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50th Anniversary Celebration of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan
Remarks of Constance E. Cook, Associate Vice Provost and Executive Director, CRLT
May 4, 2012
Oh, Happy Day!
What a joy it is to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching with hundreds of friends and colleagues! We are very grateful that you all took time to join us in this celebration!
I should explain, for our many University of Michigan colleagues who do not know, that this is a celebration not only of CRLT, but, more importantly, of the development of university teaching centers. In 1962, the University of Michigan established the world’s very first teaching center, as far as we know, and we are proud of the role that CRLT and Michigan have played in spawning the establishment of teaching centers all over the country and around the globe.
In the U.S., there now are nearly a thousand teaching centers, and you find them on all kinds of campuses: liberal arts colleges, community colleges, comprehensive universities, and research universities. Interestingly, it is research universities where you are most likely to find teaching centers. In fact, three-quarters of U.S. research universities now have one. We know of several hundred teaching centers on campuses abroad as well -- again, especially prevalent at research universities.* Most teaching centers were established in the last decade or two, and CRLT has helped to create this new profession.
There must be many people in this room who are not really sure what a teaching center does because it is a relatively new profession. A teaching center’s job is to improve student learning in our colleges and universities. People who work at teaching centers are often called faculty developers, and that is really a misnomer for two reasons: First, we do not work ON or DEVELOP our faculty colleagues. Rather, we work in PARTNERSHIP WITH and IN SUPPORT OF the brilliant people who serve on the faculty of this university or go to graduate school here. It is a real privilege to work everyday with people of this caliber, and help them do the innovative, excellent teaching that they want to do.
Second, pedagogical improvement is only part of what CRLT does. Our work also includes curricular reform, as well as the work of building more sense of community among our diverse faculty and graduate student instructors (TAs) and, through them, among the diverse students in our classrooms.
There is something else you should know about the work of teaching centers: We often stay backstage. In order to be effective, we make sure others are in the spotlight.
At CRLT, half of our work is university-wide: grants competitions, large programs, publications, our website, and consultations for any instructor who wants one. The other half of our work is done at the request of deans, department chairs, and other faculty leaders. It is discipline-specific work -- designed to accomplish the goals that these leaders have articulated. The leaders who request our services deserve credit for taking the initiative to improve pedagogy and curriculum–and taking the responsibility to implement the improvements they desire.
When the dean requests that CRLT design a Teaching Academy for new faculty, the dean should have the credit. When the department chair requests that CRLT assess student learning in her department or help revise the curriculum, obviously it is the department chair who deserves the credit.
Teaching center people are the enablers, the facilitators, who operationalize good ideas. We offer insights and literature reviews; we do the research by generating hypotheses, and collecting and analyzing data. Then, we help plan the programs where faculty consider the data and decide how to proceed. Finally, we help faculty disseminate their good ideas beyond their own department or school or college.
We are often the difference between something that is just a good idea, as opposed to a good idea that has been implemented and shared on this campus and elsewhere. We are often the difference between a one-time improvement for one faculty member, or one academic unit, as opposed to an institutionalized improvement that is systematic, and lasts a good, long time.
But, it is unusual for a teaching center to take center stage. That almost never happens, which is why today is so exciting for us. Those of us at CRLT are very happy to be in the spotlight on this happy day!