What makes for a good mock teaching demonstration?

Question for you: what makes for a good mock teaching demonstration?

I thought of this because my department is currently interviewing for a teaching faculty position. The candidates have been asked to give a mock teaching demonstration to the faculty, pretending it’s the first day of class in a second-year invertebrate zoology course.

What do you look for in a good mock teaching demonstration? I ask because, in my admittedly-limited experience, mock teaching is artificial and so somewhat difficult to evaluate. Especially when the audience is faculty, not undergraduates, as it is at Calgary and at various other places. Faculty pretending to be undergrads areĀ very different from actual undergrads, even “challenging” undergrads! This artificiality is unavoidable; I’m not criticizing anyone for it. And it’s not clear to me that the alternatives would be any better. Having a job candidate give a guest lecture to an undergraduate course surely has its own artificiality to it, for instance because the students likely are already accustomed to the pedagogical approach of the usual instructor.

A bit of googling revealed some tips for mock teaching demos (here and here). But it’s mostly advice geared towards mock teaching to an audience of students, not faculty. One of the linked pieces simply says “‘Mock’ classes made up of mostly faculty are difficult”!

So, what do you look for in a mock teaching demo? Any tips for giving a good one? How does your college or university evaluate the teaching ability of job candidates? Looking forward to your comments.


22 thoughts on “What makes for a good mock teaching demonstration?

  1. I’m going to be cynical here, because I’ve sat through a number of these, and gave one myself to get my current position. The candidates that succeeded (i.e. got an offer) tended to be those that used it as an opportunity to promote their own work in a different way. The faculty want to know that you can teach, but deep down they really want to know about your research. For example, I used one of my papers as case study to illustrate a more general principle. I’m not saying that this is how it *should* work, just that in my experience it does, and therefore you might want to think about how the panel can ensure that they separate the actual teaching from any subliminal messages that the candidate is trying to get across.

    • All I can say is my experience has been different. Candidates asked to give a mock teaching demo invariably have treated it exclusively as such (not even using examples from their own research or whatever), and have succeeded to the extent that that they were seen as good teachers.

      • Yes, I sat in a teaching demonstration where the candidate just talked about his research (in a way that was oriented more towards undergrads, but, still, it was a research talk). It didn’t come across well.

        That said, I can see how using an example from your own research (if appropriate to the topic and explained at an appropriate level) could work.

  2. As someone who will be giving a teaching demo (as a finalist for a job) next week, I look forward to any other comments Dynamic Ecology readers can offer!

    • I’m not the greatest source of advice, never having had to do a mock teaching demo myself, and only ever having seen about 8 in my life. But the ones I’ve seen certainly varied a lot in their effectiveness–more variable than the research seminars I’ve seen–so I do have a bit of sense of what works and what doesn’t.

      -I’d emphasize a piece of advice from the posts I linked to: overprepare. Ask a *ton* of questions about the number and background of the imaginary students at whom the mock demo will be aimed (how many students in the class? what year are they? what prereqs have they taken? etc.), the content of the course of which the mock demo is supposed to be a part, etc. Also ask about the layout of the room and the available technology. Will you have access to clickers? Are the desks and chairs fixed in place? As far as possible, you want to put yourself in the position of someone who would actually be teaching the course.

      -Don’t spend the entirety of the allotted time on the mock class itself, unless you’re explicitly asked to do so. Instead, spend a bit of time at the beginning talking about your teaching philosophy, illustrating general statements like “I use active learning” with specific examples. Then do a “mini” class session in which you illustrate how you put your general teaching philosophy into practice.

      -If there’s technology you would ordinarily use–clickers or whatever–ask if it’ll be available and if you can get some time before the mock teaching demo to be walked through how to use it. Or, if that’s infeasible or undesirable for some reason (which it might well be), figure out a substitute (say, show of hands in place of clickers) and then during the mock demo say “If this were a real class, at this point I’d pose the following question as a clicker question, but I’ll just ask for a show of hands…”

      -Even if you’ve been asked to pretend it’s the first day of class, don’t go over the syllabus or other admin stuff, it’s too boring. Not even as a way to show that you know how to write a syllabus, structure a course, etc. Instead, I suggest handing out copies of the hypothetical syllabus for audience members to peruse later.

      -Following on from the previous point, don’t be afraid to go above and beyond what you’ve explicitly been asked to do. For instance, even if you’re just asked to give a single mock class session, you can still design a syllabus for the entire class and talk briefly about how the mock class you’re about to teach fits in with the rest of the course.

      -Know the subject. It really looks bad (and rightly so!) if you don’t have a firm handle on the material.

