Bridging the Divide

Nick Monk: Smiling man with brown hair and tailored blue jacket.
Nick Monk, CTT Director

In his 1959 book The Two Cultures, C.P. Snow remarked of the opposition between science and the humanities that there were, “literary intellectuals at one pole—at the other scientists—Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension, sometimes hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding.”

As a person with a job in a modern university that requires engagement in a variety of schools and colleges, I see persistent elements of the incomprehension between Snow’s two cultures. I am sure Snow would be interested, too, not merely in the persistence of the arts-sciences dichotomy but also other kinds of opposition that have come to the fore in recent years. For example, the polarization of staff and faculty, the widening gap in departments between those on the tenure-tracked and those who are not and, connected to this, the gulf between those whose principal business is teaching, and those whose focus is on research.

The impression that teaching in a university is done by one kind of person and research by another has grown alongside the reality in many cases. The tensions across the range of tenured, untenured, contingent faculty, professors of practice, and researchers can be very real. Polarization between these groups is increasing in a society where oppositional tendencies are growing more generally. While this is not the only reason the CTT is launching a formal process of recognition for effective teaching and learning at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and we don’t imagine for a moment we can resolve the aforementioned divides, it does seem valuable to us to help build a community around teaching and learning that shares particular values and practices.

Therefore, the Reflective Practitioner Program is open to anyone at the university who teaches. It will bring together instructors with a variety of differing teaching loads, styles, methods, and content, under a collection of principles and activities that reflect the needs of students. The program allows everyone at the university with teaching responsibilities to engage at levels appropriate to teaching loads, length of service in the university, and relative expertise and experience as educators.

By introducing the RPP we hope to elevate the status of teaching and learning by rewarding participants with exclusive access to funds for teaching and learning projects, with titles of recognition, and with real evidence of high-quality teaching practices to take into tenure, promotion, and annual reviews.

This week the CTT sent out its first invitations to the pilot of the RPP that will run in 2021-2022. Deans and chairs of schools and colleges have recommended individuals to participate, and we hope to have up to 100 instructors join us to help shape the future that rewards teaching and learning. The RPP incorporates attendance at workshops and institutes, peer observation, personal reflection, and participation in mentoring relationships.

The program operates at three levels, depending on stages of professional development in teaching and learning. We have labeled these bronze, silver, and gold. The RPP is flexible and recognizes the time pressures to which instructors are subject. It allows instructors to meet requirements using both departmental, college, and school teaching activities. This flexibility means that faculty can focus on areas of pedagogy that are unique or specific to departmental, college, or personal teaching and learning styles.

We hope the RPP will be a significant move in increasing the focus of the university on teaching and learning. CTT’s focus is, of course, students, and we believe that the growth of our instructors in teaching and learning through the RPP will boost student engagement and success at the university, as instructors become more skilled at recognizing and removing obstacles to student learning. The RPP is not a panacea, but it is an important step towards elevating teaching and learning. As Snow remarked, “there is, of course, no complete solution…but we can do something. The chief means open to us is education…there is no excuse for letting another generation be as vastly ignorant, or as devoid of understanding and sympathy, as we are ourselves.”