Monday, November 26, 2007

Vanderbilt, part 2. Now improved with bonus bits of Wisconsin!

I just got off the phone with Derek Bruff at Vanderbilt's Center for Teaching. We chatted a bit about what we are trying to accomplish with TLC and about parallels that Vanderbilt might have.

He indicated that there are a lot of programs at Vanderbilt that focus on helping students and faculty learn how to teach. These programs are run by varying organization and departments. The Center for Teaching provides some of these, but also tries to keep tabs on what the departments are doing.

Given this, he indicated that while technology makes up a portion of the discussion in pedagogy at Vanderbilt, there isn't any one course/workshop that does the same thing that TLC does: a focus on technology as the means to pedagogical ends. He also said that Vanderbilt had had someone at the provost level who was head of instructional technology, but that the position was eliminated a few years ago.

In a subsequent email exchange with Derek (begun after I started this post), he indicated that much of the technology instruction takes place within departments as the disciplinary differences were more important than any divide between graduate students and faculty. I agree that this is important and is something that we particularly like to emphasize about TLC in its current configuration. As I replied to him, "The advantage of TLC was that we had a room of English grad students who were familiar with each other's research and with the basic format for the courses we are teaching. There is also a shared assumption of what methods one uses and what we feel to be important skills for our students to gain. All of these things make it possible for us to discuss specifically how we would use a particular technology to teach in our classrooms. These discussions are assisted by our having had the Director of Graduate Studies and one other faculty member attend all of the workshops. They can lead these discussions in a particular way that the staff in ECIT cannot." This is something that Vanderbilt and I (or we, if I can be said to speak for ECIT and those involved in the project) both value.

Derek also indicated that the Center for Teaching had originally focused efforts on graduate students and faculty separately, but now aim their programs to both groups at once. This shift appears to have come at the same time as the focus on discipline. (Thus, programs that differentiated between grad students and faculty become programs that differentiated between departments.) ECIT has had success with programs that put faculty and graduate students together--particularly Emory College Online (ECO). Yet I feel that there was something gained by the graduate students having a space for themselves--assisted, of course, by Drs. Rusche and Elliott. To my mind, I think faculty who learn new technologies are supplementing the techniques they have already learned over a few or many years. Graduate students are, instead, learning who they are as teachers and have very different questions about the implementation of a particular tool.

Finally, Derek pointed me toward an interesting consortium that Vanderbilt is a part of: the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL). CIRTL is a group of universities (read the list here) who are working to improve the teaching of graduate students and junior faculty in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Each campus has different initiatives related to this, but one of the most interesting are the courses that are being taught at the University of Wisconsin's Delta Program, the CIRTL center in Madison. These courses are available to graduate students and carry credit. Their topics range from "Diversity in the Classroom" to "Effective Teaching with Technology." This last looks very much like what we are doing with ECIT. Of course, it is limited to students in STEM, but Delta has made all of its course's syllabi and materials available via CIRTL as guidebooks. The idea is that any university could take the materials and more or less teach the same class from it. So with nothing more than a click you can have the 75-page guidebook. (It's when you read through this that you realize the differences between how we have talked about technology in TLC and how it might need to be done with people from other disciplines, say the GDBBS.) To me this seems like the ideal mode for scholarship and pedagogy: sharing our tricks.

Poking around Wisconsin's site lead to a couple more discoveries.
  • They, of course, have workshops available to faculty and graduate students on different instructional technologies. There doesn't seem to be anything particularly geared toward graduate students, however, and nothing that focuses on pedagogy so much as the actual technology.
  • The engage program appears to spearhead campus initiatives for the implementation of various technologies across the curriculum. This year there is a focus on podcasting (two English professors received awards for their use of the tool) and on simulations and games. The site has a very good summary of everything you might need to know about podcasting to get started, but I assume that there was hands-on training for interested parties.
  • They also have a site that lists all the grants available to members of the university to begin work on a technology project.
  • The strategic plan for the entire university calls for improving students use of information (scroll down to Roman numeral V).
  • Finally, Wisconsin sponsors the Information Technology Academy, a "4-year pre-college technology access and training program for talented students of color and economically disadvantaged students attending Madison Public Schools. Our mission is to prepare students for technical, academic, and personal excellence in today's Information Age." Students compete to enter at the end of 8th grade. It would be great to see Emory providing a similar outreach program here.
Hmm. I guess I've moved on quite a bit from Vanderbilt. My updated verdict, however, is that we seem to be ahead of Vanderbilt at the moment. Wisconsin has something in place for some of its students (sciences) that is similar to TLC, but it is a semester-long course. Both schools provide training on various technologies, although they might not necessarily be specifically for graduate students nor do they seem to be focused on particular disciplines nor include the sort of faculty mentoring that we are trying to get into place.


Michael E. said...

Brian -- This is really interesting stuff. There's a lot to digest here, but one point I wanted to echo is that I, too, think there's something valuable in having these workshops focused on graduate students rather than a mix of graduate students and faculty. That's not to say that there couldn't be a forum to have grad students and faculty share a discussion of technology, but I think the grad-student focus allowed TLC to have a deeper discussion about pedagogy than it might have if faculty were participating as learners instead of in the mentoring role -- or at least a different one.

Your comment about "sharing our tricks" also strikes a chord with me, seeing as how it was only last week that I heard a colleague of mine state that he/she wouldn't ever post a syllabus on-line because graduate students could then steal it and pass it off as their own.

Like you, I'm more of a believer in open source pedagogy.

Brian said...

Thanks, Michael. As I've been working on investigating other schools' opportunities, there are a few things that to me seem somewhat unique about our current model of TLC and that make it particularly valuable for not only graduate students but for Emory college in which we teach. First is the limiting of TLC to students from one discipline (as opposed to having students from many disciplines enroll in one course). Second is a result of this first principle: a focused pedagogical discussion about the technologies specifically within an English classroom. Third is the interlocution provided by a faculty member who has more experience in the classroom and some interest in using new methods for teaching even while s/he may not embrace each and every one in her/his classroom.

Other programs have some of these aspects, but we might be the only ones doing exactly this model. Is it the most effective? I'm not sure yet--although I'm obviously tempted to valorize what we're doing here in the English Department, ECIT, and Emory (the triple 'E' threat).

Brian said...

Derek Bruff and I have continued exchanging emails related to my blogging here. He wanted to make a clarification about how Vanderbilt's Center for Teaching serves both faculty and graduate students. I'm quoting at length from his email just to make sure that I get it right this time and so that others who are following this conversation have the correct information about Vanderbilt.

Derek writes, "Thanks for your thoughtful reply and blog post. I wanted to clarify one thing. Although responding to disciplinary differences has taken on an increasing role at our Center in the last few years, we're also keenly aware of some of the differences between faculty and graduate students, particularly differences in teaching experiences, teaching roles, career goals, motivation, and availability for programs. We target these two groups in different (sometimes very different) ways in our programs and other offerings, while also being aware that faculty and grad students face common teaching challenges with a discipline (or within similar disciplines).

"Our current organizational structure allows, for example, me to work more regularly with faculty and grad students in economics (one of my liaison departments) so that I can, over time, get a better sense of the teaching landscape in that discipline. This organizational structure has been more productive for us than the former one in which one assistant director would work with grad students from economics and another assistant director would work with faculty from economics. It made more sense for our work with a particular department to be coordinated by a single assistant director so that knowledge gained about teaching in economics from working with faculty could be leveraged into working with grad students, and vice versa.

"As useful as our liaison structure is, however, we still do a lot that's targeted just at faculty or just at grad students. We probably offer more programming intended for both faculty and grad students than we did 4-5 years ago, but we still have a fair amount of programming targeted at one group or the other. As you point out, putting faculty and grad students in the same room to discuss teaching can be a delicate matter, so we're pretty intentional about the ways in which we facilitate those kinds of sessions."