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I am reading about the importance of the exhibition of active-learning techniques in the course of teaching demonstrations of tenure-track interviews. This paper frequently stresses on the usage of various forms of active learning to engage the (hypothetical) students in an interview:

Effectively incorporating any of these active-learning activities into your teaching demonstration can be impressive to the search committee.

The paper suggests various means of the realization of active learning, for example, by

Similarly, ask the audience to construct possible conclusions to be drawn from the data rather than just telling them your conclusions—interpretation of material is a key aspect of the student learning process;

or

Job candidates will often stop periodically and ask whether there are any questions, which in a real classroom can be problematic, because students who are lost are usually reluctant to speak in front of the class. A more effective strategy is to ask a question that will diagnose whether the students actually understand the material.

However, authors automatically assume that an interviewee necessarily benefits from the co-operation of the audience as "fake students", say,

Regardless of the makeup of the audience, it is advised that you treat them as though they were students.

''... when active-learning exercises are being used, as the faculty need to give typical student responses if the exercise is to work appropriately.''

In particular, in a real class, if a lecturer does not get that much of response from students regarding his applied active learning processes, nothing catastrophic happens and he can switch to other means of delivering his material and progression.

Now let's say an interviewee, in a 15-minute demo facing a committee whose members are all fake students (faculty members), plans to incorporate two instances of active learning in his demo (for example, a usage of clicker while asking a question from them, and a query to ask what they can express about the interpretation of a graph). Now, what should the interviewee do if his fake students do not properly react to the first planned active learning idea of the demonstration?


Option 1: moving on without any further try to keep them involved (as it would be pretty likely that they won't react to next engagement impulse of the applicant);

pros: there would no no more awkward silence there, and he can instead do some thing else

cons: active learning demonstration also flies out of the window.


Option 2: keep executing the plan and performing the next active learning strategy with the hope that this time they react more co-operatively; in this case,

pros: the applicant has, at least, demonstrated another instance of active learning engagement.

cons: the next silence, if not totally negative, does not convey any positive feedback from the panel.


Any experiences (and/or thoughts) about the proper approaches to handling such a situation are welcome!

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    The goal is to evaluate your performance in a class of real students. You state this is the case you would have no issues handling. Why would your approach with fake students be any different?
    – Lodinn
    Mar 3 at 11:16
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    @Lodinn Most people are nervous in a trial lecture, and when things don't go as planned (e.g., with participants not "playing their part" as students) many people will get flustered, like penelope. I think it's a good question how an interviewee best prepares for this situation.
    – xLeitix
    Mar 3 at 15:42

1 Answer 1

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While this isn't a strategy I tried myself (yet), I was lucky enough to get very candid feedback after my last teaching interview (a couple of years ago) - and suggestions for how to improve.

The feedback basically focused around the lack of student involvement - active learning - in my teaching demo. While I did try to ask a question (and had in my head prepared nuanced sub-questions to help lead the "students" to the right answer step by step), after the "fake students" didn't respond, I got a bit flustered, and just couldn't continue addressing the committee as students. (Apparently they were not engaging on purpose, but hoped I would continue to try, to see how one would deal with a somewhat disengaged student body.)

For me, the main problem was really pretending that "fake students" really are students, the "role-play" element of it (as one of my friends describes it). The suggestion I liked and have been thinking about ever since was instead of role-playing, describe and talk your panel through what you would do. I liked this as it allows you, the presenter, a full control of your demo.

In my head, this scenario plays out something like this (fake presentation script, the things I would actually say):

(Bla bla bla presenting a concept)

Here, I would make a pause, and ask the following question: "Now, based on what we just discussed, would somebody like to attempt intepreting this graph over here?"

Then I would wait for some 30 seconds *after waiting for 30 seconds*

If there were still no volunteers by this time, I would try to encourage them by prompting: "The topic today was finding best models, the ones with the lowest error. So the part of this function we are interested in are its minima...?"

Then I would wait a bit longer *waits for another 30 seconds* and if nobody still attempts an answer, I would indicate that I might select a student to offer an answer while giving further hints "Maybe somebody from... the left side? What we are trying to read from this graph is, which of these models is the best. You can see the errors corresponding to different models, so, which model would you pick based on this...?"

I do this "vague selection" first as I noticed somebody will often attempt an answer in this case, before I actually select any specific student to answer.

Still, if no one offers the answer, I would pick a student at random (from the left side of the classroom) and encourage them to read out the best model from the graph. If they still struggle, I would attempt to guide them there while highlighting the concepts on the graph *use a laser pointer* "So we are looking for the minimum of this function ..." *slide the pointer down the function to the minimum* "... and reading out the corresponding, best model..." *collapses the pointer down to the axis to read the value* "... which we can read here is...?" *circle the answer with the laser pointer on the graph*

At this point, if I am still not getting an answer, I would read out the answer myself ("our 35-th model!"). I think this incremental way of walking through the question not only offers the correct answer to the students but demonstrates the steps one needs to take to arrive at the correct answer.

And then I would go back to presenting the next concept.

(goes back to the presentation bla bla bla...)

You talk about clicker questions, which to my understanding require some type of technology for the students to submit their answers -- describing your approach in this way could also work in a demo where your "fake students" just don't have the technology you're considering at hand.

As I said, this isn't something I had an opportunity to try out myself during a teaching demo, but I hope to get an chance soon. I'm also very much interested to any other suggestions anybody else has.

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    "Apparently they were not engaging on purpose" yeah, or they were in fact just checking their emails and afterwards made this lack of engagement the candidate's problem (speaking as somebody who has been part of a few interviews).
    – xLeitix
    Mar 3 at 15:44
  • @xLeitix Normally I might agree but a) there were only three panel members so I could keep a lot of eye contact and b) they were seated close enough to me for me to be able to see the contents of their desk - no electronic devices open, and nobody awkwardly staring at their wrist or crotch.
    – penelope
    Mar 3 at 17:13
  • @xLeitix Also, having been part of several interviews myself at my current Uni, I know who are the listeners and who are the e-mail checkers (or even worse, reading the candidate's cv -- likely for the first time -- while they're trying to present). I make a point to avoid interviewing with the latter kind, and to not include them in any panels that I have any control or influence over (not many yet, but at least I have a 'naughty' list for the future). Also, knowing about the cohort (especially from 2-3 years ago), 'disengaged student body' was pretty much realistic for this position, sadly.
    – penelope
    Mar 3 at 17:21
  • First of all thanks for your useful hints! Just a question about the addressing "fake students": My demo is supposed to be online over zoom, so I suppose if no one jumped in to answer, I have to then randomly pick a fake student because I don't have any room to first start from. e.g., left side of the class, because the order of presenters on my screen are the same of those on the others. If so, then I would lose one extra chance of "nudge" to grab their involvement. Do you have any idea for this case, as well?
    – User
    Mar 3 at 18:09
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    @User I'm not sure I got my suggestion clearly across. I suggest to actually say all the things in the blockquotes. To talk the committee through what you would do instead of trying to play it out with them acting as fake students. I would actually tell the committee "If nobody still attempts an answer, I would indicate that I might select a student to offer an answer while giving further hints and saying something like 'Maybe somebody from... the left side?' " This whole script does not expect any interaction from the committee. Describe the situation, and what you would do or say
    – penelope
    Mar 4 at 10:00

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