May 14, 2009
Dreaming big: New Center for Teaching and Learning to draw expertise campuswide
Undergraduate Academic Affairs, the Graduate School and the UW Libraries are teaming up to create a new Center for Teaching and Learning at the University that will draw on the expertise of many units on campus.
“We’ve long felt that there are a lot of pieces and parts at the University that are dealing with different aspects of teaching and learning,” said Libraries Dean Betsy Wilson, “and that if we could bring these pieces and parts together to make a good whole we could, with reduced resources, have a higher impact.”
Some of the units involved include the Center for Instructional Development and Research, housed in the Graduate School; and the Teaching Academy and the Office of Educational Assessment, housed in Undergraduate Academic Affairs. UW Libraries has 70 liaison librarians who are involved in curriculum design and content delivery, and offers a number of classes for students in such things as research methods.
The core idea to create a center came from the 2005 Committee to Improve Undergraduate Education, said Jerry Baldasty, dean of the graduate school. Since then, an informal collaboration called the Teaching and Learning Consortium has existed (click here for a list of the units that make up the consortium). The consortium has sponsored many teaching and learning seminars and workshops.
“The question just became, could we do more of this?” Baldasty said. “Then with the budget cuts we stepped up the pace, because we realized we were going to be cutting back significantly and we really worried about how we could continue with our mission. Collaboration seemed to be a way to do that.”
What will the new center do that the consortium has not?
“One thing will be a significant increase in grants or external funding,” Baldasty said. “The various groups in the consortium don’t have as much going on in terms of advancement around the specific issues of teaching and learning. We think the center will give us some focus on grants for the creation of resources.”
“I hope that with the center, faculty won’t have to go around to different places in the University to try to identify where the expertise is,” Wilson said. “They’ll be able to go to one place and the expertise can be assembled on the fly. That’s what the  report encouraged us to think about as a university. How do you reduce the barriers for busy faculty member to change how they do their work, use new pedagogies that might be more appropriate than what they’re currently using and to have that support structure in place? That’s my dream, that we make it easy to innovate and improve teaching and learning.”
Individual consulting, mentoring, diverse teaching-related projects and outreach, instructional materials design, orientations and workshops are among the services the center could offer.
Ed Taylor, vice provost and dean of undergraduate academic affairs, hopes the center will also help with a somewhat less tangible goal.
“There’s a narrative I’m wanting to get out publicly, which is that when students decide to come here, they aren’t making compromises when it comes to teaching,” he said. “Many people seem to think that this isn’t a core competency of ours — that if you want good teaching you go to Whitman or Gonzaga or Lewis & Clark. I think this center can help us confront that and hold up the idea that teaching and research and mentorship are all tied together. They’re interdependent. It can draw attention to all we have to offer.”
What the center will look like or where it will be housed organizationally has yet to be decided. A committee chaired by Lisa Coutu, a senior lecturer in communication and a Distinguished Teaching Award winner, will take up the task of designing it.
“We have a sense of what we’ve been doing and we’d like to find out what haven’t we thought of yet,” Baldasty said. “So our goal was to get really smart people, some of whom haven’t been as intimately connected to our enterprises, and pull them together and say, ‘Let’s dream big. What can this thing be?'”
The committee is made up of 20 people, many of whom come from units that are current consortium members, and there will also be both graduate and undergraduate student representatives.
The committee will report back in about six months