Life as a college professor can be very lonely. You teach by yourself. You research by yourself. Sometimes, things just don’t go as you’d like them to.
That’s where Heidelberg’s new Center for Teaching Excellence comes in. “The center brings people together to solve common problems applying the scholarship of teaching and learning,” said history professor
Dr. Courtney DeMayo Pugno, who is leading the new center and is continuing classroom teaching half time.
“We all want to do better and be better, not only for our students but for ourselves,” she said. “But sometimes we just don’t know how. Roadblocks get in our way.”
The center, which is temporarily located in Beeghly Library, is a product of the Academic Strategic Initiatives for Improvement Plan (ASIIP) and its mission to transform student learning. DeMayo Pugno spent the summer researching and developing programming based on the needs and desires expressed by faculty.
As the center gets off the ground, there will be opportunities for individual consultations with faculty to troubleshoot obstacles as well as actual programming – tips and tricks, if you will – to help them rethink the ways they teach and advise students. This summer, DeMayo Pugno also assessed Heidelberg’s protocols for mentoring new faculty as well as new faculty orientation as a starting point for positive change.
She is joined by new instructional technologist Rebecca Taylor, who brings “boots on the ground” experience and high energy to the center, in partnership with DeMayo Pugno. Taylor is drawing upon her technology expertise, pedagogical knowledge as a high school classroom teacher for eight years and critical understanding of the environment from which ‘Berg students are coming.
“I’m excited to share what I’ve learned about integrating technology in education with Heidelberg’s faculty members and help impact student learning,” Taylor says. “We have a chance to develop a vision for the center and make it something great.”
The concept of teaching excellence centers is not new. It started about four decades ago at large undergraduate institutions and has spread well beyond to smaller schools such as Heidelberg. In fact, as DeMayo Pugno researched the topic, she did site visits and/or consults with at least six of them.
Like at Heidelberg, she learned that student expectations of teachers are changing. “The way students were taught in high school is very, very different than what takes place in colleges and universities,” she said.
The center is helping faculty with the institutional support to stay up to date with trends in teaching.
“The faculty are going to be the ones making changes. We are just here to support them through the process.”
In the classroom, sometimes the little things trip up professors, said DeMayo Pugno, who has been teaching at Heidelberg since 2010. For example, professors are sometimes stymied by students who seem to be on their electronic devices during class, those who just don’t seem excited about the subject matter or the generational differences between students and professors.
Even the most talented professors who are highly trained in their discipline could benefit from resources in pedagogy. “The fact is that many of us didn’t take a pedagogy class when we were working on our Ph.D.s,” DeMayo Pugno said. “The center will help eliminate those barriers that prevent us from reaching our (teaching) aspirations.”
This summer, the first new program to come out of the center was launched when a cohort of eight faculty members volunteered to be part of the first-ever Faculty Learning Community (FLC). Together, the group identifies a teaching problem and works through solutions together.
For example, they might explore ways to better utilize technology in the classroom or rethink the way 100-level courses are taught. They do common readings, discuss best practices, review research and brainstorm solutions to their identified issue. The first group examined challenges to teaching first-year students. They’re testing their creative solutions this fall, and will reconvene to assess impact and then give a presentation to colleagues in the spring.
DeMayo Pugno plans to form a new FLC around a different topic each semester. Among the possible topics: active learning, student motivation and working with Generation Z students.
“This first cohort was willing to say, ‘Hey, something is not going the way I think it should, so let’s try to figure it out,’” she said. “The FLCs are the thing I’m most excited about. They have a really strong track record
in promoting powerful change.
“This summer’s FLC has been exceptional. We’ve all made substantial changes to our courses.”
Two faculty members who have changed things up as a result of their participation in the FLC are education professor Dr. Stacey Pistorova and theatre professor Stephen Svoboda.
“What has been really nice about the FLC is that I am now getting feedback from faculty outside my discipline, which has helped me see my courses through a new lens,” Pistorova said. “I have completely changed my entry-level classes for early childhood majors and those changes have led me to rethink all of my courses.”
Svoboda, who was looking to “reimagine” his Introduction to Theatre course, had the same experience. With a mix of majors, non-majors and theatre enthusiasts, he saw the need to design some new strategies to
meet the needs of such a diverse class.
“The creative energy of working with peers from different disciplines helped me to develop a series of new assignments and to examine how to expand on the types of texts I use,” he said. Out of the FLC collaboration, Svoboda decided to forgo traditional quizzes and instead, assign students to develop their own You Tube channel where they’ll create short reviews of different texts, films and productions they’re studying.
Going forward, the center will provide an avenue “to showcase some of the amazing things taking place at Heidelberg and build upon them,” DeMayo Pugno said.
By calling attention to a needed cultural change and taking positive action to make that happen, Heidelberg’s faculty members will be closer to reaching their aspirational identity as teachers, scholars and a community. Ultimately, everyone – especially students – wins.