How can an interview panel know how effectively an applicant communicates with a class? The ability to design a lecture and to teach/facilitate is often inferred from an applicants' submission without formal substantiation.
In August 1998, the School of Management, Curtin University advertised for a Lecturer in Human Resource Development (HRD). For the first time, the school asked applicants to prepare and submit a three hour, interactive lesson plan on the "Future of HRD" focusing on an aspect of their choice. We invited short listed applicants to present the first ten minutes of that class to the panel, as if they were postgraduate students.
The short listed applicants were sent a marking key highlighting criteria believed to be important. It included information on the number, background and ethnicity of the imaginary student group and the teaching aids available in the interview room.
The results were both startling and interesting. Applicants displayed aspects of their characters that would not have come out in questioning. The panel gained a fuller understanding of them "in action".
Should such a teaching demonstration be included as a norm at universities if they are really serious about improving our teaching and learning?
If yes, how can we go about it?
Have you noticed when you go to teaching-learning workshops that you consistently meet the same faces? Do you notice how new staff are often so busy preparing the content of their lectures that they frequently do not make the time to go to teaching-learning workshops?How can universities make structural changes to enhance the quality of teaching and learning? A start would be to employ people who have an interest in and who have already developed substantial teaching-learning skills. Yet how many university positions are gained almost exclusively on the grounds of publications and research? The latter qualifications are perfectly valid if they are the main foci of the job, but for many lecturers, substantial percentages of the working week are occupied by lesson preparation, delivery and marking.
In the case of lecturers whose primary role is teaching rather than research how best can an interview panel appraise the applicants' communication skills in a classroom context?
The school sent out letters to short-listed applicants and included information about the microteaching session. At this stage two promising candidates withdrew; one because she was offered a job at her university in Queensland, the other because she realised the amount of preparation required in lesson planning and decided to concentrate on completing her PhD.
Next, the school had to deal with the inevitable problem of distance; we had to accommodate as fairly as possible an applicant from Broome, John Smith who could not travel to Perth at that time. Our secretary and videoconference liaison person invested time and energy in making the necessary arrangements. We asked John to fax us his overhead projector transparencies and lesson plan. The day before the interview a phone call form our videoconference technician told us that the differences in technology at each site still caused frequent disconnections. Disappointed, I made a quick decision to revert to a phone conference to Pt Hedland. It seemed preferable for an interviewee to talk on telephone than to have to contend with frequent breakdowns with video technology.
The panel invited the applicants to demonstrate their teaching segment first so that they could then relax. We started with the teleconference. The Head of School chatted for some time to put the candidate at ease. I looked at the poorly designed, muddled, faxed overhead visuals in front of me. John Smith began. I quickly realised that the fact we could not see him did not alter the fact that he was very muddled about what he wanted to represent. Undoubtedly, I imagine it would have helped him to see our mystified body language, however his disorganised lesson plan and visuals indicated that this was not the sort of person the school would want to put in front of experienced HRD professionals.
The next candidate, Joe Brown entered the room enthusiastically, placed a basket of jelly babies in front of the panel and launched into a cross-cultural role-play. He distributed role cards, made no attempt to help us get into parts or clarify our roles saying "I don't know about you, but I like to jump straight into these things" and off we went. The Head of School was perplexed and tried to clarify his part as an extra terrestrial being. The response from the candidate was surprise and an inadequate explanation "You're not meant to talk, only bleep". We continued the exercise; some potentially hurtful stereotypes were exhibited. There was no time to de-brief. The results were both confusing and illuminating about this person's lack of sensitivity to teaching in cross-cultural groups.
Other less significant incidents included another applicant who treated us like school kids "You can't have the lesson handout until the end of the class". Yet another stood squarely in front of our view of the OHP screen. These are relatively minor issues that can be corrected. However, it was interesting to note that all candidates used some visuals that would not be visible to some students in a class of twenty-five people. Some OHPTs should have been used as handouts because of the amount of detailed data that would have been unrecognisable from more than three metres.
It is not appropriate to go into each applicant, however I will summarise by using the de Bono pluses, minuses and interesting points (PMI process) using some of the written comments gained from the interview panel immediately after the interviews.
"This was a good idea that gave the panel an opportunity to observe the candidate in a simulated teaching role. Must allow for videoconferencing" Professor Lawson Savery, Head of School.
"I could observe skills of facilitation, use of OHP and people handling" Arlene.
"It was good to see the person's communication style, I could see a person in action and it was appropriate given the position advertised" Luci.
"It showed how a candidate could handle both the pressure of both a formal interview and a potentially intimidating classroom situation". Chris.
"It enabled the panel to gain knowledge of what the individual sees as important messages in a lesson. It showed the panel two styles ie talking (and listening) during the interview and teaching. " Arlene
"It indicated preparation ie if they weren't well prepared for this would they be well prepared for class?" Luci.
"Some people become formal and rigid during an interview, but when they started teaching their persona changed, we got to see another side to applicants" Chris
"On paper some candidates seemed excellent, but in teaching mode showed many deficiencies" Chris
"It indicated their preparation and timing, or lack of" Doug.
"Adequate information was given to the interviewee; anymore would pre-empt and possibly constrain the interviewee" Arlene.
"We must provide for videoconferencing" Lawson.
"It takes more time, but it was time well invested for the future" Chris.
Applications for the position of Assistant/Lecturer in Human Resource DevelopmentInformation on the micro teaching component of interview. Short listed applicants will be required to present a micro-class to the selection panel in accordance with the following guidelines.
3. Equipment available
5. Class plan
6. Class composition
The performance of applicants will be graded on a 1-5 scale on the following items.
|Please cite as: Hogan, C. (1999). Should prospective academic staff be asked to teach at their interview? In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 162-166. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/hogan-ch.html|