We need to come up with an appropriate name for the UMW Teaching Center. Ernie, the Chair of the Teaching Center Advisory Committee, points out that most teaching centers have similar and not very catchy names. Does the name matter? I think it does.
In my view, the concept of a teaching center suffers from several automatic problems. The first is that, especially at a school like Mary Washington, we all know how to teach. The second follows from the first, that almost by definition, a teaching center is remedial in nature, that it’s where instructors go to fix problems in their teaching. The third is that teaching isn’t serious intellectual activity like the scholarship we do in our disciplines. I suspect we all know colleagues who never participated in a TIP activity because of these reasons. I also believe that these problems are false, or at least misleading.
I think that teaching (or more precisely, thinking about teaching) should be construed as serious intellectual activity. That’s not to say that all teaching is necessarily serious intellectual activity. We all know colleagues who have merely gone through the motions. Suppose we replace the word ‘teaching’ in the previous paragraph with the word ‘research’. Would we criticize a research center because everyone knows how to do research? Would we think of a research center as remedial? A research center is a place to go (think sabbatical) to enable us to put time and effort into improving our research. It’s a place we go to get access to sources or data we don’t have in our normal professional lives. Suppose you needed to learn Latin or SAS to complete a research project. Lack of those facilities is “a problem,” but we wouldn’t think of learning Latin or SAS as a negative thing. Rather, it is just what we need to do to get the project done. Our teaching center should be perceived in the same way, and I think the right name can point in that direction.
In a previous blog post I said,
The mission of the teaching center should be advocacy of a culture of teaching innovation at the university. … [The] 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 is for these reasons that I recommend a title like “The UMW Center for Teaching Inquiry”. I think that such a title would help people understand that the Center is not about something that can be easily put into a box and dismissed, but rather something more serious and open-ended: intellectual inquiry into teaching and learning.