      -Use some active learning, don’t just lecture. Clicker questions, pair and share, breaking them into small groups…whatever, but do something. The audience will probably be expecting you to do this, plus just lecturing to an audience of faculty pretending to be students is extra awkward. Odds are they’ll interrupt the mock lecture with many more and much different questions than any undergrad class would. Of course, if you ordinarily just lecture, this will be hard advice to follow.

      -If the topic is “first day of class in course X”, the audience will be looking for an engaging, compelling introduction to the course. What is this course all about? Why should I as a student care about this material?

  3. In my experience (from both sides) these demos are of limited value. They mostly assess who already has the most teaching experience which is not at all the same as who will be the best teacher 3 years from now. You can get a baseline can they be enthusiastic and clear about their topic. But that is a correlated but not highly correlated predictor of good teacher.

    One of my biggest complaints (from both sides) is how artificial it is to see professors act like students and then assess how well somebody interacts with these fake students. If there is a way to get even 10 real students in the room (honors students, class extra credit) and have them sit in the front that it is probably the single best way to make this constructive. Having them teach a real class is the best.

    On my campus many faculty expect to see some active learning activities during the teaching. I imagine that varies a lot between campuses but I imagine expecting some active learning is probably more common than not.

    It is also possible to fail the teaching interview if you make basic factual errors on your topic. Make sure you study up on the topic area you are assigned (or choose).

    • As to whether mock teaching demos are mainly tests of teaching experience as opposed to predictors of who’ll teach well in future, I can’t say. I’ve seen great ones from both people with some teaching experience, and people without any. And insofar as they’re tests of teaching experience, well, surely teaching experience is itself one (imperfect!) predictor of how well you’ll teach in future. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for search committees to prefer a candidate who’s already taught well over a candidate who looks like they’ll be able to learn to teach well in a couple of years.

    • Questions for Brian (and anyone else who wants to chime in) re: having candidates teach a guest session in a real class. How do the logistics of that work? If you’re interviewing, say, 4 candidates, do you have them all give guest sessions to the same class? If so, doesn’t that screw up the class, giving over >10% of the class sessions in the semester to job candidates?

      And if the candidates are teaching guest sessions in the same class, do they all cover the same topic? If so, doesn’t that further screw up the class and also end up very boring for the students who have to sit through four classes on the same topic? If not, doesn’t that make among-candidate comparisons more difficult?

      Alternatively, if the candidates are asked to teach on different topics to different classes, doesn’t that make among-candidate comparisons quite difficult?

      Or do you avoid some of these issues by having each candidate teach a “bonus” class on the same topic to real students outside of regular class hours?

      • Well, the last is easiest. In fact so easy I might suggest it should always be done. But I think you can pull off the within regular class time. You would have to assign (or let the candidates pick) different topics. While it may be true that the students get slightly less on average out of the 3 or 4 classes then a prof who has taught the class before, but the students in my (admittedly few) experiences with this are actually pretty interested at this “peek at the inside workings”, learn that teaching styles differ and can often provide pretty thoughtful evaluations (at least in upper level classes). I would probably even suggest that being analytical about teaching styles probably makes them more reflexive about learning styles and what teaching styles match their learning styles which is a different sort of good than learning the Krebs cycle.

        As for comparing candidates on different topics the two universities I have been on search committes on, we let the candidates choose their topic (gave them the course description). I found no problem comparing across topics. In many ways that is more fair anyway because you aren’t accidentally hitting a single topic that is a sweet spot for one candidate and not another.

    • Nobody says you have to go over the syllabus on the first day of class! I don’t. I save it for the second day. I think you want to use the first day to engage student interest in the material.

      In the context of the ongoing job interviews here at Calgary, “treat it as the first day of class” means “give a big picture overview of the course material–what are invertebrates, what will students be learning about them, why should they care, etc.”

    • Just goes to show you need to ask a lot of questions. The ones I’ve seen were definitely “middle of the course” specific topic (sometimes the uni picks the topic, sometimes the candidate does)

      • The one I did as a job candidate was a “middle of the course” topic, but someone suggested that I have a syllabus with me to hand out to the audience (faculty and grad students pretending to be undergrads) to show a) where my lecture fit in and b) that I’d put thought into the process. I think that worked well.

  4. I taught several classes for young children all the way through older adults. While I have never done a mock class interview, almost without fail, the older the audience was, the better they responded to active learning techniques. The most engaged class I ever had was when I taught math to an audience mostly filled with retired humanities professors. I would suspect, that developing active learning material that will engage fake students played by professors will actually be easier than developing similar material for younger students taking the class for the first time. I’m not sure how my experience generalizes though. Perhaps it says more about me than it does about anything related to mock-teaching interviews.

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