Skip to content Skip to navigation

The Pedagogical Colloquium

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 

We need new Ph.D.'s who have some clue about teaching. We want them to be scholars, of course. But on their first day, we put them in a classroom to teach trusting young people who have paid a great deal of money to learn at our institution. Couldn't you send us some people who can do that?


The posting below looks at the pedagogical colloquium as useful requirement for all graduating Ph.D.'s. It is from Chapter 13, The Pedagogical Colloquium: Three Models, in:Teaching as Community Property, Essays on Higher Education, written by Lee S. Shulman, and edited by Pat Hutchings, who are respectively, president and vice president, of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Copyright (c) 2004 by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. All rights reserved. Published by Jossey-Bass A Wiley Imprint 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741 [] Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Early and Mid Career Mentoring and Support

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


---------------------------------------- 1,776 words --------------------------------



I want to begin by describing what were, for me, the two sources of the idea of the pedagogical colloquium.

The first is historical. In his wonderful account of the medieval university, in a chapter titled "The Pedagogical Juggernaut," Walter Ong (1958) points out that the university was originally a normal school, a place for training teachers for universities and colleges. Accordingly, Ong points out, the final examination for the doctorate was a teaching examination, in which the candidate was required to demonstrate that he not only knew his field but could teach it. The "disputation" portion of the examination was in effect a test of whether the person could conduct a seminar or a discussion-a test of teaching.

Reading this piece by Ong, I thought, why couldn't we recreate that model today? (See Shulman, 1986.)

A second source of the idea of the pedagogical colloquium came to me as I was sitting in a meeting at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, where the discussion was about teaching. A professor from Wesleyan, I believe, stood up in the middle of the session an said to those of us from research universities: "We need new Ph.D.'s who have some clue about teaching. We want them to be scholars, of course. But on their first day, we put them in a classroom to teach trusting young people who have paid a great deal of money to learn at our institution. Couldn't you send us some people who can do that?"

And my thought was: "Well, we'd be much more likely to send such people to you if that's what you asked for." And so, this notion of how one might ask for that sort of person became the pedagogical colloquium.

In other words, I view the pedagogical colloquium as a new version of the old concept of the public defense of the dissertation, whose emphasis was supposed to be on teaching, taken and shifted to the hiring institutions that now assert: "We want to see whether you are a scholar-teaching in your discipline." Traditionally, in hiring, we've only done half of that; that is, we have candidates give a talk on their doctoral dissertation. The pedagogical colloquium is a way for a hiring institution to say that it would like candidates to do something that begins to demonstrate their understanding of the teaching of their discipline. Additionally, as I'll point out, such a process would have other benefits.

Three Colloquium Models

One of the puzzlements about the pedagogical colloquium is what, exactly, we would want the candidate to talk about. This is an important question, and that answers certainly will depend in part on the discipline or field of study. (In some quarters, I've even begun calling the pedagogical colloquium the "disciplinary teaching colloquium," to emphasize that it is an occasion not for soliloquies on teaching per se but for explicitly addressing the challenges of teaching in the discipline, interdiscipline, or profession.)

For starters, I'd like to propose three possible models.

The first would be a course narrative or course argument model. One of the questions that often gets asked of job candidates now is: "What would you like to teach?" A relatively simple next step would be to ask the candidate to walk us through that course, either in the form of a narrative or an argument, and to use the actual or proposed syllabus as a handout for his or her colloquium presentation.

The task of the pedagogical colloquium in this model would be to explain how the course is experienced by both the teacher and the students-what they do, and what they learn. What are some of the problems of teaching the course? And why is a course so organized and focused really important to teach? What ideas and activities were included, which were excluded, and why? In other words, why is this course an important experience for students to have if they are to understand the discipline?

An objection that some might make to this model is that it focuses more on curriculum than on teaching per se. But I assure you that it gets to questions of pedagogy, and to the "philosophy of education," in ways that are wonderfully particular and telling. Rather than grand abstractions ("I'm in favor of active learning"), the candidate would talk about quite particular aims and methods: "Notice," he or she might say, "that each of these three assignments gives the students an opportunity not only to think like an historian but to engage in a different aspect of historical inquiry. And one of my goals is for students actively to experience what it feels like to do historical work, even if they'll never do it again." Now, there we're beginning to get an intersection of the disciplinary discourse and the pedagogical discourse.

A second model would be a colloquium centered on an essential idea or concept. Each of us who is experienced as a teacher knows that there are some ideas in our field that are devilishly difficult to teach?or rather, they're easy as hell to teach, but hard for students to learn.

