“Effective teaching statements and teaching portfolios” workshop notes

Below are my notes from another of UNL’s Office of Graduate Studies workshops, this time on the subject of creating an effective teaching statement and a teaching portfolio. The workshop was held on Thursday, February 20th.

A teaching portfolio = “a coherent set of materials including work samples and reflective commentary on them compiled by a faculty member [or graduate student] to represent his or her teaching practice as related to student learning and development.” (Hutchings, 1996)

  • a useful tool for…
    • identifying areas for improvement
    • developing your teaching methods/approach
    • documenting your teaching experience
    • preparing for academic interviews
  • focus today = preparing for the academic job interview
    • “the product of preparing a teaching portfolio may not be as useful to you in the long-run as the process

Portfolio content:

  • depends on the purpose
    • job search
    • awards application
    • promotion & tenure
  • varies across disciplines
  • linked to your goals for teaching & learning
  • three primary components:
    • roles & responsibilities
    • teaching statement
    • evidence of effective teaching

(1) Teaching responsibilities:

  • include: course number, course title, brief course description, course level (first year undergraduates/sophomores/juniors), date(s) taught, enrollment (number of students in course, maximum number allowed), description of your role in the course (recitation leader, instructor)
    • list these in reverse chronological order
      • be sure to update constantly, just as you would your C.V.
    • if haven’t taught courses, think about including very specific information on courses you would like to teach
    • a good option for your portfolio = to list these courses in table format (for easy browsing of your experience)

(2) Teaching statement:

  • need to get to the point where you can articulate “why you teach the way you teach” within a 30-second “elevator speech”
  • 1-2 page (single-spaced) statement that addresses:
    • What do you want students to do/learn? (learning objectives)
      • e.g. “I want students to become effective writers. I want them to formulate and articulate a stance through and in their writing.”
    • How do you help them learn? (methods)
      • e.g. “I use brief, in-class writing assignments to help students synthesize and critically evaluate information.”
    • How do you know if they’ve learned it? (assessment)
      • e.g. “I evaluate students’ blog posts in terms of content, synthesis, and relevance. Students are given examples of good posts and the grading criteria prior to the assignment.”
    • How do you measure your effectiveness?
      • e.g. “Every three to four weeks, I end the class by asking students to respond briefly to two questions: What’s the most important thing you learned today? and What questions still remain unanswered? Their responses help me identify what they understood from the discussion and what concepts are still unclear.”
  • NOT about telling your general “teaching philosophy” –> show, don’t just tell
    • the person(s) reading this statement are interested in what you’ve accomplished, learned, thought about more than simply what you think/believe
  • Keep in mind that a good teaching statement is:
    • concrete, personal/individualized, vivid, discipline specific, somewhat humble, all about student learning
  • Remember: Not all teaching takes place in the classroom. Think broadly about your contributions to student learning.
    • e.g. mentoring of undergraduate students can be included because it IS teaching; same for tutoring, for example

(3) Evidence of effective teaching:

  • include materials from:
    • oneself: syllabus, teaching sample, narrative reflection
    • colleagues: observation notes/summary, syllabus or material reviews/letters by recommenders
      • letters by faculty/other recommenders can be a particularly strong part of your teaching portfolio IF they are specific about your teaching
    • students: course ratings, comments, products/evidence of learning outcomes, letters, individual samples and aggregated summaries (anonymized & showing progress over the course of the semester)
      • offer raw data from course evaluations (to offer a fuller representation of your evaluations by students) BUT include samples that promote you as a teacher
  • other examples of evidence: list of courses taught, sample syllabi, sample assignments, sample quizzes/exams, teaching awards, evaluations by peers
  • when including student ratings/evaluationsbe selective:
    • choose items that link to your major claims
    • use a matrix/table to display and organize the evaluation questions you are using
    • provide mean (and median) ratings
    • include narrative commentary –> write about some of the feedback you’ve received to respond to criticism and/or illustrate ways you’ve responded to criticism and changed your teaching as a result
    • include selection of student comments that relate back to some of your major teaching goals
    • if appropriate, include complete evaluations in appendices (depends on the discipline)

Portfolio organization: (physical copy)

  • narrative description of teaching roles & responsibility
  • teaching statement
    • description of select teaching methods and strategies
    • highlighted teaching outcomes
    • insights/reflections and new goals
  • appedices (supporting data, documents, letters, etc.)
  • could maintain a physical copy to take with you to a job interview, although it will probably be infrequent that you will be asked to provide a physical copy

Qualities of a “strong” portfolio:

  • readability: format, headings, coherent, cohesive
  • storyline or “picture”: memorable fact/image, clear examples given
  • linked system of objectives, efforts, outcomes, adjustments: evidence that efforts do pay off or are changed

Revise, revise, revise:

  • remember your teaching statement = a work in progress
  • consider the suggestions of others and rewrite your statement over time
  • proofread carefully
    • remember that your statement is a writing sample –> you will be judged on the quality of your writing as much as the content

Final tips:

  • start now
  • be selective
  • don’t make any claims about your teaching you can’t document
  • don’t create your portfolio in isolation
  • consider it a work in progress
  • make cumulative tables & annual review narratives

“Project Management for Digital Humanities” workshop notes

Below are my notes from a Digital Humanities workshop I attended yesterday evening on project management. I was surprised by how specific and detailed the workshop was, and was encouraged to learn that the Digital Humanities are beginning to adapt the standards and language of business-oriented project management to suit the specific needs and aims of DH. Thank you to UNL Center for Digital Research in the Humanities’ (CDRH) Liz Lorang for putting this great workshop together.

