Monthly Archives: June 2014

Thoughts on Centers for Teaching and Learning

When I was debating which track to pursue for my doctoral degree, I had two clear choices: a PhD in educational technology or an EdD in higher ed leadership.  I could see myself working in a central information technology department or other academic administrative area, where an EdD was completely appropriate yet I recognized that a PhD might be preferred by a selection committee choosing a new leader for a center for teaching and learning (CTL). Based on my experiences at various institutions, I know that the two groups can work together successfully but sometimes they do not. I also know that there are many who have no idea how one or the other operates and what its contributions are; some don’t take a teaching center seriously, assuming all faculty know how to teach effectively and are happy with their methods (Sorby, 2014).

I am a ‘let’s get our hands dirty and fix this’ person more than a ‘let’s sit down and talk about it over tea’ person. There may be some CTLs that have a skunkworks component to them, but the ones I have been in or worked with were more theoretical in nature. Based on that experience, a central IT department is more attractive to me – with its complexity based on things, not personal needs. But there is no escaping the peopleyness of people in an administrative role so I am grateful that my doctoral program has a balance of research and practice. This semester, we are examining executive leadership – the boards, the presidents and their cabinets, and senior directors and managers. We are looking at what influences high level decision making through the lenses of our own experiences. It is fascinating to me to read accounts of conflict and resolution, governance and administration and reflect on my experiences.

I have written two case papers this week: one about a conflict or crisis and another about institutional hierarchies. Meanwhile, I am looking at my college trying to ascertain why it has decided to close its eight year old CTL (Flaherty, 2014).

I define a CTL as a place where scholars of both theory and practice share their insight with others. It is a place where teachers gather to share their best practices and new ideas with colleagues and peers. It is a place where graduate students can learn the mechanics of teaching, as so many of them will go on to teach full or part time or contribute in some way while a student. A CTL is also a place where the college’s academic philosophy can be discussed, debated, revised and refined by those who most strongly represent it. To me, the closing of a CTL is the loss of an opportunity to build community on campus and further refine and demonstrate the college’s academic mission.

beautiful campus

beautiful campus

As I discover more details about Endicott College closing its Center for Teaching Excellence, I wonder why a small private college launching new academic programs would close an established department that could help them support all the new graduate students and faculty joining its community. Shouldn’t a growing college have a destination where new instructors can access campus resources to help them acclimate to the campus culture and build a supportive network on campus? Doesn’t the school want to have a place for doctoral candidates and post-doctoral students to invest in the community through research and partnerships with faculty and administrators?

I think CTLs are important for small colleges where academic departments don’t have a large, diverse faculty to nurture young or new faculty. Community building and peer mentoring is especially important for a school like Endicott. Closing the CTE doesn’t necessarily mean the end of conversation and community around the practice of teaching, nor does it mean the end of training and seminars devoted to exploring the art of instruction and student engagement. But the loss of a centralized administrative office does mean the end of a directed, concerted effort to provide those resources.

A CTL can be a bridge between the technical department and the academic departments. Without a dedicated space and staff, there is no destination for those who wish to share or collect information about academic and supportive technologies. The CTL is a great place to recruit early adopters for technology projects and share findings from pilot studies and get feedback on implementation plans. Larger institutions would use multiple channels to distribute information, but at a small college like Endicott, it may be the best place to gather faculty across disciplines to consider the academic impact of technology in their programs.

A CTL can also include resources for students as well as faculty (Flaherty, 2014). Sacred Heart University in Connecticut recently broke ground on a CTL that is designed for students’ learning needs (Bridgeport News, 2014). I wonder if redefining the purpose of Endicott’s CTE by expanding programs to include student support services (tutoring, assistive learning) was considered before the decision to close was made.

I understand that not everyone sees the value in a CTL and some people might find the resource to be redundant of other campus services. But I am concerned about Endicott closing the CTE because I feel like future opportunities are now gone. As a doctoral student studying educational leadership, I am interested in observing how the school implements its vision to become a university. As a 15 year veteran of academic support services, I am surprised that the CTE wasn’t valued as an important resource for achieving that vision. I’ll be learning more about this closing over the summer and taking advantage of my summer courses to put it into perspective.

If you have any thoughts about CTLs, please share. Are they needed? Are they growing? Are they in danger? Why?