U instructors head back to class to boost skills

More than 2,500 University educators used the Center for Teaching and Learning Services last school year.

Angela Gray

The roles are reversed when professors take a seat in front of the blackboard.

The Center for Teaching and Learning Services, in the Science Classroom Building on the East Bank, provides assistance to University instructors to develop and enhance their teaching skills.

Lori Vicich, communications director for the Office of Human Resources, calls the center one of the University’s “best-kept secrets.”

“Few know about the program and their services because of the lack of funding and promotion,” Vicich said.

However, there were more than 2,500 graduate students and faculty members enrolled in the center’s courses and workshops in academic 2004-2005, said Jeff Lindgren, assistant director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Services.

Lindgren said there are many programs that will assist those enrolled throughout the span of their career.

He said the center offers programs for preparing future faculty, early to midcareer faculty and senior teaching fellows.

Lindgren said the different programs cater to all levels and disciplines.

“For new faculty, the early career teaching program focuses on creating powerful classroom discussions and enhancing classroom dynamics,” he said. “For the more experienced professors, programs concentrate on reflection and writing memoirs.”

Center staff member Deborah Wingert said the primary philosophy of the program is that effective teaching is critical.

“Research shows that teachers who focus on their teaching abilities have better student ratings on evaluations,” she said.

Wingert said it is simple to register and enroll in the program. There is no mandatory application and those interested can register online at the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Web site.

She said the program understands that graduate students and faculty members have busy schedules.

“We want to make everything as simple and convenient as possible,” she said.

For a few hours each month, participants meet in large groups for presentations and smaller groups for discussions, she said.

Wingert said participants have the option of being observed while they teach a class by instructors and other program participants, and then are provided “constructive, nonjudgmental feedback.”

Center staff member Paul Ching said one unique component of the program is the mentor partnerships are set up with other schools.

“Graduate students enrolled in the program can teach courses at other schools such as Hamline University and Macalester College, which helps to develop experience and networking,” he said.

Paul Baepler, center staff member, said the program is beneficial for the participants.

“An effective faculty is vital, especially when you have a goal of being a top institution like the University does,” he said.

Center staff member Barbara Beers said there is an abundance of assistance for international faculty members and graduate students as well.

“There are courses to prepare non-native English speakers for proficiency exams and overall communication skills,” she said.

Beers said she enjoys working with a diverse group of participants.

“I end up learning more than I teach,” she said.

Lindgren said faculty members from all departments get to meet and develop strong relationships while they work to better themselves as educators.

“With those relationships, (University faculty members) develop a real strong learning community which helps better the University as a whole,” he said.