Southwestern Law School Los Angeles, CA

News Release

Teacher as Student: Professors Collaborate During Open Classrooms Week November 21, 2012
Teacher as Student: Professors Collaborate During Open Classrooms Week

Members of Southwestern's Faculty Development Committee wanted to give their colleagues the opportunity to observe each other in the classroom. Associate Dean Arthur McEvoy (Committee Chair), Professor Roman Hoyos and Professor Danielle Hart collaborated to establish Southwestern's first Open Classrooms Week. From September 10 to 14, participating faculty opened their classrooms to their peers.

"We have a lot of good teachers at Southwestern, and I thought the idea of opening our classrooms would be a good way to learn from one another," Professor Hoyos said. The structure was experimental. Involvement was voluntary. And the event was a success.

Involvement exceeded expectations, with 43 faculty members either opening their classrooms to their fellow professors, sitting in on others' courses, or both. Participating instructors represented a diverse cross section of teaching styles and experience levels.

"The level of participation was amazing to me," Professor Hoyos said. "Over two-thirds of the faculty participated in the week. I think at many schools, one-third would be high, and that was what I thought our rate would be. It can create a certain level of anxiety to have a colleague sit in on your class. But there seemed to be a genuine desire to both learn from and to share with one another. I think it speaks well about our faculty's interest in teaching and willingness to grow."

Dean McEvoy said that the purpose of Open Classrooms is less about evaluation and feedback and more about observing and learning from what colleagues do. "We generally keep to ourselves as academics," he explained. "People are pretty proprietary about the classroom, but the non-evaluative set up of the week and its spirit of reciprocity made it much safer. I think everyone learned a lot. I learned a lot."

A discussion in the faculty loungeDaily brown bag sessions were also held in the faculty lounge to discuss the things professors witnessed in each other's classes. Twenty three professors attended the lunch gatherings. "I felt like I learned a lot in those sessions, not only about teaching, but about my colleagues on a personal level," Professor Hoyos said. "I think what we saw is a school-wide commitment to high quality teaching and a variety of approaches. The best conversation I had all week was with Professor Hila Keren. We have similar goals and desires about teaching, and had a lengthy conversation after lunch one day about the issues we face in the classroom and how we try to address them.  We approach these issues much differently, both stylistically and pedagogically, so it was good to compare notes and talk about why we do things the way we do."

Based on the positive feedback the committee received, the plan is to try to organize one Open Classrooms Week during each term. Dean McEvoy explained that the week really cultivated a strong sense of association. "My motto for this year is 'Building community by working together,'" he said. "The faculty lounge is often empty at lunchtime, but during Open Classrooms Week it was full every day, with people who sometimes don't cross paths with each other talking animatedly about work and ideas, about things that matter to everybody in common.  It was a great thing."