Project Management for Digital Humanities


  • are unique/produce a unique result
  • have a defined scope
  • have a defined start and end
  • must be completed with set resources
  • useful to drive this^ definition home → can’t successfully manage the project if don’t have a clear, defined understanding of the above

Project management = “the application of strategies and methods to complete projects effectively and successfully”

  • a successful project…is completed on time and with the agreed upon resources; produces product deliverables and meets scope and quality requirements
  • NOT about exceeding expectations →if scope of project and expectations continue to expand, may not get the original project, idea completed
  • DHers working more in teams, need to be able to run projects effectively (esp. to get and justify funding)
    • when introducing more variables into a project, need a project manager to ensure project is progressing, goals are being met
    • projects are often looking for project managers → good way for graduate students to get good experience & translate this for your own projects
      • most often, the person behind the project idea = NOT the project manager
      • skills gap between DH folks who have great project ideas but don’t have time or resources to be able to do the management portion of this
  • there are many different types of project management
    • much of the language, materials on how-to manage projects = dealing with a specific business culture → not always related to DH concerns, standards, methods
    • e.g. “lean” project management = all about maximizing efficiency, use of resources, most “bang for the buck”
    • traditional, adaptive, discovery, extreme = the 4 primary types of project management
      • DH @ UNL sees quite a bit of traditional & adaptive
  • So what’s the right method?
    • goals, project activities → if BOTH = clearly defined, traditional = the way to go
      • if NOT clearly defined, adaptive may be more the way to go
    • not all projects will be managed the same way
    • across both methods (traditional, adaptive):
      • every project should have: defined goals, deliverables, scope, start & end dates, defined team & roles, defined stakeholders, defined resources
      • AND every project must include: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring/controlling, closing
      • BUT methods look different in practice
    • sometimes funding applications (e.g.) NEH funding application becomes the “founding document” BUT, often, things will change → and IF goals, definitions change, it is best for the sake of the project to write up all of the above^ very early on
  • traditional project management in practice = initiate → plan → execute → monitor → close
  • agile/iterative project management in practice = initiate → plan → execute → monitor → [repeat: plan → execute → monitor] → close
    • e.g. Whitman Archive standards need updated → need to explore first in order to determine what need to accomplish and how long it will take (won’t be a linear process: “code sprints” = work intensely on one problem for a week, then move on to the next problem)
    • e.g. DH practicum course being offered this semester: encourage students to set 3-hour goals as a way to begin exploring problems and risks, “real world” goals for solving problems
  • the CDRH uses a “charter form” for the initiate phase → Liz to share a copy with workshop attendees

Project charter:

  • Vision (Why? What question(s) are you answering?)
  • Mission (What?)
  • Success criteria (How will we know if the project is successful?)
  • Where and how the above^ is documented varies from one project to another, depending on who you work with, how big and/or formal the project team is
  • not the role of the project manager to create these things (although will be involved in this process), but need to be sure these things are articulated as early as possible
  • if mission/success criteria changes, need to determine the impact on the project → e.g. will the deadline(s) for the project, budget, goals also change?
  • more traditional models may also specify the following in their project charter:
    • sponsor & stakeholders
    • roles
    • assumptions & constraints working under
    • standards (e.g. thematic research collection, documenting what encoding standards you are using → this can be important to state in the early stages if, for example, you are farming out some of the work and/or if some members of the team don’t have a lot of technical knowledge)
    • budget (monetary as well as time budgets can be useful)
    • schedule (short-term project: month-by-month…)
    • milestones
  • really expansive project charters don’t tend to work well for academic projects
    • risk plan (known risks, possibilities for some unknowns – want to have contingency plans)
    • communication plan (sounds great in theory, but may not pan out in academic culture → various plans for breakdowns in communication) (BUT probably works well in class projects, when at a peer-level with members of the project)
    • work breakdown structure (often assume “chart-like” form, ascending/descending tasks, how tasks relate to one another, identify critical pathways, things that must be done in order for next step to be done)

Open discussion:

  • a lot of DH management is being done by women
  • Project Management Institute = basically has a monopoly on the certification in project management professional
    • DHSI & HILT have offered project management courses in the past BUT not yet wholly geared toward DH (still using a lot of approaches and language from business)
  • various types of software for delegating responsibilities?
    • Trac = used @ the CDRH for several projects & has worked well → can set milestones & see a roadmap
      • ALSO great way to keep track of who’s working on what (especially important for large projects), keep everyone updated on progress of project, document key decisions…
    • Asana = something one of the workshop attendees has used → it was “overkill”, things pile up, is very business-oriented
    • Basecamp = another option, not much experience using it in the room (it’s not open-access)
  • communications aspect may be one of the most difficult aspects of project management, especially when the project manager isn’t necessarily on equal footing with the members of the team

“Identifying and Applying for Grants and Fellowships in the Humanities” workshop notes

Below are my notes and several handouts from a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Office of Graduate Studies-sponsored workshop I attended last week geared toward offering tips for locating and writing successful grant and fellowship applications. The workshop was led by panelists Katherine Walter (Co-Director of UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities and Professor and Chair, Digital Initiatives and Special Collections), Margaret Jacobs (Chancellor’s Professor of History, UNL), and Colin McLear (Assistant Professor of Philosophy, UNL). Each panelist began with a brief introduction of themselves and their entry into grant-writing, then the workshop progressed into discussion of specific prompt questions, and concluded with a Q & A session.

