Nestled in a corner of the Hall of Graduate Studies, the Graduate Teaching Center is looking to extend its services more than just teaching fellows.
On Friday about 100 graduate students and professors attended the center’s 13th annual Spring Teaching Forum, where panels of faculty members discussed strategies for giving effective lectures. Bill Rando, director of the Graduate Teaching Center, said that the forum is traditionally the only occasion when he works with a large number of faculty members. But this year, the center has branched out to include junior faculty in some of its programming, said Deputy Provost for Faculty Development Frances Rosenbluth, adding that she will consider other ways to expand the center’s influence on teaching at Yale.
“Creating a University-wide Center for Teaching and Learning is a great goal,” said Provost Peter Salovey, “and it represents a gift opportunity that I suspect would be appealing to a donor.”
For the first time this year, Rando held a session on teaching at an orientation meeting for new faculty, and Rosenbluth organized a series of lunches about specific topics related to teaching. Between six and 12 junior professors attended each of the five lunches, Rosenbluth said. At those events, experienced professors discussed skills such as teaching a seminar, presenting technical information, and leading a large lecture.
Should Yale ever found a University-wide Teaching Center, Rando said he hopes it would resemble the teaching center at the University of Michigan, which Rando described as the best in the country.
Matt Kaplan, managing director of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, said about 35 to 40 percent of faculty members at the university use the center in some capacity throughout the academic year. He said the center holds seminar series, conducts customized analyses of individual programs and departments and organizes retreats in which groups of faculty members evaluate their curricula and discuss elements of teaching. The center also hosts a two-day, mandatory orientation for new assistant professors, he said, as well as training sessions for new associate deans and program chairs.
Kaplan and Rando said the secret to the center’s success is that the entire university has “invested in” the center.
“We’ve had leadership at this campus become more interested in teaching,” Kaplan said. “[The center] is seen as a place that can help departments achieve their goals, so they come to us.”
Seven of nine professors interviewed said professors could benefit from teaching resources beyond those that the Graduate Teaching Center currently provides. June Gruber, a psychology professor, said an expanded center could help professors find new ways to incorporate technology into their classes and update reading lists. In general, Gruber said, any effort to help faculty improve their teaching is “an excellent idea.”
Paul Freedman, chair of the History Department, also said such a center would helpful. Still, he said, any funding put towards such a project could be used more effectively.
“I wouldn’t make it my highest priority when the money comes back,” he said of Yale’s recovery from the recent financial downturn. “I don’t think the teaching of faculty is that bad that it needs correction that urgently.”
Some professors said they doubt whether other instructors would utilize such a center. Trude Storelvmo, professor of geology and geophysics, said professors’ busy schedules could limit their ability to attend teaching-centered events. Steven Smith, political science professor and master of Branford College, echoed this sentiment. While such resources could prove useful to new faculty members, Smith said, few senior professors would likely attend sessions on teaching.
A senior English professor, who wished to remain anonymous because of his potentially controversial views, said many professors would be offended that such assistance was even offered to them.
“We’re very good at teaching, by and large, at least in the programs I’m familiar with, but that’s not at all necessarily because we know how to use workshop techniques,” he said. “We wouldn’t take kindly to being mentored by persons who can impart a repertory of classroom tricks but who know less than we do and think less well.”
Rosenbluth said a professional writing coach will hold a workshop on writing for publication this Friday.
Alison Griswold contributed reporting.