For example, one of the most resistant ideas for teachers of English is the concept of "theme." Of course, English teachers know what they mean by "theme"; but if you really start unpacking the notion, it's not a very easy idea. Would we say, for instance, that theme is what the story is about? Well, yes and no. And how many themes are there? Is there just one, or a few? At Stanford, we've done some case studies at the high school level of teachers trying to teach theme, and feedback from the students makes it clear that the concept is often terribly misunderstood. Similarly, in math, how many students really understand what a derivative is? I don't mean whether they can calculate one, but whether they understand the idea conceptually. Or how about the concept of "tropism"?

The point is that in a concept-centered pedagogical colloquium, the candidate would take one of these hard ideas and explore some ways that he or she has tried (or proposes) to teach it.

The third model is the dilemma-centered colloquium. This model, like the prior one, assumes that some aspects of teaching are inherently problematic, and it invites the candidate to reflect publicly on his or her thinking about and approach to one of more of these key pedagogical dilemmas. What, for instance, is the right balance between breadth and depth in an introductory course? How can teachers make students authentic participants in the process of inquiry and still maintain appropriate kinds of responsibility? How can teachers use group work in large engineering classes and still hold individual students accountable for their work?

In this third model, we would urge the candidate to stay discipline-specific, and to offer concrete examples from his or her experience, if possible.

There three models overlap some. And of course there are other possible models, such as having a candidate actually teach a class. What I envision and hope for is a time when we have a variety of protocols that can be adapted to different disciplines, settings, and purposes.

One benefit of the pedagogical colloquium would be for graduate education. For institutions to give explicit attention to teaching during the hiring process would encourage attention to teaching as part of the antecedent graduate program experience. At the least, the pedagogical colloquium gives advantage to graduate programs that already have in place sophisticated pedagogical training programs.

Looking ahead, I would further hope that as use of the pedagogical colloquium in hiring spreads, those of us teaching graduate students would spend time helping our students become reflective about their teaching, even assisting them to prepare and rehearse their pedagogical presentations-as we already do on the research side.

But the pedagogical colloquium could bring benefits not only to graduate education. The hiring department or campus and its faculty also benefit from discussions within the unit that would necessarily be prompted by the pedagogical colloquium.

For starters, if four or five candidates for a position each give a pedagogical colloquium, the department needs to evaluate what it has seen. This means that is would be the responsibility of those conducting such evaluative discussions to get beyond the purely technical ("she told good jokes" or "he didn't turn his back to the audience for more than eleven minutes at a time") to the substance of what each candidate said. Such discussions around hiring can become the seedbed, the rehearsals, for comparable conversations among colleagues within a department, as we move toward the peer review of teaching as an aspect of departmental culture.

Second, the pedagogical colloquium could begin to change how a department assists faculty to develop over time, and how it rewards them for accomplishments in teaching. Consider, for instance, that if a department is hiring a candidate because it sees a particular sort of promise in the person pedagogically, it might then want to track that promise over time. In other words, the pedagogical colloquium would provide departments the opportunity to rethink the kind of information they gather and the feedback they give related to teaching effectiveness. And I think they would rapidly discover that under current circumstances they have absolutely no access to any of the data that would be most relevant. So, the pedagogical colloquium would create a need to being collecting new kinds of data.

Finally, the pedagogical colloquium would bring benefits by addressing an otherwise unmet obligation. I'm struck that the question I get asked most often about the colloquium is: "Isn't is unfair to ask new doctoral students, or persons we hire laterally from industry in science and engineering programs, to make such a presentation about their teaching?

Now, I find that question very interesting. If those asking the question were presented with a candidate for a faculty position who had never done research, it wouldn't occur to them to ask whether it's fair to ask that candidate to talk about his or her research qualifications?but they will raise this question of fairness about asking the candidate to talk about teaching.

My response to such questions is that anything is fair if you give people ample warning of what they're going to be asked to do. In fact I'd go a step further, by saying that if (a) they have ample warning and (b) the request is directly connected to the job they're going immediately to be given to do if they're hired, then asking for evidence of teaching promise or effectiveness is more than fair?its obligatory. We owe it to ourselves and to our students.


Ong, Walter J. 1958. Ramus: Method, and the Decay of Dailogue, from the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.

Shulman, Lee S. 1986. "Those Who Understand: Knowledge and Growth in Teaching." Educational Researcher 15(2): 4-14.