My Vision for the UMW Teaching Center

Over the last six months, I have several times mentioned the plans for our new Teaching Center at UMW. Faculty and staff have been asked to provide input into the planning process, and we have been told that this input will be taken seriously. Very well. This post is the first of several in which I lay out my ideas for the Center and its programs.

This year we will conduct a nationwide search for a director for the center. It seems to me that while we don’t want to tie the hands of the director, our preliminary plans for the center and its programs can be a strong recruiting tool to get the best possible candidate in the sense that what we plan will signal our seriousness, our commitment to liberal teaching and learning, and our interest in innovative teaching for the 21st Century.

The mission of the teaching center should be advocacy of a culture of teaching innovation at the university. The Center shouldn’t only have an internal focus (improved teaching at UMW), but an external one as well. This external focus should involve contributing to the broader conversation on teaching and learning in higher education nationally and internationally.

We have at least one core group of faculty/staff already doing this: members and affiliates of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT). Under the able leadership of Gardner Campbell and more recently Martha Burtis, this group attends conferences and present papers at.venues such as the Educause Learning Initiative, the New Media Consortium, and NITLE. Participants include Jim Groom, Charlotte Jones, Jeff McClurken, Angela Gosetti-MurrayJohn, Patrick Gosetti-MurrayJohn, Andy Rush, Jerry Slezak and Michael Willets. I am not trying to leave anyone out—these are just the individuals I know have taken an active role. Perhaps more importantly, these individuals participate in the ongoing conversation streams around these and similar organizations. Note that I have not identified this group because I think that technology is a silver bullet. (More on this point in a later post.) Rather, it is this group at UMW where the most interesting and profound conversations on pedagogy have occurred over the last five years at least the ones that I’m aware of.

In my view, the new Teaching Center shouldn’t be conceived primarily as a department offering programs, but rather as a focus for building and nurturing intellectual community on teaching and learning in higher education. It should promote a culture of teaching as a serious rigorous intellectual endeavor. UMW has a number of existing initiatives, the Faculty Academy, the FSEM Summer Workshop, and the UMW Digital Initiatives Project, which can serve as models for this.

There exist important national cross-disciplinary communities (such as the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and Project Kaleidoscope), as well as the various discipline-specific teaching communities where important work is being done. The new Teaching Center should tap into these communities and indeed contribute to the conversations they foster. (N.B. UMW has been a member of Educause for several years, and in the last two have joined the NMC and NITLE.) These conversations include both technical questions (e.g. How to conduct an effective class discussion? What types of writing assignments can first year students reasonably be expected to do?) and also broader ones (e.g. The continued relevance of liberal education, How to educate undergraduates for the 21st century).

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other individuals (e.g. in the Writing Program or Speaking Program) or initiatives whose work should also be incorporated in the new Teaching Center. Again, I am not trying to exclude, but rather simply mention those individuals and programs I already know of that fit this vision.

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4 Responses to My Vision for the UMW Teaching Center

  1. Robert S Rycroft says:

    This is an excellent post. I have nothing to quibble about. I just would like to add a few thoughts. Although it is implicit in the job description, I think an explict goal for the Teching Center Director should be to expand faculty participation in Teaching Center activities. As a veteran of TIP, I know that the number of faculty availing themselves of its services was limited and unchanging. There were always just the same old faces. Regarding the recently concluded excellent Faculty Academy, I was under-whelmed by the number of faculty members in attendance.

    I don’t really know why that was. Let me venture a couple of hypotheses. I think many faculty still consider Faculty Academy to be a heavy-duty computer conference. Retaining the word Technology in its title might be problematic. Maybe it should become the Faculty Academy on Teaching Improvement. Also, I think the academy has become keynote speaker heavy and faculty light. The DTLT people may be anxious to hear what the superstars think, but the practical import of their messages for the working teacher is not obvious. Essentially there were 4 time slots given to keynoters, while faculty got a few concurrent sessions. Maybe one keynoter and more faculty sessions so faculty could feel more a part of the thing. Perhaps there should be sessions on Developments in Teaching English, Developments in Teaching Science, Developments in Teaching Economics, etc.

    These are just random thoughts. My degree of certainty about anything I’ve said is very low. Maybe, given UMW’s greater emphasis on professional activity, teaching improvement activities may have lost their luster.

  2. Jeff M. says:

    @Bob I think he’s right to point out the problem of making Faculty Academy relevant to everyone. Still, there was a great session that discussed teaching and cultural studies that only had one presenter who talked specifically about technology. The rest of the discussion was about pedagogy (teaching and learning) in ways that would have been useful to faculty in most disciplines, regardless of their tech comfort/engagement.

    @Steve In terms of your larger point, I think we have to be careful not to see the new teaching center too heavily through the lens of technology, or we’ll drive some faculty off. However, if it does become a vehicle for teaching innovation and support in a broad, diverse way, I can imagine it being an asset for the institution, and a leader in teaching innovation in a much larger sense. We have lots of creative people who really want to try new things. This teaching center needs to support that.

    [My comment became much longer than was practical, so it became a new blog post at http://mcclurken.blogspot.com/2008/06/radical-idea-for-teaching-center.html ]

  3. Steve says:

    Jeff,

    You suggest an interesting paradox with your @Bob comment. Perhaps it’s not so much making Faculty Academy relevant to everyone, but helping all faculty see the relevance.

    WRT your @Steve comment, I may be obtuse, but I don’t understand exactly what you mean by being careful not to see the new TC too heavily through the lens of technology. Were you responding to something specific I said in the post, and if so what, or were you responding to my normal exuberance. I could have said that there’s a technology component in every pedagogy, but I intentionally didn’t in that post. So what did I say, or not say, that could drive some faculty off?

    I have some more comments for your blog post.

  4. Jeff says:

    Steve, the example you cite of innovative, engaged people are the “members and affiliates of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT).”

    I agree with that assessment, but my point in the original comment was simply that we not see innovation as solely being possible through some application of technology (a point which I saw as implied, though certainly not stated, in this particular post). I don’t agree with that, and, more importantly for the purposes of engaging more faculty in the process of innovation, many faculty don’t agree with it.

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