaking, in conflict resolution, in problem-solving, and working collaboratively, and then certainly it gives them something wonderful to add to their resumes and provides them not only you know kind of an opening for interviews but then in the interview to be able to say, “Yes, you know, I’ve had these situations,” “I’ve led these kinds of things,” “I’ve met these challenges,” because they were on the leadership team with my course.
“[Students] have gained confidence and experience in leadership, in public speaking, in conflict resolution, in problem-solving, and working collaboratively.”
Dr. Neaves: So, how are their classmates benefiting from their work?
Dr. Moore: Well, I think they benefit a lot, like I said before, about the informal tutoring kind of aspects, that they’re able to to get more information than they would raising their hands in the class and saying, “Could you repeat that?” It’s much more comfortable for them, much more approachable. They get a lot more eyes and ears on what they’re doing and in their groups. When I first had a course assistant, I had a class of 75 or 80 students, and I had one student helping me that first semester, but she was great, and even that semester, it was noticeable that when we said, “Okay, work on this in your groups,” that there were now two of us walking around the room, and so in a 75-minute class period, it was a whole lot easier to touch a lot more students when there are just a lot more of us, a lot more hands to do that touching and eyes to see and ears to hear, so that’s great. Then, certainly, you know, course assistants benefit the current students because [the course assistants] can share since they’ve been through the class, and I try to partner or match the course assistant with the site in the community that they were at so they can say, “If you’re working with this supervisor, here’s what I found works,” “Here’s what this site is like,” so they’ve got insider information that I don’t have, not having gone through that same experience. That’s really helpful for them, and then, they also know what it’s like to juggle other classes besides this one which is pretty intense so that they can bring that sort of peace and reasonableness and do some reminding, if necessary, and be in on group chats and those kinds of things. They can be continually providing input and guidance, so that’s very helpful to the students in the class.
Dr. Neaves: That’s wonderful, especially these days, right?
Dr. Moore: Oh my goodness, yes!
Dr. Neaves: So, through your observation, what impact or impacts on student learning or your teaching— I know you mentioned this a little bit earlier—have you observed from facilitating the leadership team?
Dr. Moore: Well, I tell you, it’s been pretty dramatic I think, especially since we’ve had to pivot to be online, and I’ve got to say, I never thought that I could teach this full immersion, service-learning, partnering with community agencies, small groups, course assistants—this whole thing— I never thought that this would be a course that we could do online, but we have done it very successfully. I really attribute so much of the success to the course assistants because they’re able to interact with the students much more closely because there’s a whole team of them. I’ve got six groups this semester and six course assistants, so that’s been a helpful thing. One of the other things that’s been really helpful with the course assistants is, during those weekly meetings, as we’re looking ahead to what’s coming up, the students are very forthcoming in terms of going, “You know, I think we need to add something right here,” “I think we need some sort of engagement piece,” “I think it would be helpful if we could get the students hands-on with something at this point.” They’re very sensitive, since they are sitting in online classes now, they can bring that experience—what is working in other classes. Sometimes they say, “In my other class, we’re doing a lot of polls, and those are really fun; let’s make sure we’re adding a lot of polls—even just do yes/no polls or agreed/somewhat disagree. Then, we can just have standard polls.” They’re giving me all sorts of really practical suggestions, which is wonderful, and then also if they’re in classes that are not working quite as successfully online, they’re able to say what [they] don’t want to do, “Let’s do something differently, so it doesn’t end up like that other one.” That’s been really wonderful to have students helping. I learned so much by working with my course assistants. Their experience enriches my life, whether or not it was in this class. They’ve had all sorts of experiences on campus and in part-time jobs, summer jobs, all those kinds of things that really enrich my understanding of our field as well as I learned from them, and that’s been really fun. Sometimes, they will share rephrasing my explanations, and it’s a much better way to explain things than the way I have been. So I feel like I’m continually learning and growing and that as we as a leadership team improve what we’re doing, I think that’s certainly benefiting the student learning as well.
“I learned so much by working with my course assistants. Their experience enriches my life, whether or not it was in this class.”
Dr. Neaves: Wonderful! So, given how awesome this is and the very positive impacts you’ve seen, what advice would you give other faculty who might be interested in creating and facilitating leadership teams that are among their peers and courses?
Dr. Moore: My quick advice would be to do it. Give it a try, absolutely. It seriously has transformed how I approach everything about what I do. It’s like, no, let me get some of the experts, you know. The students are the experts on being students. For me, it’s like, I need to learn from you, and together, we can produce much better things. So, I would encourage you to do it. I would say, for someone who’s sort of wondering and only thinking about dabbling in it, to even start with one student as a course assistant, a student that did well in the class, understands the material and that is personable, because they’re going to have to interact with the students, but also someone who is going to be willing to say, “I think we could do this differently,” and not be intimidated by the professor, someone that would be that collaborator. Also, that makes me think that I would encourage faculty members to be willing. There’s that continuum between control and collaboration and how loosely or tightly we hold a grip on things, and so I would just say to be sensitive to yourself in terms of where you are on that continuum because, when you do anything collaboratively, there is that element of having to loosen our grip. I would encourage faculty members to give it a try, to start small, to get a student they feel like they could work well with that is willing to experiment with you as you try new things. Not everything is going to work, but everything is an opportunity to say, “Okay, we know more for next time.” I do want to encourage people to give it a try. It is so enriching for me as a faculty member and for the students as emerging professionals and emerging educators themselves. It’s just a transformative experience, and I’m hoping that if people who are listening give it a try, they report back and let us know how things are going.
“There’s that continuum between control and collaboration and how loosely or tightly we hold a grip on things, and so I would just say to be sensitive to yourself in terms of where you are on that continuum because, when you do anything collaboratively, there is that element of having to loosen our grip.”
Dr. Neaves: That’s great advice, and thank you for bringing that up because people can comment on the blog and let us know if they have tried out something similar in their courses. Thank you, Annette, for sharing your experience with your students. I know that it’s an invaluable opportunity for them and for you, and so thank you so much for really creating a student-centered learning experience for your students in your courses!
Dr. Moore: Well, thank you, Amy, and thank you again for letting me share my story. Thank you and OFD for all that you do for us faculty; we really appreciate it.