Destiny D. Aman
People are not born excellent teachers. A person may have certain talents that can help her to more easily become an excellent teacher – she may be an attentive listener, or a good public speaker, or have an artistic flair, or tell witty jokes that make people laugh and feel at ease. She may have a great memory. Or she may not. She may have terrible handwriting or get nervous in front of large groups. But this does not prevent her from ever being or becoming a good teacher, because teaching is a practice – a constantly shifting suite of complex skills that can be learned and improved, mixed and matched, substituted and swapped. Excellent teaching is merely a model to strive for, to work towards – a motivating agent for personal change. Effective teaching, by contrast, is a measurable goal based on the successful completion of course objectives and verified by the assessment of student learning. As I see it, a university teaching center should support both teaching excellence and effectiveness, and it can do so in a variety of ways.
First, a university teaching center should be a clearinghouse of information, ideas, and authority on teaching and learning. It should be a place where faculty and graduate student teachers can explore, discuss, share, and learn about various teaching techniques and pedagogical approaches that may be applicable to their classes.
A teaching center should be responsive to faculty needs. It should make available tailored, individual consultation upon request to teachers who are looking to improve student learning. It should also organize and facilitate events on campus (workshops, presentations, invited speakers, peer-teaching groups, etc) to reach out to faculty who prefer a group-learning experience. A teaching center should be a model of good teaching and as such, should deliver the highest-quality educational experiences possible to event participants. These events should, in essence, “walk the talk”, operationalizing the best pedagogical research and technology available to achieve their goals and objectives.
A teaching center should be an active participant in the university community and support a culture of leadership on campus at large. Center affiliates should represent teaching and learning in other campus settings (for instance, while serving on service or outreach committees), be well-versed in what institutional resources are available to faculty and students, and seek to connect people and organizations with similar missions. Related to this aim, a teaching center should widely disseminate information about teaching and learning including the application of research, best practices and innovative teaching methods. These days, it can and should do so using a variety of media to reach a broad and diverse audience – both on-campus and in the larger teaching and learning community.
If faculty are interested in conducting research in their classes and contributing to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), a teaching center should provide guidance (suggestions, pointers and resources) to help them in this effort. Lastly, a teaching center should be a resource for university units looking to develop or revise policies related to teaching, curriculum development, and learning outcomes assessment.
A university that develops and maintains a teaching center is sending an important signal to faculty and students on their campus that it both values teaching, and recognizes that as much as we might like, we are not born knowing how to teach well. Like learning, effective teaching takes both hard work and practice, both planning and reflection. Thankfully, teaching centers can and do support these important efforts, and in the process provide both the motivation and means for faculty to excel.