Teaching center launched

In an effort to promote excellence in teaching at the University, Yale is expanding its teaching program currently available for graduate students to include faculty members as well.

Provost Peter Salovey announced in a Nov. 15 email to faculty the creation of the University-wide Yale Teaching Center to replace the Graduate Teaching Center, which trained graduate students to be teaching fellows and take other teaching positions after Yale. Bill Rando, assistant dean of the Graduate School and newly appointed director of the YTC, said the center aims to support teaching at the University and promote discussion of educational strategies. While continuing to train graduate students, the YTC will offer workshops for faculty members and mentoring opportunities between tenured and non-tenured professors, said Rando, who served as director of the Graduate Teaching Center for the past 14 years.

Rando said many of the center’s programs will target new or junior faculty members, but that the resources will be available to all professors.

“There are so many amazing teachers here, but not a central place for them to share their strategies,” Rando said. “That is a big part of what this center will do.”

Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard said the University will hire additional staff to support the YTC’s expansion, though plans are not yet finalized. Currently, Rando, YTC Associate Director Kristin Rudenga and 20 graduate student fellows oversee the Graduate Teaching Center’s programs, which include a teacher-preparation certification program and teaching-fellow training workshops.

Though he does not yet have specific plans for the YTC, Rando said, the center will expand “organically,” as organizers explore different strategies of engaging with faculty members. Since the announcement, he said, five faculty members have contacted him about independent consultation on their courses.

“Every teaching center is a little different depending on the culture of the university, and we don’t know what ours will look like yet,” Rando said. “It will unfold over time the way [the Graduate Teaching Center] unfolded over time.”

Rando — who is a part of Ivy Plus, a consortium of teaching center directors at Ivy League schools — said he is looking at the established teaching programs of Yale’s peer institutions, including Harvard, Princeton and Stanford for ideas as the program moves forward.

Anders Winroth, a professor of medieval history, said he thinks a Yale-wide teaching center could enrich the quality of teaching at the University because the best way to approach a topic for research can differ from the best way to approach teaching. He said the teaching fellows in his lecture course are all enrolled in the center’s training program, and he has attended several GTC workshops himself.

“I remember saying to Bill, ‘I don’t understand why you’re only doing this for graduate students. I can think of faculty who would want to use these things.’ I certainly wanted to,” Winroth said.

Michele Marincovich, director of Stanford’s Center for Teaching and Learning, said research-heavy institutions should provide an infrastructure of support to help faculty balance research and teaching. Stanford’s center has worked directly with roughly 60 percent of the faculty, she added.

Terry Aladjem, the executive director of Harvard’s Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, said he has worked with Rando in the Ivy Plus consortium of teaching center directors and is excited about Rando’s ability to use increased resources to benefit Yale.

“We’ve long regarded Yale as a close partner in this business, and I think this will give us even more of a reason to share resources and strike up communication,” he said.

Four professors interviewed said that prior to the creation of the YTC, they independently solicited Rando’s advice on issues concerning teaching.

Psychiatry professor Ben Toll said he contacted Rando four years ago for advice on improving one of the courses he teaches. Toll said he worked closely with Rando for over a year to redesign the course, adding that since that time, his course ratings have significantly increased.

This semester, the Graduate Teaching Center offered 13 fundamentals of teaching workshops for departments including history, physics and engineering.

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