From Zoom Rooms to Classrooms: A Hybrid Fall Teaching Conference

September 3, 2021
From Zoom Rooms to Classrooms: A Hybrid Fall Teaching Conference

Planning the Fall Teaching Conference this summer felt like building an airplane while flying it: we knew we would be teaching in person, but the continually changing circumstances required us, like all instructors teaching this fall, to be intentional yet flexible in our planning. We had so many questions to consider: How should we prepare graduate student TFs to teach in physical classrooms? How could we most effectively apply the lessons we learned from our fully online conference in 2020 to this new “hybrid” moment of transition? How could we meet the needs of both new and experienced TFs facing another unprecedented semester?

The last year prompted us to reflect on our core values, articulate our goals clearly, and reimagine a Fall Teaching Conference that would meet our objectives as well as TFs’ needs. Our brainstorming, planning, and teamwork resulted in a 7-day hybrid program, with our Hit the Ground Running (HTGR) Canvas site at its core.

Our updated 3-session Fundamentals training helped new TFs prepare for their first section, design a lesson plan, and create inclusive teaching environments. Approximately 100 TFs from across GSAS took the opportunity to delve deeper into the Canvas modules, share and explore ideas for teaching, and connect with a cohort of their peers. The feedback from TFs was overwhelmingly positive. Participants appreciated:

  • “The opportunity to exchange ideas and practice some fundamental skills, like classroom engagement”
  • “Good thought-provoking activities which taught me important lessons and also got me excited about how to improve my teaching”
  • “The opportunity to get perspectives on teaching from peers”

This year we designed and offered new “Back Again” sessions to allow TFs to explore resources and ideas as we re-adjust to in-person teaching. These facilitated discussions, led by our Pedagogy Fellows, gave TFs a forum to share ideas and explore our new resource: Back Again Strategies and Resources. Participants appreciated:

  • “Connecting with other TFs who shared the same concerns and exchanging strategies to address those concerns.”
  • Hearing the considerations of peers: “We are thinking about similar things but some added perspectives really helped.”

We also offered practice teaching sessions, which had proven popular at our 2020 conference. Participants presented a short lesson to a small group of peers, in order to practice, get feedback, and build confidence with teaching. These sessions were also facilitated by our Pedagogy Fellows, who, according to one participant, “were very enthusiastic and kind and helpful!" Participants also appreciated the “constructive suggestions and comments from the perspectives of peer students.”

Finally, we planned a slate of 13 workshops, which focused on key topics including equitable and inclusive teaching, teaching across disciplines, teaching with problem sets, and leading discussion sections. We offered some workshops on Zoom, and others in Sever Hall, which also gave Bok staff and conference participants the opportunity to practice being back in a physical classroom space.

We were grateful to have Allan Brandt, Professor of the History of Science, Amalie Moses Kass Professor of the History of Medicine, and former Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, kick off this year’s conference with his opening keynote, The Return to Normal?, where he shared his thoughts on the critical role of graduate student teachers and on his own experiences as both a new and seasoned teacher at Harvard.

Erika Bailey, Head of Voice and Speech at the American Repertory Theater and Lecturer on Theater, Dance & Media, led our first in-person session of this year’s conference. Her workshop on Teaching with Presence gave TFs strategies for engaging their students through their masks, by using vocal warm-ups, employing vocal variety, and using gestures and movement to create and share energy in the classroom.

In summary, our 2021 Fall Teaching Conference brought together nearly 200 participants, with our team from the Bok Center and partner offices, for 7 days of sessions dedicated to teaching, preparing for the fall term, and (re)building community in the process! We invite our graduate student community to continue the conversations we started at the conference, by engaging with videos and other conference resources on the Hit the Ground Running Canvas site, utilizing The Return to In-Person Teaching page, having your class observed or recorded, or signing up to meet with us about student feedback or other teaching topics. PhD students are always welcome to join our Bok Seminars, pursue one of our Teaching Certificates, or apply to one of our fellows programs.