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CIRTL Network Exchange to Vanderbilt University
In the 2012 spring semester I had the opportunity to participate in the CIRTL Network Exchange program. This was a very valuable and enjoyable experience, and I am very pleased that I was able to take advantage of it. I traveled from my home institution of the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) to Vanderbilt University in Nashville to give presentations on both my Teaching-As-Research (TAR) project and disciplinary research. As I am somewhat earlier in my graduate career than is typical for TAR students, I did not approach my presentations as mock job talks. Instead, I treated them as opportunities to increase awareness of the research taking place in the Physic Education Research (PER) group at CU and to make connections with other researchers with an interest in education.
Preparing for my visit on its own was a great experience. As Vanderbilt has no PER group or faculty, I designed my disciplinary talk to be an overview of the large-scale, discipline-based education research being conducted at CU for both the introductory and upper-division physics courses. I felt that this would be more valuable and interesting to the audience at Vanderbilt than a talk focusing on the specifics of my own research. Overall, the talk was well received and the audience asked a number of insightful questions.
My TAR talk was modified from presentations and posters that I have given with my collaborators at a number of venues at CU. I formatted the presentation in such a way as to highlight not only the data and findings, but to tell a story of how this project was conceived and has evolved over time. The mixed methodologies used and the dynamics of our research team have been vital to some of the insights we have achieved. This was a unique aspect of our work that I wanted to convey through my presentation. It was more challenging than I expected to write both of these talks for such a new and different audience. Prior to the visit, I sent both sets of slides to my respective research groups for feedback and practiced both presentations numerous times to ensure that I had the timing down.
I was only able to visit Vanderbilt for one full day, but I learned a great deal in that short time. The morning after I arrived, my CIRTL contact picked me up from the hotel and took me to several meetings she had set up. First, I had a very enjoyable conversation with Derek Bruff, the director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt. Derek was incredibly helpful as he provided me with a lot more detail on the kinds of reforms and research taking place both in physics and medicine. This information about my audience helped me to refine which aspects of my talks would be most informative for the faculty in this particular physics department.
My next meeting was with the director of Undergraduate Studies, David Weintraub. We discussed many of the logistical issues that professors and education researchers face in undergraduate physics courses. It was very useful for me to hear about some of David’s experiences with, advice about, and occasional objections to different forms of course reforms such as clickers. We also discussed issues of encouraging interest in physics for non-majors and recruitment of women/minorities.
Finally, just before my disciplinary talk, one of the astronomy lab instructors, Erika Grundstrom took me on a tour of the Vanderbilt campus. This was the first time I had visited a private university campus and I was quite impressed by the beautifully kept grounds. Erika showed me around to some of her favorite pieces of artwork and told me more about student and faculty life at Vanderbilt.
After my TAR talk, Jean Alley and two Vanderbilt graduate students, Elizabeth Adolph and Mike Myers, took me to dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant just off campus. Both Elizabeth and Mike had also conducted TAR projects, and I really enjoyed the chance to have a relaxed, informal discussion with them about their research and experiences. Overall, I found the CIRTL Network Exchange to be an incredibly gratifying and valuable experience that I would highly recommend to any student who has completed a TAR project.