Friday, March 9, 2012

Community College Faculty Interview

Last week I had my first on-campus interview for a tenure-track faculty position at a community college. It was a very interesting experience, different than other academic interview I have done. The interview consisted of 13 interview questions (which they gave me some time to look over ahead of time), a 15 minute mini-lecture where I solved an "exam-review" problem (using power-point), and a 30 minute exam on introductory physics material.

The interview questions were almost entirely trying to assess my abilities as a teacher. They were as follows:

1. Describe a college class or experience that has most influenced your teaching philosophy.
2. What to you think is your most exciting, effective, and memorable lesson plan. How do you know it's effective?
3. How do handle a classroom of students with a wide variety of skill levels?
4. What are some ways that you use technology in the classroom? How do you find technologybeneficial? Can technology every have negative impacts on learning?
5. What do you think it the difference between a novice and expert physics student? How do you transform notice students into experts?
6. What role to you think homework should play in a physics class? What methods do you employ to encourage students to do homework?
7. In what ways are you a better teach today than you were several years ago?
8. What is a physics concept that you find students have particular difficulty with? How do you help students overcome this difficulty?
9. What do you say to a student who asks why an astronaut is "weightless."
10. A student is pushing a cart, both the student and cart are accelerating. The student claims that the force of the student on the cart is greater than the cart on the student. What do you say to this student?
11. Here is a cart of objects that could be used for physics demonstrations, spend the next 5 minutes saying how you could use objects on the cart for various demonstrations.
12. Use Gauss's Law to find the electric field a distance R away from an infinite line charge.
13. What questions do you have for us?

I was surprised that they didn't ask questions trying to assess my interest in teaching at a community college, or ask me to discuss my previous experiences as a teacher, or anything about my research.

The mini-lecture involved solving a variation on the ballistic pendulum problem. I did a power-point presentation (to save time writing on the board) and gave them this solution handout.

The exam was mostly conceptual, not very calculation heavy. The only question that tripped me up (and I feel silly about getting it wrong) was the following:

A light car and a heavy truck have the same momentum. Which takes more work to stop -- the car or the truck?

I remembered that the work is equal to the change in potential energy, but somehow forgot it was also equal to the change in mechanical energy. Because the car is going faster, and mechanical energy goes as v^2, it takes more work to stop the car.

Overall I felt like it went ok. I didn't completely bomb anything. In retrospect I wish I had done the problem on the board so that I could have had more interaction with the committee. The power-point meant that I was just sort of talking at them, which isn't my normal style of teaching. They asked me if this is the way I would solve the problem if it were really an exam review, and I admitted, no, that I used power point due to the time constraints. Then I felt a little silly. I am not holding my breath waiting for a job offer.

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