Dr. Jessica Craig

Our October Teaching Excellence Spotlight awardee is Dr. Jessica Craig, Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice. Dr. Craig teaches advanced course in research and theory. She has also participated in the university team-based learning (TBL) initiative to promote engaged teaching and learning on campus.

“It is part of my job to help students see why these topics matter, not just academically but also personally, to their life post-graduation. I tried to convey this through traditional lecture styles but for me, that medium was not working. The students were bored, and I grew frustrated as I tried to determine if the students really understood the material. When I heard about TBL [team-based learning] and saw first-hand how engaged and invested students were during in-class discussions, I knew I had to give it a try.”

How long have you been teaching?

I have been teaching for a little over 3 years now.

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

I teach Research Methods to criminal justice undergraduate and graduate students, criminology theory to undergraduates, community corrections to undergraduates, criminal justice policy to graduate students, criminal justice statistics to graduate students, criminal justice ethics to undergraduates, and will be teaching developmental criminology to graduate students in the spring.

How have you worked on developing your teaching skills?

I have taken part in CLEAR’s Course Design Institute (CDI) in 2016 & 2017. During the first CDI, I was introduced to team-based learning (TBL) by Judi Bradetich, and she encouraged me to jump in and try it. I read two books on the topic (Getting Started with Team-Based Learning by Sibley et al. and Team-Based Learning in the Social Sciences & Humanities by Sweet and Michaelson) and decided to re-design my criminology and research methods courses to fit this approach. I also attended several of Dr. Ron Carriveau’s workshops on assessment and backward course design—this was very helpful when redesigning my courses! Currently, I am a part of a TBL workgroup with Judi and other faculty on campus that practice TBL, so we can help brainstorm solutions to issues we run into while teaching.

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

No, I did not have the opportunity to do so in graduate school (and actually only taught one class while I was in grad school). As I said, I did participate in CDI due to, in part, my lack of formal training in pedagogy and course design.

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

Student engagement was one of the first issues I faced as a new professor. I am not going to say I have completely overcome this as I feel it will always be a struggle to some degree. While I love criminological theory and research methods, I recognize I am in a minority. It is part of my job to help students see why these topics matter, not just academically but also personally, to their life post-graduation. I tried to convey this through traditional lecture styles but for me, that medium was not working. The students were bored, and I grew frustrated as I tried to determine if the students really understood the material. When I heard about TBL and saw first-hand how engaged and invested students were during in-class discussions, I knew I had to give it a try. While it was a decent amount of work redesigning the course to fit the model, it has certainly been worth it, and I now teach three of my classes using this approach.

Through the Readiness Assurance Test (RAT) process and the application activities, students are actively involved in solving content-related problems within their teams. More importantly, they have to be able to provide a solution and engage in critical thinking to defend that solution in front of the entire class. I have also found that students are more likely to ask for clarification since they are forced to engage with the material in class. That way, I can help explain the content right there as opposed to later in office hours or after an exam. Now, it isn’t perfect, and there are still days where I struggle to get the students engaged, but I have to choose to see those moments as an opportunity to improve and grow as opposed to critiquing either my students or myself—don’t we all have days where we have a hard time focusing? I believe that TBL does a great job of creating an environment that is conducive to student engagement, but it is always a work in progress.

How would you describe your approach to teaching?

When my students leave the classroom at the end of the semester, I want them to be able to answer the question ‘so what?’ Why does this subject matter? As a result, my goals are to:

  1. teach students the material and
  2. allow them to see the implications.

I always try to include the applications of the course material in a real-world context. For instance, I may highlight potentially harmful policy implications of a particular criminological theory. I have also demonstrated how knowing the three criteria of causation helps us debunk poorly-written news articles. There are clearly a lot of ways this can be done, but I try to keep the ‘so what’ in mind whenever I enter my classroom.

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

The TBL books I mentioned above are really helpful in not only setting up the TBL course for the first time, but also for help in troubleshooting issues. The TBL workgroup I am a part of has also been really useful. It is really nice to have a network of fellow faculty to bounce ideas off of as we can encourage and challenge one another in our teaching.