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CTL expands educational possibilities

By Andrew Elmers and Hannah Schuster

Section: Featured, News

October 9, 2014

There have been renovations within Farber Library recently, resulting in the formation of a new facility with impressive conference tables and monitors. More important than the construction, however, is the formation of the Center for Teaching and Learning, or CTL for short, on Farber 2 around the corner from the Schuster Institute. The CTL will offer a place for faculty to “share and explore ideas about teaching and learning,” as stated on its website.

After being established in August, the CTL held its inaugural gala this past Monday. Professors from several departments attended the gala, offering words of congratulations to those involved in the construction of the Center. They also engaged in discussion about the value of education. The gala also featured speeches from President Fred Lawrence, former Provost Steve A. N. Goldstein ’78 and the Director of the CTL Dan Perlman.

The CTL seeks to become a place where Brandeis faculty, graduate students and postdocs alike can explore new teaching practices and enhance student learning. A premise of the CTL is that we learn best from our peers and our colleagues. Thus the Center encourages the exchange of knowledge and expertise between teachers at Brandeis and beyond Brandeis.

In his speech, Perlman explained what he hopes the Center will become.

“It’s about talking and sharing ideas,” said Perlman. “Teaching is not separate from scholarship; it is a subject of scholarship. I hope one of the things that will come out of our Center is that we conduct a serious study of how students learn and what we can do to help them learn.”

During the gala, there was a video corner set up to record guests at the gala speaking about a memorable teaching moment. Some discussed a favorite teacher or gave tips for fellow teachers. Scattered throughout the gala were tall whiteboards asking what the CTL could do to best assist faculty written at the top, and all were invited to fill the boards with their answers. The interactive quality of the opening gala reflects the Center’s belief in collaborative, teacher-to-teacher learning. Spirits at the celebratory gala were high as those in attendance declared their appreciation for the hard work and dedication of Perlman and their eagerness to become involved in all the CTL has to offer. Many faculty members have stated plans to participate in the upcoming workshops and believe the CTL will prove a great asset to the Brandeis campus.

“If we can get people to talk with each other about student learning, how we can help them learn more effectively and in long-lasting ways, that’s going to be huge,” said Perlman. He also noted this is not something which occurs at all major research universities.

Perlman, in addition to his position as director of the CTL, also serves as the associate provost of innovation in education and a biology professor. He granted The Hoot an interview to cover the role the CTL plans to have on campus in the future. Perlman stated that the CTL will hold workshops on topics such as teaching to a large class and formulating effective writing assignments, offer one-on-one consulting for teaching issues and help faculty gain access to campus resources, such as those from the office of Experiential Learning, which they might not have known existed.

Perlman explained that three separate parents sparked the creation of the CTL. The first of which was the university’s strategic plan of 2013. The strategic plan called for an office of innovation and education, which evolved into the CTL. The second parent was the Committee for the Support of Teaching, headed by Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences for Undergraduate Education Elaine Wong, which for decades has offered workshops on effective teaching methods for faculty and will be co-sponsoring some workshops with the CTL in the future. The last parent is former Provost Goldstein who has been very supportive of the center, from its inclusion in the strategic plan until present. Perlman sees the CTL as being a major portion of Goldstein’s legacy on campus as he moves on from Brandeis in the coming weeks.

Perlman also acknowledged the Davis Teaching and Learning Fellowship, where he serves as facilitator, as a great model for what the CTL can accomplish. The Davis Fellows, a group of faculty who meet to discuss successful teaching ideas, was first started in 2012 and has proved to be a great promoter of discussion between professors from all areas of the university.

“Something I have learned from participating in the Davis fellowship is how much we can learn from different corners of the university, such as seeing the ways a chemistry professor and economics professor can learn from watching each other teach,” Perlman noted. “This multi-disciplinary interaction is fantastic.”

The 2013 class of Davis Fellows, for example, have independently organized to meet twice a month to continue their dialogue on the best ways to teach after their terms had finished. Perlman hopes this sort of interaction among faculty will continue and be expanded through the CTL, and eventually move beyond the walls of the center.

And the CTL looks to aid more than just the faculty. Graduate students and postdoc fellows will be able to benefit from programs focusing on the basics of teaching. These programs and workshops will help boost their confidence when they go out on the academic job search, being able to say they know their field and they know how to teach. Perlman mentioned that other universities already offer teaching training for their graduate students, and the CTL will be able to attract more candidates to pursue their graduate education at Brandeis.

During the interview, Perlman mentioned this quote by colleague Sharon Feiman-Nemser (NEJS): “Teaching is the second most private thing we do behind closed doors.” Perlman objects to that. “Throughout my career, teaching has not been a solitary, private endeavor [as it is for most professors] but a team sport.” And Perlman knows that other faculty members see it that way as well, adding “watching colleagues light up and share ideas is wonderful to see.”

While it will be difficult to accomplish, Perlman acknowledges the help he and the center have received from the advisory committee of some of the best faculty and staff at the university. This committee consists of Jen Cleary (THA), Michael Doonan (HS), Irina Dubinina (GRALL), Tim Hickey (COSI), Susan Lanser (ENG/WMGS/COML), Marya Levenson (ED), Karen Muncaster (Rabb), Joshua Wilson (LTS) and Elaine Wong.

It will be the students who have the most to gain from the formation of the CTL, as their professors will undoubtedly cultivate their teaching skill and utilize the resources available to them to make a better classroom experience. And Perlman believes this will be easy to attain. “If we can help people explore the beauty of teaching and learning, we will be successful.” That exploration will start, then, at the Center for Teaching and Learning on Farber 2.

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