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CTLgrads Learning Communities

CTLgrads Learning Communities are interdisciplinary conversations about teaching and learning topics, designed and co-facilitated by CTL Senior Lead Teaching Fellows and other select graduate students. By participating in these discussions of the teaching literature with other graduate student instructors, you will develop new frameworks to innovate your teaching. Since the are planned as sequential conversations, so we encourage you to register for all sessions of a given Learning Community. Participation in these sessions may count towards completion of CTL’s Teaching Development Program (TDP) for graduate students.

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Learning Communities

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Spring 2021

Pedagogies of Race and Oppression

Learning Community designed and run by Brendane Tynes (Anthropology) and Dominic Walker (Sociology) 

  • Part 1: Monday, February 8, 1:00 – 3:00pm, via Zoom 
  • Part 2: Monday, March 8, 1:00 – 3:00pm, via Zoom 
  • Part 3: Monday, April 12, 1:00 – 3:00 pm, via Zoom:

This Learning Community is sponsored by the GSAS Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusion, in partnership with Columbia’s Center for Teaching and Learning. In this learning community, participants collectively engage focused topics in pedagogy and practice – in this case, as they relate to race and marginalization, with particular emphasis on anti-racist and anti-oppression pedagogy. Participants must commit to attending three virtual workshops during the spring semester and completing brief reading and writing exercises. Because capacity is limited, participants will be selected by application. Apply here by Monday, January 18.

Citational Practice as Critical Feminist Pedagogy

Learning Community designed and run by Senior Lead Teaching Fellows Cat Lambert (Classics) and Diana Newby (English & Comp Lit) 

  • Part 1: Thursday, February 18, 2021 1:10 PM – 2:25 PM, via Zoom  
  • Part 2: Thursday, February 25, 2021 1:10 PM – 2:25 PM, via Zoom 

Whom do we cite, and why? What kinds of ‘stories’ do we tell our students through our syllabi, footnotes, and bibliographies? In this Learning Community, we will explore how to teach and model citational practice in ways that empower our students to question and challenge dominant structures of knowledge, intellectual genealogies, and academic narratives. In doing so, we will also think collectively about citation as an ethical and political practice: How can we mobilize citational practice to interrogate and dismantle racist, misogynist, or otherwise harmful scholarship? How can we use it meaningfully to legitimize overlooked or non-traditional sources and empower the most vulnerable or excluded voices in our fields?

In the first session of this Learning Community, participants will be introduced to critical feminist pedagogy as a framework for grappling with the political and ethical implications of academic citation, both generally speaking and in participants’ home departments and disciplines. In the second session, participants will develop and workshop practical strategies for enacting a critical-feminist approach to citational practice in their own classrooms and learning materials.

Access and Activism: Teaching Research Skills in the Undergraduate Classroom

Learning Community designed and run by Senior Lead Teaching Fellows Kevin Windhauser (English & Comp Lit) and Yarran Hominh (Philosophy) 

  • Part 1: Tuesday, March 9, 2021 2:40 PM – 3:55 PM, via Zoom 
  • Part 2: Tuesday, March 16, 2021 2:40 PM – 3:55 PM, via Zoom  

What implicit assumptions about research shape our teaching? How are teaching and learning impacted when this central skill goes unaddressed? This Learning Community explores the pedagogical benefits of teaching research methods–broadly defined–in undergraduate courses, regardless of discipline. In the first session, we will talk about access: how might our current (perhaps implicit) research pedagogies limit student access, or close off student experiences and knowledge? How can we teach research through a non-punitive methodology that builds on students’ existing abilities and empowers them to join an academic conversation? Our second session will focus on the larger stakes of teaching research skills. Why is it important for students to learn research skills? What relevance does it have for students’ lives? How can instructors resist the de-politicizing way in which research is typically taught to and understood by undergraduates? This Learning Community will focus on both reflective discussion and practical teaching strategies.

Past Programs

Fall 2020

Pedagogies of Race and Oppression

Learning Community designed and run by Brendane Tynes (Anthropology) and Dominic Walker (Sociology) 

  • Part 1: Monday, October 19, 1:00 – 3:00pm, via Zoom 
  • Part 2 Monday, November 16th, 1:00 – 3:00 pm, via Zoom:

This Learning Community is sponsored by the GSAS Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusion, in partnership with Columbia’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Participants will collectively engage focused topics in pedagogy and practice as they relate to race and marginalization, with particular emphasis on anti-racist and anti-oppression pedagogy. Participants will explore how various forms of oppression shape teaching and learning at Columbia and will develop skills to support anti-racist and anti-oppression pedagogical thinking and practice. Participants must commit to attending two virtual workshops during the fall semester and completing brief reading and writing exercises. Because capacity is limited, participants will be selected by application.