Identifying and Applying for Grants and Fellowships in the Humanities

Dr. Jacobs: applied for first grant not long after getting her first job, had small children, a 3-3 course load, no time to write at length (book chapter, article) BUT had time to write a grant proposal

  • started small & local –> great way to gain experience, build the resume, less competition than a national grant, university = eager to help one of its assistant professors with international travel for research
    • small grant won, helped build knowledge to write better applications for larger grants
    • rarely get a large grant the first time –> be persistent, rejection isn’t the end, revise, be attentive to reviewer comments, and resubmit

Dr. McLear: first grant = a Heidelberg exchange grant

  • admits he “didn’t plan very well and did everything last-minute” & learned this is not a good idea
    • e.g. Fulbright application takes about 18 months of advance planning
  • get to know people in other departments –> there may be something that comes up elsewhere that can help you with your research

Dr. Walter: first grant = not a university fellowship, was related to urban planning and based on federal guidelines

  • this grant required her to help administer smaller grants –> showed opportunities for funding in other places

Prompt question: What are some of the hallmarks of a successful grant/fellowship application?

Dr. McLear: don’t start late, plan ahead, learn to communicate with non-specialists effectively –> why is it important? make this clear in your application. what projects can you pull out of a dissertation?

  • network – especially with host institutions or persons –> can help if you are in good standing with the people behind grants/fellowships
    • can even e-mail them “out of the blue” or make contact through another party

Dr. Walter: working well in teams is crucial

  • Does your research fit the category? If you aren’t sure, call the grant specialist
  • echoes McLear’s recommendation to start as early as possible –> give yourself more time for dealing with snags (getting in touch with people you need to ask questions of, your letter writers, …)
  • pay attention to the various components of a grant too –> narrative isn’t the only important part
  • let other people read your grant
  • if rejected, read reviewer comments and reapply!
  • if get a grant, be sure you do all the required follow-up work (very often a component of federally-funded grants)

Dr. Jacobs: served on NEH panels reviewing applications

  • good applications = crystal clear in the 1st paragraph, written in non-specialist language (resist theoretical jargon) –> be straightforward
    • show that you have a realistic plan –> don’t overstate what you can do in the time given
    • how does your work engage with other scholarship? –> be humble and respectful of other scholarship, show yourself as a collaborator, give credit to the shoulders you stand on
    • demonstrate that you have the skills to accomplish the work –> reference specific examples from your c.v. in your application

Prompt question: What advice would you offer to graduate students writing their first grant proposal?

Dr. Walter: Jacobs’ suggestion to start small = good

  • also look at the UNL library website under e-resources for a section on further advice for grant/fellowship applications
  • keep in mind that often you must request reviewer comments –> do so
  • work with faculty on grants when you get the chance, suggest it –> gives you experience to propel you forward

Dr. Jacobs: “show, don’t tell” when you write –> model these things in your grant proposal

  • be sure you write impeccably
  • find ways to make yourself stand out & then quickly move into what you are doing, why your project is important
  • YOU know how important you research is, but others don’t: show the readers why your work is important – don’t just state it

Dr. McLear: know who, in your department, is/has been successful in writing grants (especially in your area, but outside too)

  • they = your most likely draft readers & they’ll know about the process
  • be prepared to revise your proposal several times
  • be aware that the norms of writing conference proposals, journal articles, dissertation proposals = very different from successful grant-writing
    • in some ways, you must learn to live & communicate in two worlds

Q & A session:

Tips for figuring out more about the audience for your proposal/application? Concerns about backgrounds of different reviewers, academics versus funders, investors, members of the business community

  • Dr. Jacobs: pay attention to their mission, language
  • Dr. Walter: federal agencies won’t tell you a lot, other than reviewers = from a lot of general disciplines
  • Dr. McLear: look at and e-mail award winners from previous years

Tips for how to choose the best letter of reference writers?

  • Dr. Jacobs: people who know you really well, dissertation advisor = really important, want the letters to be very specific, long-term relationships are important
  • Dr. McLear: people who know you and your project very well
    • give your writers a copy of your proposal so they can integrate that into their letter (+ this = a good way to show potential writers you will follow through)
  • Dr. Jacobs: agrees with McLear –> make it easy for your letter writers and it will pay off

Handout, “How to Win a Graduate Fellowship”

Handout, “Grant-Writing Tips for Graduate Students”

Handout, “Preparing Fellowship Applications”