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College of Education > News and Publications > News: Jan. - March 2011 > HI ED 546 Focuses on Teachers Teaching Undergrads

HI ED 546 Focuses on Teachers Teaching Undergrads

Summer course offering—College Teaching, HI ED 546—provides valuable academic job-market skills and fulfills the website and course requirements for the Graduate School Teaching Certificate.

by David Price (February 2011)

University Park, Pa. -- Future faculty and other scholars who see teaching as a worthy subject of intellectual engagement and a vital part of their professional practice will benefit from a course being offered through the College of Education's Higher Education program. Successfully completing the course—College Teaching, HI ED 546—provides increasingly valuable academic job-market skills and fulfills the technology and course requirements for the Graduate School Teaching Certificate.Neill Johnson

"Because 546 is a three-credit course offered in a six-week format, it provides a swift and rigorous exercise in assembling an electronic teaching portfolio—good discipline for those who have unsorted reams of evidence for teaching excellence, as well as for those who need to make the best of limited opportunities and more modest artifacts," says R. Neill Johnson, director of Penn State Learning and the course instructor.

The Graduate School Teaching Certificate provides an incentive for gaining as much teaching experience as a student's time and academic program allows, and it helps graduate students compete on the academic job market. A formal teaching course is required for the certificate, as it provides a fairly intense learning-community experience based on reading, reflection, application, and evaluation.

Central to the objectives of HI ED 546 is providing subject area specialists with strategies for communicating effectively with students. "One of the consqeuences of completing a Ph.D. is that as we move deeper into an area of specialization, we move further away from our early experiences with content that is foundational," notes Johnson.

"Teaching undergraduates especially returns us to foundational content, and we easily forget that undergraduates share few, if any, of our current assumptions. In other words, we forget that what seems self-evident to us may to them be only a series of conundrums."

Course participants will explore issues related to college teaching as members of an interdisciplinary community, connecting theory and practice as much as possible. Course topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • exploring theories of teaching as they relate to adult learning

  • writing clear course goals and measurable learning objectives

  • designing assignments and other learning activities aligned with course goals

  • developing grading standards and practices that will promote learning

  • creating and maintaining culturally inclusive learning environments

  • building a repertoire of classroom assessment techniques

  • considering teaching as scholarship

  • constructing a public teaching identity

There are no course prerequisites for HI ED 546, and teaching experience is not required; however, having some teaching experience will facilitate some of the interactions in the classroom. "If you have no formal teaching experience, you may not see the relevance and importance of some 546 learning objectives," observes Johnson. "They may seem overwrought and unnecessary. Until you try rock climbing or water-skiing or leading a discussion, you think to yourself, 'How hard could it be?'

"Fortunately, I can devote a substantial portion of 546 contact time to giving participants opportunities to try things out, fail, and try again—but we aren't ourselves undergraduates. So our classroom is at best a safe approximation of the real thing.

"I would encourage novice instructors to take the course, particularly if they are on the job market without teaching experience. The more teaching experience one has, however, the better. One cannot have too much."

Johnson adds, "HI ED 546 also is designed to help instructors present themselves to students as learners, rather than as experts. Instructors are still learning, after all, so there is much common ground to be claimed and explored if we can be honest about this. Do we learn to communicate 'deep knowledge' in this course? I think of it more as learning how to teach students to create their own deep knowledge, because what makes it 'deep' is ultimately how well it is evaluated against and integrated with everything else one has come to hold as true and good and beautiful."

HI Ed 546 is scheduled to be held during Penn State's Summer I session, on Mondays and Thursdays from 5:25 to 8:50 p.m., in 403 Rackley Building. Class will not meet on May 30, Memorial Day. The schedule number is 666370. For additional information, contact Neill Johnson at