Considering the Whole Self in Teaching and Learning: Mental and Physical Wellbeing in the Classroom

Learning Community designed and run by Adam Massmann (Earth and Environmental Engineering) and Abby Shroering (Theater) 

  • Part 1: Wednesday, October 21, 2:40 – 3:55pm, via Zoom 
  • Part 2: Wednesday, October 28, 2:40 – 3:55pm, via Zoom 

It is no secret that stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges are prevalent in higher education. In fact, each year, more students report experiencing negative academic impacts from stress than from the common cold and flu (NCHA, 2019). Yet standard mental health policies we include in our syllabi often frame these experiences as something to be addressed solely outside of the classroom. This learning community takes a different approach, recognizing that, as instructors and TAs, we have the power to support and prioritize our students’ (and our own) physical and mental well-being in the classroom, and that doing so can foster student learning.

In this learning community, we will re-center well-being by focusing on the techniques we, as instructors, can deploy in the classroom (or on Zoom). Such a re-centering of health is crucial now, as COVID-19, state-sanctioned violence, anti-Black racism, and political turmoil compound mental burdens and trauma. In this learning community, participants will explore the deeply entwined spheres of mental and emotional health, the human body, and education. Through a combination of asynchronous modules and synchronous workshop and discussion sessions, participants will frame the literature of mental health and bodily awareness in the classroom with their lived experience and leave with concrete methods of incorporating new insights into their own practice. By implementing these methods, our goal is for both students and teachers to experience more positive, rewarding, and healthy class spaces, and to support each other in working toward this vision.

Spring 2020

Assumptions & Inclusivity: Increasing Transparency in the Classroom

Learning Community designed and run by Valerie Bondura (Anthropology), Karin Christiaens (Art History and Archaeology), Zachary Domach (Religion), and Almudena Marin-Cobos (LAIC)

  • Part 1: Friday, February 7th, 12:10-1:55pm, 212 Butler Library 
  • Part 2: Friday, February 14th, 12:10-1:55pm, 212 Butler Library 

What underlying assumptions are inherent within our disciplines and how do they affect teaching practices in our classrooms? In this session we will explore the implicit expectations of our disciplines and the expectations students bring to our classes. We will think collectively about how we might make disciplinary assumptions explicit as well as how to navigate student expectations with the goal of creating a more inclusive, transparent, and accessible classrooms.

The Stories We Tell: Storytelling as Pedagogical Strategy

Learning Community designed and run by Emma Le Pouésard (Art History and Archaeology) and Cait Morgan (Classics) 

  • Part 1: Wednesday, February 19th, 12:10-1:55pm, 212 Butler Library  
  • Part 2: Wednesday, February 26th, 12:10-1:55pm, 212 Butler Library  

Lecturing has a bad reputation. Pedagogical research in recent years has proven the benefits of active learning, encouraging instructors to increase student engagement in the classroom through classroom assessment techniques (CATs) and discussion-based learning environments. Nevertheless, lecturing remains, for many instructors, an important classroom strategy. Indeed, it is one that, if harnessed properly, need not be seen in opposition to active learning, but as its complement. In this Learning Community, we explore the technique of storytelling as a tool to enliven lectures. We will delve into the tricky mechanics of delivering an engaging lecture, connecting this idea to the principles of learning objectives, inclusive teaching, and Universal Design for Learning.

From Student to Expert: Breaking Down Disciplinary Tasks in the Classroom

Learning Community designed and run by Velia Ivanova (Music) and Jeff Sherman (Electrical Engineering) 

  • Part 1: Thursday 4/2, 12:10-1:55pm, via Zoom  
  • Part 2: Thursday 4/9, 12:10-1:55pm, via Zoom  

Why are certain tasks harder to teach than others? What makes these tasks easy for us as experts while stumping our students? What creates these “bottlenecks” in students’ learning, and how can we help our students overcome them? In this two-part learning community, we will leverage cross-disciplinary conversations to address how to identify and communicate the processes behind tasks in our disciplines. By applying methods from David Pace’s The Decoding the Disciplines Paradigm: Seven Steps to Increased Student Learning, we will work together to break down (or “decode”) such tasks and learn how to model them for our students. Through a series of interactive and reflective activities, we will learn how this decoding framework can help us teach complex skills to a wider range of students and to do so in an inclusive manner.

