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By Leah Poffenberger
Since 1996, the New Faculty Workshop, a partnership between APS, the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), has been providing early career faculty with best practices in physics education. Typically, the New Faculty Workshop is held twice a year at the American Center for Physics, but this year’s Fall workshop made a successful pivot online, allowing attendees to experiment with new tools for online teaching.
The ongoing mission of New Faculty Workshops is to help faculty members who are new to teaching hone their skills with effective strategies from the latest educational research. The latest New Faculty Workshop focused on strategies to promote active learning while navigating an online teaching environment. The Workshop ran from October 15 to 17 and drew over 130 attendees—roughly double the usual number of participants.
“This past workshop was open to anybody—we had tenure track faculty, lecturers, even a couple of post-docs,” says Kathryn Woodle, Project Development Senior Program Manager at APS. “Participation in the fall workshop included about 30 percent women, which is above the national average of female participation in physics, and having the workshop online enabled a lot of people from smaller or underfunded departments to participate in ways they haven’t been able to before.”
New Faculty Workshop Participants
The New Faculty Workshop was originally slated to be held in person, but aside from being online instead of in-person, the workshop was able to go on mostly as planned. The organizing team was able to work with presenters to bring their talks online through Zoom to cover their original topics—which happened to include a number of new online teaching techniques.
“Part of what the New Faculty Workshop does is demonstrate active learning—then new faculty can use it and then demonstrate it in the classroom. How do we do this online?” says Woodle. “We worked with using Zoom breakout rooms to facilitate those kinds of discussions and helping faculty think about what is possible. A lot of people are getting experience online, but there’s a lot of interest in evolving their teaching.”
Among the highlights of the conference were: demonstrations on how to use online teaching tools like Jamboard, Padlet, and Mentimeter, a well-attended session led by NSF program officers, and a vibrant and active Slack channel for all participants. Attendees were also given a new way to get the most out their New Faculty Workshop with the help of a "Participant Planning, Development and Reflection Document." Participants were encouraged to fill out their documents with aspects of teaching or learning they were hoping to develop during the workshop, culminating in a plan for future teaching implementing what they learned.
Much of the New Faculty Workshop content was organized by AAPT, but this year APS took the lead on the technical aspects of moving the conference online. Woodle attributes some of the success to participants now being familiar with a lot of the technology. Several attendees expressed their opinions over the Slack channel, including one who called the workshop “the smoothest, most well put together large gathering I’ve done online ever.”
Based on the success of this year’s online workshop, more New Faculty Workshops will likely go online in the future, even when the option to meet in person is available again.
“We were also pleased enough with the online workshop that our plan is to do an online workshop every other year,” says Robert Hilborn, Principal Investigator for the New Faculty Workshop and Associate Executive Officer at AAPT. “It seems that a fair number of participants indicated that the online workshop was easier to attend because there was no travel involved. Some colleges and universities don’t have the funds to support travel and registration for people at the workshop—having online workshops enables us to serve a broader audience.”
Online workshops are a key part of a new NSF grant proposal to keep the New Faculty Workshops up and running, along with adding a new focus to the program.
“We’re making it our focus to show participants that we’re working with them in a holistic fashion. We know faculty members have different expectations of them—some colleges might expect more teaching or more research…. How do you balance that?” says Hilborn. “We’re bringing that out as more of a theme of our future workshops—we really haven’t given the participants a coherent way of thinking about all those different expectations.”
Whether online or in-person, New Faculty Workshops will continue twice yearly with their mission to reach faculty members in their first, second, or third year of teaching and give them effective tools to teach the next generation of physics students. So far, the program has already served over 2600 early career faculty members.
“New faculty workshops are run with support from NSF, but the fact that AAPT, APS, and AAS are all backers of the workshops gives it credibility in the physics and astronomy communities,” says Hilborn. “This is an important role for professional societies to play—we’re thinking about educating the next generation of physics and astronomy teachers who will go on to do on all kinds of important and interesting work.”
For more about New Faculty Workshops and to see topics from previous workshops, visit the AAPT New Faculty Workshop page.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine