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Teaching Excellence

Is good teaching like pornography in that we know it when we experience it, but we struggle to define it? This post considers teaching evaluation and prods (well, maybe more like fumbles around) the topic of classroom excellence.

My first thought, working in publishing, is peer review. Alexander Sidorkin writes in the introductory issue of Syllabus,

“[t]his journal is an attempt to recognize teaching by publishing the best syllabi, those that often go unrecognized.”

The journal peer reviews syllabus and its first Table of Contents include seven from across the humanities and liberal arts. The American Sociological
Association has also launched Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology, a peer-reviewed database of activities and syllabi.

My next thought turns to how students see the evaluation, indeed the educational, project. Naturally anthropologists have answers: They have studied the evaluation (as
Alicia Blum-Ross does in her article on “Teaching Evaluation”) and the undergraduate student, as done by Michael Moffatt in Coming of Age in New Jersey and Peter Magolda in “Life as I Don’t Know It.” These anthropologists describe how students view learning and campus life and how professors might engage students in evaluation experiences beyond the fleeting RateMyProfessor soundbyte.

A last lens of excellence might be prizes. The AAA/Oxford University Press Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the SMA MASA Graduate Student Mentor Award both honor teaching. Probably closer to home, most colleges and universities have several teaching awards and probably most anthropologists do not think to pursue
these badges, but probably they should.

The AAA’s Resource Development Committee raised the funds to build a Teaching Materials Exchange to help anthropologists locate new ideas about readings, assignments, and topics to keep their students’ interest in anthropology piqued and their classrooms vibrant. Add your materials to the discipline pool our best knowledge and ideas. Collective learning might comprise another dimension of teaching excellence.

Back to the Classroom?

From AAA member Beverly A. Chiarulli:

As a member of the advisory panel that helped build the AAA Teaching Materials Exchange, I was delighted to read that the Exchange is up and running. It’s a little hard to find, there’s no link on the home page, but it is the first link on the Resources menu For Teachers.

The idea is for the exchange to become a resource for teaching anthropology and there are syllabi, lesson plans and activities for all types and levels of Anthro classes. It was paid for my member donations to the Resources Development Committee, described in this Anthropology News article.

So far there are more than 100 entries, that can be searched by keywords, level, online, region, topics and instructor.  The search works pretty well. I looked at a really interesting sounding course “Anthropology and Animals” taught by Peter Gray at UNLV, a general level online course. I don’t know that I would ever teach that course, but it gave me some ideas for my online Intro Anthropology Course which is also an online course. And another course “ARCH 0680:  Water, Culture and Power” by  Omur Harmansah of Brown University looks at the importance of water management in the Near East also gave me ideas.

I submitted my own syllabus to see how complicated it was and it took less than 10 minutes.

It looks like this will be a great way to share teaching ideas and can be an especially important resource for “new” teachers and anyone trying to design a new course. I hope you will use the resource and contribute your materials, too.

Beverly A. Chiarulli is Director of Archaeological Services and Associate Professor in
the Anthropology Department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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