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.