Documenting Teaching: Establish a Supportive Department Culture
What can a department do to create and sustain a departmental culture that supports teaching? Here are five suggestions.
Hold regular seminars or discussions around teaching in your department
Some departments already do this, of course-and they report that the discussions are nearly always energizing. Faculty get ideas from each and discover common problems. They learn to see teaching as an intellectually engaging enterprise, as challenging and as rewarding as other kinds of scholarly work.
There are all kinds of ways to organize a discussion. Here are a few:
- Invite a faculty member who has just designed a new course or redesigned an existing one to talk to the department about what he/she has done. Faculty who have had recent Summer Instructional Development Professorships or who have participated in the Bush Teaching Scholars Program are good candidates for this kind of talk.
- Set up a panel of department members to talk about a common issue in teaching in your discipline (e.g., active learning in large classes, alternatives to the term paper, working with small groups, etc.).
- Distribute an article about teaching (either in your discipline or in general) and invite faculty to discuss it together. (If you need some ideas or recommendations, call the Office of Instructional Development. Or, if you subscribe to the Chronicle of Higher Education, check out their weekly on-line Teaching Letter .)
- Bring in an outside speaker-perhaps someone from another campus who has published an interesting pedagogical article in your field, or someone from UND who has a special interest in teaching--a Bush Teaching Scholar, recent teaching award winner, etc. (If you need funds for an outside speaker, OID has Flex Grants that can be used for just this purpose.)
Make a regular habit of visiting each other's classes--not for evaluation purposes but just to exchange ideas
Too many of us are uncomfortable having colleagues visit our classes. Maybe that's because the only time they do this is when they're evaluating us. If we exchange visits on a more informal basis, we develop an appreciation for different styles of teaching.
For some interesting perspectives on this subject, see:
"Peer Visits: How to Start Productive Conversations on Teaching," by Barbara Frase and Michael McAsey (Bradley University).
"Exchanging Class Visits: Improving Teaching for Both Junior and Senior Faculty," by Deborah Bergstrand (Williams College).
Match less experienced faculty with seasoned teaching mentors
Many new faculty come to us with little or no teaching experience. Instead of waiting for evaluations to show problems with teaching, take a pro-active stance and match newcomers up with supportive mentors right from the start.
In addition to visiting each other's classes (see above), mentoring pairs might want to read each other's syllabi and assignments, talk about teaching problems, or review and discuss student evaluations.
The mentor may be someone from your own department or, if you prefer, someone from outside. If your new colleague is in the Alice Clark Mentoring Program, suggest that he/ she look for a mentor to help with teaching.
Encourage faculty to participate in OID-sponsored programs
OID offers a variety of programs that bring faculty across disciplines together to talk about teaching. In addition to the regular Box Lunch Discussions, there are Faculty Study Seminars, Summer Workshops, and special programs like the Bush Teaching Scholars that are great opportunities to trade ideas with others. Funding for teaching-related travel and course development is also available.
Value the scholarship of teaching and learning
The scholarship of teaching and learning, sometimes referred to as SoTL, is a phrase coined by Ernest Boyer and his colleagues at the Carnegie Academy for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CASTL). It refers to research on teaching and learning in their own classes, done by faculty using a variety of scholarly/research approaches. On the national level, a number of universities are actively promoting and rewarding this kind of scholarly work. Here at UND, our Bush Teaching Scholars Program has also focused on SoTL.
By recognizing the value of the scholarship of teaching and learning, and by encouraging and rewarding faculty who have an interest in pursuing it, the department sends an important message about the importance of teaching as intellectual activity.