Student Spotlight: Emily Hawk, PhD, Department of History

by | Jun 13, 2024

Emily Hawk, PhD, Department of History
CTL Teaching Development Program & Innovative Course Design Seminar Participant

In this spotlight, Emily Hawk shares her experience and perspective participating in the CTL’s offerings including the Innovative Course Design Seminar, consultations on job market preparation, and the Teaching Development Program. She discusses an important theme of her teaching and how the CTL helped her pursue that theme. Lastly, Emily shares strategies that she uses in her teaching practice that new graduate student instructors might consider incorporating into their own practice.

What motivated you to apply for the Innovative Course Design Seminar (ICDS)? Have you had a chance to teach the course you designed? 

I applied for ICDS because as a graduate of the liberal arts, I believe in the power of learning across disciplines and wanted to create an interdisciplinary survey course in my field of U.S. History. So often, undergraduates assume that History courses will be dull, presenting them with a series of names, dates, facts, and figures and requiring rote memorization. For this reason, combined with further assumptions about poor career prospects, History has suffered a decrease in majors and enrollments across the past decade. My ICDS survey challenges these assumptions by presenting an engaging and exciting welcome to the discipline, emphasizing the transferable skills of historical thinking and writing for all students, regardless of intended major. Primary sources from politics, activism, performing arts, and literature are my core texts: I invite students to interpret these sources and use them windows for understanding the complexity of the past. This approach helps students trust in themselves as thinkers, writers, and informed citizens.

During the ICDS sessions, I shared drafts of my syllabus with peers from other disciplines and asked if this course might have appealed to them as undergraduates. This feedback was very useful and helped me ensure that the syllabus was accessible and engaging at every turn. I haven’t had a chance to teach this survey yet, but when I do, I hope the students will use it as a gateway to take more History courses! If not, I hope they at least recognize the skills of interpretation and critical thinking that they will carry with them throughout their careers.

What is an important theme in teaching for you? How did the CTL help you pursue, communicate, or reflect on that theme?

My teaching is a deeply human practice, which comes from the importance of embodiment in my training as a dance historian and dancer. In a practical sense, this focus means intentional arrangement of classroom spaces, a mix of large- and small-group activities that sustain engagement and exchange of ideas, and using photograph and video examples to enliven discussion. Intellectually, this humanness means helping students recognize that the past was inhabited by fully embodied people who, like them, had duties, emotions, morals, aspirations, and sensory experiences. Throughout my time at Columbia, I have tried to bring this sensibility to my teaching in History and American Studies, especially when teaching topics beyond cultural history.

One goal I had at the CTL was to design a dance history course for the Teaching Scholars program, so that I could apply this pedagogical framework to my own area of specialization. I began drafting the syllabus in the CTL’s Syllabus from Scratch workshop and ultimately taught the course “Dancing New York City in the 20th Century” in Spring 2024. The experience was one of the most fulfilling of my career so far. The course reached maximum enrollment and attracted students from across a wide range of majors, many of them beyond dance. Throughout the semester, students were fascinated by the way dance offered a new perspective on the history of New York City. They traced themes of mobility, space, belonging, and identity from vaudeville dance at Coney Island to ballet at Lincoln Center and breakdancing in the Bronx. By the end of the semester, students had developed the vocabulary to describe and interpret embodiment and even became comfortable demonstrating movements and gestures during small-group discussions. The course affirmed my belief that embodiment is an incredible pedagogical tool that can make learning visceral, memorable, and meaningful for our students.

Why did you choose to enroll in the Teaching Development Program (TDP)? How did your engagement in the TDP prepare you both for teaching and for the academic job market?

I enrolled in the TDP to develop my own course for the Teaching Scholars program. I knew that being an instructor of record during my graduate study would substantively bolster the pedagogy and practice I’d been developing across my ten courses as a TA. The TDP offered the peer support and accountability I needed to write and refine my syllabus. I will certainly use the syllabus design templates when making courses in the future! I also enrolled in the TDP so that I could effectively describe the practices I’d been honing throughout my teaching. The Essentials series taught me the vocabulary and principles that undergird pedagogical practices, like “active learning” and “backward design.” In 1-on-1 consultations, CTL staff helped me develop a teaching statement that engaged these general principles while also emphasizing distinctive aspects of my pedagogy. At the end of the process, I had crafted a teaching portfolio that represented my strengths and interests in teaching, with many thanks owed to the consistent mentorship of CTL staff.

Additionally, would you provide two strategies that you use in your own teaching practice that new graduate student instructors might consider incorporating into their own practice?

Rather than requiring the well-worn weekly “reading response,” I ask students to submit 2-3 open-ended discussion questions prior to each class session. While this exercise still prompts students to engage meaningfully with assigned readings, it also invites them to reflect on their individual perspectives, curiosities, and challenges with the material. I use these questions to design my discussion outline. My students have consistently reported that this approach makes them fuller stakeholders in the class community.

Always explain the “why” to your students! Don’t hide your pedagogy and instructional moves from your students: give them a peek behind the curtain to build buy-in, explain learning objectives, and create a welcoming, inclusive class environment. As you review your policies, tell students why you employ certain structures or set certain expectations. For example, “Please refer to the page number when you quote an assigned reading so that your classmates can easily follow along,” or “close your laptops during open discussion so that you can make eye contact and connect directly with your peers.” Also, be careful when assuming students’ prior knowledge, both about course content and academic norms and class paradigms. For example, explain what “office hours” are. Many students find the concept confusing or intimidating and overlook this valuable resource. Framing your policies in this student-centered way will help establish a strong sense of community in your classroom from day one.