Director's Update: January 2021

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

What exactly should be the role of a teaching and learning center in a university like ours? There are a whole range of views. There are those who believe that the work of teaching and learning centers in supporting instructors is so important and fundamental that the reach of such centers should be extended and extended. There are those who would abolish them – this tendency can sometimes produce an unlikely alliance of very senior administrators and strongly independent-minded faculty where the issue is cost for one, and administrative meddling for the other. And there are those – the majority I suspect – who have not given it much thought up to now.

Well, the pandemic has changed all that. It used to be that teaching and learning centers reached a small percentage of innovators in pedagogy on full-time faculty, contingent faculty, and graduate students who taught. That mix changed radically at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the pivot to online in the spring of 2020. Hundreds of full-time faculty joined the CTT’s institutes for online teaching – it’s hard to be precise, but we estimate that over a third of those with faculty status participated. So did many graduate students. Forced to confront a situation in which they felt they needed the support of a three-week program designed as an introduction to teaching and learning online, we decided to maintain our format of a pedagogic foundation of backward design overlayed with instruction on how to use the technology to achieve that.

Most instructors considered the institutes valuable, but with a small but significant number thinking that the backward design element was over-emphasized. This was mostly because they had encountered it before. Others felt the institutes were too didactic, and we should stick to helping them to make better use of Canvas. ‘Don’t presume to teach me how to teach.’ In response, we plan to create two levels of the institute, one for newer instructors that continues the focus on backward design, and another for more experienced instructors where the pedagogy is universal design. What is certain is that we won’t abandon pedagogic leadership, nor will we confine our activities to a single-minded focus on academic technology.

The pandemic has given us access to instructors and departments – and in some cases, whole schools – we would never have reached otherwise. We are determined to follow-up on this opportunity. This brings me to the point of what the CTT should be doing. The first thing is the creation of a rigorous program of academic development, at the end of which will be formal recognition of excellent teaching that participants can take into promotion and tenure review. The program will be self-paced and assembled from a wide variety of activity from attendance at workshops, peer observation, institutes, presentations at conferences and symposia, and more. The program will seed and scale innovative practices and seek to reward teaching that engages students.

At the same time the CTT wishes to collaborate with departments to focus on the success of students in ‘gateway’ courses – the kind that up to 25% of all undergraduates will take at some point in their careers at UNL. Working with the increasingly precise data that is available to the University, we will be better able to tighten our focus on increasing the levels of success of our students. This is particularly true in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion, where data and research are beginning to reveal patterns that will help us to identify and support struggling students earlier and more effectively.

As the mountain of research on which practices in teaching and learning are the most effective grows ever larger, the workload of instructors also grows, so it seems imperative to us that the CTT should lead the way in digesting this material and transforming it into support and activity that allows instructors to become more easily the teachers their students need.

The CTT wishes everyone a great start to the semester, and we hope that you’ll contact us with any questions, suggestions, or ideas for collaboration.

Site Section