Fall 2019

Mastering Techniques for Active Learning

Learning Community designed and run by Palani Akana (Ecology, Evolution & Environmental Biology) and Alex Ekserdjian (Art History and Archaeology)

  • Part 1: Thursday, September 19, 12:10 PM – 1:55 PM, 212 Butler Library 
  • Part 2: Thursday, September 26, 12:10 PM – 1:55 PM, 212 Butler Library 

Active learning strategies and techniques have been shown to increase audience participation and engagement and to facilitate the acquisition of skills or process-based knowledge. Research on active classrooms has also demonstrated increased performance for all students, and “women, minorities, and low-income and first-generation students benefit more”. Incorporating active learning techniques into one’s teaching requires intentionality and practice, and so in this interactive workshop series we take a deep dive into how active learning strategies can be employed to maximize audience engagement and student performance. In this two-part learning community, participants will use a combination of observation, discussion, reflection, role playing, and peer feedback to learn and practice how to integrate active learning into their teaching.

Spring 2019

A Call to Action: Service Learning in the Classroom

Learning Community designed and run by Adam Blazej (Philosophy) and Inna Kapilevich (Slavic Languages)

  • Part 1: January 31, 4:00 – 5:45 PM, 204 Butler Library – Register
  • Part 2: February 7, 4:00 – 5:45 PM, 204 Butler Library – Register

In this learning community, we will introduce and discuss some models for designing and integrating service-learning into curricula. In the first session, we will jointly interrogate some of the assumptions and motivations guiding these models, looking at previously executed service-learning projects. In the second session, we will feature a workshop in which participants, with the help of real-time peer feedback, can design such a project that they could use in their own classroom.

Blindspots in Inclusive Teaching: Implicit Bias

Learning Community designed and run by Karin Christiaens (Art History & Archaeology) and Massimiliano Delfino (Italian)

  • Part 1: February 14, 12:00 – 1:45 PM, 212 Butler Library – Register
  • Part 2: February 21, 12:00 – 1:45 PM, 212 Butler Library – Register

Using Principle 5 from the Guide for Inclusive Teaching at Columbia as a starting point, this Learning Community will be centered on cultivating self-awareness of participants’ own identities and biases as instructors. We will attempt to reflect upon and challenge our own beliefs and teaching practices in order to widen our pedagogical approaches in the classroom. 

In the first session we will present the concept of implicit bias and discuss its importance for teaching with an aim to inclusion. Our discussion will be grounded in recent scholarship on implicit bias and related concepts, such as stereotype threat. In the second session we will try to understand how we can strive to counterbalance potential biases present in our classroom by giving particular attention to aspects of classroom management ranging from physical setting to verbal and bodily cues. Case studies will provide further contexts for discussing strategies that might be employed in participants’ own classrooms.

Fall 2018

Peer-to-Peer Learning

Research has shown that student attention spans are limited: after 10 or 15 minutes of lecture even the most engaged students’ attention will drift off. While the internet offers opportunities to circumvent this via pre-recorded mini-lectures and flipped classrooms, most TAs are limited in their ability to modify a course’s structure. We can, however, incorporate peer-to-peer interaction into our teaching and optimize learning. Small group activities like think-pair-share and jigsaw not only break up the flow of lecture, they transform the classroom from a passive to an active space.

Peer-to-peer interaction encourages students to learn from and teach each other and provides a platform for more voices to speak. It can also serve as a safe space for students to pre-vet their ideas before speaking up in front of the entire class. When employed intentionally, these tools are not limited to the classroom, but can be implemented in stages that may occur outside of class.

Conversations will be led by Zachary Domach (Senior Fellow, Religion Department) and Scot McFarlane (Senior Lead Teaching Fellow, History Department). Lunch is available to registered participants.

Putting Peer-to-Peer into Practice: Tuesday, Sep. 18, 11:30 am – 1:00 pm, 212 Butler. This session introduces the science of learning behind peer-to-peer interaction. We will cover a variety of activities that will allow you to expand your teaching repertoire, and how you can modify them for use in and out of the classroom.

Making Peer-to-Peer Work for You: Tuesday, Oct. 2, 11:30 am – 1:00 pm, 212 Butler. The second session takes a deep dive into peer review. Examining various implementation and assessment strategies, we will focus on how to curate a peer review process that is constructive, effective, and forges a stronger community.


