Enhancing instruction Cheelan Bo-Linn, head of instructional development at the Center for Teaching Excellence, and John Ory, director of the center, are helping spearhead a campuswide initiative to enhance the profession and practice of teaching on the Urbana campus. Formerly Known as the Office of Instructional Resources, CTE begn 2004 with a new name that reflects its role in shaping the academic community through activities that support pedagogy and scholarly research on teaching and learning.
Photo by Bill Wiegand
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An old service unit on the Urbana campus began 2004 with a new name that reflects a campuswide initiative to bolster learning by encouraging faculty members to rethink their roles as teachers and researchers.
The Center for Teaching Excellence is the new name of the unit formerly known as the Office of Instructional Resources, a service unit that has consulted and advised faculty, teaching assistants and academic units on an array of instructional issues for nearly 50 years.
CTE’s three sections – measurement and evaluation, instructional development and instructional media – offer services such as teaching support and education, private consultation, classroom exam scoring, instructional equipment support, and student proficiency and placement testing. CTE also supports or sponsors programs such as the Annual Faculty Retreat on Active Learning, the College Teaching Academies and TA orientations.
However, the center’s new name more accurately reflects its mission as an active participant in shaping the academic community on campus.
“We’ve always worked with faculty in terms of their immediate needs,” said John Ory, CTE director. “But I think now we’re also on the forefront acting as a gateway and taking a proactive stance, encouraging faculty to research and study what they are doing in the classroom.”
The Urbana campus recently was named a Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) institution, signifying its commitment to fostering significant, long-lasting learning for students by enhancing the practice and profession of teaching.
In addition, the Urbana campus also is a member of a consortium of 10 major research universities and disciplinary societies called the Research University Consortium for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.
The consortium, which is coordinated by the American Association for
Higher Education and sponsored by CASTL, has an ambitious raison d’etre: facilitate a culture change in higher education by promoting the scholarship of teaching and learning as powerful, integral components of research universities’ missions and identities.
The consortium plans to cultivate academic communities that value scholarly inquiry on pedagogy, reward it and uphold it as a distinct discipline, and subject it to the same standards of rigor, relevance, peer review and dissemination as disciplinary research and creative activities.
“Doctoral programs have traditionally just prepared people for research without attending to the activity and preparation for teaching as well,” said Michael Loui, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who also is one of the campus’s Carnegie Scholars along with Vernon Burton, a professor of history. “By conceptualizing teaching as a scholarly activity, we hope to say that it’s not something that just anybody can walk in and do, but rather it is a professional activity, and there is a good, solid research base for what we do. We can be as scholarly in our teaching as we are in our research, approaching it with that same level of dedication and professionalism.”
Through venues like colloquia within and among universities, campus visits by nationally recognized scholars, a Web site and a publication dedicated to scholarship of teaching and learning issues, the consortium plans to establish a collaborative community. These venues will enable scholars to present research and case studies on teaching and learning, share information on funding resources and model programs for faculty recognition and support.
The consortium is led by Indiana University, Bloomington, and includes Illinois and peers such as Northwestern University; University of Maryland, College Park; and Ohio State University, in addition to the University of British Columbia and the National Communication Association.
Cheelan Bo-Linn, CTE’s head of instructional development, and Steve Helle, professor of journalism, are the Illinois liaisons to the consortium.
“Faculty will share their research articles with others to critique them, but once that classroom door closes they’re on their own,” Ory said. “So a lot of this is about making teaching more public. We all can learn from each other in everything that we do, and I think we’re seeing that with the teaching academies. The younger faculty learn a lot from the older faculty, but it works the other way too. We’ve always had faculty who were interested in improving their teaching and loved to teach, but the consortium’s message is continue your research interests but also study what you’re doing in your classroom and become a scholar of your teaching as well.”
Bo-Linn said that CTE’s goal is to have all faculty members become scholarly teachers in that their teaching focuses on student learning and is based upon solid pedagogy and sources and resources germane to their disciplines. But faculty members who are willing are being encouraged to go further and engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning – that is, to augment the body of knowledge on teaching and learning through systematic research activities, peer review and critiques, and dialogues with other academics.
A Special Interest Group was formed on campus during the fall semester to provide a faculty forum on these issues and serve as a potential catalyst for collaborative interdisciplinary research on teaching and learning. The group, which is funded by a grant from the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, comprises about 20 faculty members, including Burton and Loui. Members meet semimonthly to discuss relevant readings, and those like Loui who are conducting research on the scholarship of teaching and learning can present their work for critiques.
Loui is researching the ethical development of engineering students and how they form professional identities, a project funded by the Pew National Fellowship for Carnegie Scholars. Loui recently presented his preliminary findings to the Carnegie Foundation and hopes to have his work published in the spring.
Loui said that by discussing his project with the special interest group he received a practical suggestion that helped him frame the fundamental question posed to his research subjects. Group members also made him aware of relevant literature on motivation and beliefs in the discipline of educational psychology.
Beginning with the 2003-2004 academic year, the Provost’s Initiative on Teaching Advancement, a campus-based grant program administered by the Teaching Advancement Board, also includes support for SoTL projects. The board’s role is to foster and develop activities for teaching excellence.
“Projects supported through the Provost’s Initiative on Teaching Advancement have played a significant role in advancing teaching excellence on the University of Illinois campus,” said UI Provost Richard Herman. “The program has funded a wide array of activities, ranging from college-level teaching academies to research investigating the effectiveness of innovative instructional practices. In a broad sense, the PITA program highlights the University of Illinois’ ongoing commitment to leadership in instructional excellence.”
Faculty Retreat on Active Learning will be Feb. 12
“From the Science of Learning to the Practice of Teaching” will be the focus of the 10th annual Faculty Retreat on Active Learning, which will be Feb. 12 at the Illini Union.
Various models of student learning discussed at the retreat will offer valuable information for faculty members as they plan the structure of their courses and classes. This information, or “pedagogical content knowledge,” provides principles and strategies for developing more meaningful learning and facilitating student motivation.
Marilla Svinicki from the University of Texas -Austin is the keynote presenter. Svinicki has focused much of her work on how college students learn. She will present a number of models of student learning, in particular, the impact of visualization. In addition, she will engage faculty members in answering “Why is that true?”
The event brings faculty members from across campus to learn about and discuss best practices in teaching at the college level. Following the keynote there will be concurrent sessions featuring UI faculty members sharing practices from their own classrooms. Following lunch, Svinicki will present a session on “Adding to the Science of Learning Through Classroom Research.”
The retreat will begin with a welcome by Provost Richard Herman, who will present the 2003-04 Distinguished Teacher/Scholars: Bruce Litchfield, agricultural engineering, and Thomas Schwandt, educational psychology.
Faculty members can register online or by calling 333-7369.