Dr. John Murphy

Featuring: 
John Murphy, Ph.D.
Department: 
Jazz Studies, College of Music

“Many aspects of contemporary life make it challenging to devote one's full attention to listening to music and reading research-based writing. In class, I take the time to guide students' attention to small details of a recorded musical performance and to details of the rhetoric of an argument in an article. I use my classes as an opportunity to focus.”

Our April Teaching Excellence Spotlight awardee is Dr. John Murphy, Professor and Chair of the Jazz Studies division in the College of Music. Dr. Murphy’s teaches course for majors and non-majors alike. He has also taken on the challenge of designing fully online music courses for the university’s online core course initiative.

How long have you been teaching?

As a full-time faculty member, since 1992, beginning at Western Illinois University from 1992-2001 and then at UNT since 2001. I did some teaching as a graduate teaching fellow before that at UNT and at Columbia University.

What classes have you taught/do you teach at UNT?

I teach a new core curriculum course on jazz history and appreciation for non-majors (MUJS 3400); a history of jazz course for jazz studies majors and other music majors (MUJS 4470/5430); master's-level courses in jazz analysis (MUJS 5780) and research methods (MUJS 5440); and a doctoral seminar in jazz history and analysis (MUJS 6010).

How have you worked on developing your teaching skills?

The three primary sources of ideas for improving my teaching skills are studying the results of student evaluations; reading articles and blog posts about teaching strategies; and introspection.

Did you ever take formal classes or trainings on teaching in graduate school? What about later on in your teaching?

I have not taken classes on teaching for a grade, but I have attended lots of workshops on teaching since becoming a faculty member.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced teaching, and how did you overcome them?

My biggest challenges are:

a. Managing my expectations about what is a reasonable amount of work to expect from students. I want them to know and to be able to do as much as possible that relates to our course topic. I have to remind myself regularly that they are taking other classes, and have non-school responsibilities, so I need to focus on what is essential.

b. Providing feedback that promotes understanding and intellectual growth. It's easy to point out writing errors and to suggest better ways to do assignments. It's more challenging to provide feedback in a way that will enable students to improve their ability to critique their own work.

c. Guiding students' attention. Many aspects of contemporary life make it challenging to devote one's full attention to listening to music and reading research-based writing. In class, I take the time to guide students' attention to small details of a recorded musical performance and to details of the rhetoric of an argument in an article. I use my classes as an opportunity to focus.

d. Reserving time for class preparation and grading, and maybe a little research and performance, in a schedule that also includes chairing a very active Division of Jazz Studies.

How would you describe your approach to teaching?

Enthusiastic. I'm still excited about learning about the subjects that I teach. I want every student to be motivated by the love of learning for its own sake.

What resources do you find most helpful to your teaching practice?

The most helpful resources are the feedback I receive from students, directly and on evaluations, and reading about the experiences of other teachers and students and their experiments with different ways of teaching and learning.