Spring 2018

Leveling the Playing Field: From Inequality to Inclusivity in Assessment

Students learn differently, but we tend to assess them all in the same way. How can we account for this difference, yet retain consistency across our assessment practices? In this Learning Community (LC), we will situate inclusive assessment strategies in the tradition of both inclusive teaching and pedagogies of liberation, while stimulating discussion of the latest inclusive assessment practices in higher-education classrooms. To do so, this LC is organized around the three key stages of the assessment process: design, grading, and feedback. Conversations run from 2 – 3:30pm on Mondays January 29, February 12, and February 26 in Butler 212, and are led by Evan Jewell (Senior Lead Teaching Fellow, Department of Classical Studies) and Luciana de Souza Leão (Senior Lead Teaching Fellow, Department of Sociology).

Inclusion by Design: Strategies for Inclusive Assessments: In learning environments, individual variability is the norm, not the exception. In this session, we will go over strategies to design assessments that take student diversity into account, while enhancing learning opportunities for all students. Register here.

Unpacking Inequality in Grading: How can we build equity into grading? In this session, we will discuss the multiple ways in which grading can create and reproduce inequality among students, and practice easily actionable strategies to grade in more equitable ways. Register here.

Making Feedback Count: Inclusive Feedback Mechanisms: How can feedback be more inclusive? In this session, we will discuss how both graded and ungraded feedback delivered in a variety of ways can provide equitable and actionable feedback for different types of students, while not becoming a burden for graders. Register here.

Provocative Teaching and Social Media

As technology is increasingly central to student learning, as well as how faculty share their expertise with the general public, the classroom has since come to include digital spaces — chiefly, social media. Join this Learning Community to explore the benefits and risks of employing social media as a pedagogical platform, including: the instantaneous sharing of ideas; opportunities for thoughtful conversation among the instructor, students, and the world; and the enormous room for controversy. In essence, amid the ambiguous concept of “academic freedom,” what norms shape teaching with social media? Conversations run from 2 – 3:30pm on Mondays February 5, February 19, and March 5 in Butler 212, and are led by Victoria Wiet (Senior Lead Teaching Fellow, Department of English and Comparative Literature) and Niki Kiviat (Senior Teaching Observation Fellow, Department of Italian).

Freedom to provoke? Defining academic freedom: This first session establishes a framework for interpreting professional norms by unpacking the concept of academic freedom as a guideline for research and teaching. What exactly is academic freedom, and how has the concept developed over time, with special respect to technology? We will begin to discuss various perspectives on what academic freedom constitutes, and how graduate instructors and non-tenured faculty are affected by these debates. Register here.

Academics v. the public: Case studies in digital engagement: This second session explores the professional norms that emerge as we move from theory to examining specific case studies, both at and beyond Columbia. Together, we will come to recognize the call for a more updated policy on academic freedom by analyzing illustrative case studies of academics engaging the public through social media while navigating the confusing nexus of freedom of speech and academic freedom. Register here.

Practicing the “rules” of engagement in social media: Our third session allows participants to generate their own case studies of teaching practices: how social media could enter their classrooms, and what professional values those practices foster. As participants experiment with social media practices applicable to their respective research and teaching, they will recognize first-hand the nebulous boundary between the traditional classroom and digital spaces. Despite our expertise, are we truly free to tweet? Register here.

Moving Learning Online - Flipping Classrooms and Online Instruction

In this learning community, we will explore what it means to move learning onto online environments, the pedagogical opportunities associated with this change of teaching venue, and the practical implications of teaching online. Starts Monday, Mar 19. More details coming soon. 

Fall 2017

Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning, Metacognition

Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning

It is both a virtue and a challenge of the liberal arts system that our classes are composed of students pursuing a variety of majors with varying levels of preparation in our particular field. How can we motivate students who enter our classroom with different learning goals than we might have for them? How can a greater awareness of teaching and learning practices in other disciplines inform and improve our teaching? Led by Senior Lead Teaching Fellows Liz Bailey (Chemistry) and Alex Fabrizio (English), this three-part series provided readings, discussion, and strategies for thinking beyond disciplinary approaches to help you diversify your own teaching and better engage students with different backgrounds. Conversations ran from 2 – 3:30pm on Tuesdays October 17, October 31, and November 14 in Butler 213.

Disciplinary Assumptions: This first session cultivated our interdisciplinary awareness as instructors. As a group, we discussed and compared our discipline-specific assumptions, expectations, and teaching practices. We began to consider how we can reinvigorate our own teaching practices through connections and cross-pollinations.

Cross-Disciplinary Techniques: This second session focused on engaging the diverse students in our classes by considering varying student expectations and definitions of success. During the session, we identified transferable skills across the curriculum, such as writing and visual awareness, and explored how these skills can be fostered in our own classes.

Your Interdisciplinary Classroom: In this final session, we workshopped specific ideas and lesson plans that incorporate the ideas of interdisciplinarity developed in the earlier sessions. We encouraged participants to bring in new ideas for lesson plans; in addition, we examined model lesson plans and provide feedback.



On Metacognition: Owning Our Learning

The reflective component of pedagogy is critical for both teachers and students, but it is often neglected in the classroom. This learning community focused on how metacognition can be effective in maximizing our teaching and learning skills. Metacognition is an active learning technique involving thinking about one’s own thinking. Thus, metacognitive practices empower students and teachers alike to take ownership over learning. Led by Senior Lead Teaching Fellows Braden Czapla (Mechanical Engineering) and Almu Marin-Cobos (LAIC), this three-part series addressed the many roles metacognition assumes in a learning environment. Conversations ran on October 2, October 16, and October 30 in Butler 213.

How People Learn: #HackingMetacognition: For the first session, we unpacked the meaning of metacognition. We focused on the research surrounding metacognitive learning, such as the benefits of self-reflection and giving students agency over learning, and what happens when students are lacking in self-awareness of their own knowledge.

Take a Stand: Metacognition in the Classroom: The second session delved into the use of metacognitive practices as teaching tools. Short classroom roleplays were used to demonstrate how they may be used in classrooms of all disciplines.

The Doppelgänger: Projecting your Teaching Practice: The third session explored how metacognitive practices can be used to better communicate our approach to teaching and how to craft a virtual persona. In particular, teaching statements were discussed.

Spring 2017

Activist Pedagogy
Activist Pedagogy in the Trump Era

For better or worse, the 2016 election brought sensitive issues into our classrooms to unprecedented degrees. For the next four years, how can we help our students across disciplines grapple with–and remain conscious of–ongoing political conflicts in the Trump era? This three-part series will address strategies for graduate students who are interested in exploring innovative pedagogies inspired by activist-scholars in their classrooms and beyond.  

The first session will explore methods for consciousness-raising in the classroom, particularly within the confines of departmental and curricular constraints. The next session introduces participants to innovative pedagogies inspired by activist-scholars like bell hooks, Augusto Boal and Paolo Freire. Participants will come away with concrete tools and assignments useful for classrooms across disciplines. In our final session we will workshop materials for the job market, focusing on how to frame your own politically conscious pedagogy in teaching, diversity and mentoring statements.


Cultural Diversity Among Teachers and Students
Columbia International: Cultural Diversity Among Teachers and Students

National and cultural origins shape the norms and expectations that we bring to the classroom, and can inflect styles of classroom interaction, learning practices, and shared understandings of grading and feedback. Understanding these differences is key to establishing a shared framework for successful learning. In this learning community, participants will meet for a three-part series to explore the benefits for student learning that arise from an instructor’s ability to draw on a diversity of knowledge and experience in the classroom, and to assess the challenges that arise for teachers in preparing their classes while avoiding hasty assumptions regarding shared prior knowledge. Teachers of all class formats (content classes, language classes, etc.) and nationalities are invited to join, contribute to, and benefit from the insights shared in this Learning Community.


Fall 2016

Role Play and Inclusive Teaching

Role Play and Inclusive Teaching

We know that making our classrooms more inclusive provides better learning outcomes overall, but how do we put an inclusive teaching philosophy into practice? This three-part series follows the CRLT Players’ performances (pictured) on October 27. The post-show conversation on October 28 will reflect on issues raised during the shows. The next session will consider concepts, research, and challenges related to implementing inclusive teaching. The series ends with a session focused on considering creative ways of incorporating role-playing in class to uncover, broaden, and deepen multiple perspectives.

Leaning Community designed and run by Senior Lead Teaching Fellows Sahar Ullah (MESAAS) and Ben Hansberry (Music).

Addressing Race and Gender Bias in the Classroom

Addressing Race and Gender Bias in the Classroom

This is a divided time in the US, but it doesn’t have to be a divided time in our classrooms. What is an inclusive classroom and how can we create one? In this three-part series, participants will tackle issues related to implicit bias and diversity in the classroom, and come up with strategies to overcome challenges of inclusion. Participants will engage in discussions and activities focused on race and gender inclusion in their own classrooms, develop strategies for creating a better learning environment, and learn to assess and track their own classroom inclusivity.

Learning Community designed and run by Senior Lead Teaching Fellows Franziska Landes (DEES) and Hadas Aron (Political Science).


Any questions? Email CTLgrads@columbia.edu.