Teaching and Learning About Teaching and Learning

Just how many of these centers does academe need?

Jonathan Twingley for The Chronicle

May 05, 2014

To: University Board of Trustees

From: Dr. Alice B. Basel-Sanders, Director, Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence

Re: 2016 Funding Proposal

In the dark days of the early to mid-20th century, universities did not sponsor Centers for Teaching and Learning. Professors—and even administrators—believed (albeit inchoately) that the entire university was a Center for Teaching and Learning. They did not understand the need for a data-driven Center that could teach teaching so that learners could learn to learn. This led to a situation in which America led the world in the field of higher education, but in a way that seldom consciously drew on A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Abridged Edition (Anderson, Krathwohl, Airasian, Cruikshank, Mayer, Pintrich, Raths, Wittrock, 2000).

Teaching and learning excellence did not exist, because no one measured it.

Thankfully, the epoch of unconscious teaching and learning has passed, and Teaching and Learning is now established as a bona fide hyperarticulated discipline with its own floor space, Web presence, and vigilantly guarded photocopier. We at the CTL spread excellence by steering faculty away from their focus on content (who, after all, needs to know the dates of the Civil War?) toward a more universal design model, in which knowledge-delivery systems are systematically delivered.

We have had signal success, particularly with our "Beyond Books" campaign, which urges students to eschew reading, writing, and research in favor of peer-to-peer immersion in leadership, innovation, and real-life learning environments. Such environments help millennials utilize active verbs to craft their own 21st-century learning objectives, unimpeded by the four walls of the traditional faculty-led classroom.

However, we, the staff at the Center for Teaching and Learning, now face a challenge: As the millennium progresses, how will those of us at the Center for Teaching and Learning keep up to date on the best best practices within our field? Who will teach the teaching-and-learning professionals?

To meet that challenge, I must ask the Board for additional funds, to establish a Center for Teaching and Learning Teaching and Learning (CTLTL). The CTLTL would serve as an innovation lab for teaching and learning teaching and learning, sponsoring cyberteam flipped-process pedagogy workshops for CTL professionals. If the Center for Teaching and Learning were supported by a Center for Teaching and Learning, then all stakeholders could join the circle of excellence.

You may imagine that we propose to lodge the new Center for Teaching and Learning Teaching and Learning within the current Center, Russian-doll style. However, that is not feasible, since our forward-thinking staff of 80 has already overtaken our own designated space as well as numerous former (but not "smart") classrooms.

Therefore, we propose that the Board of Trustees combine the French, German, and physics departments—a move that will encourage interdisciplinarity, particularly if all three were moved into that vacant gym above the ROTC building. The freed-up office space could then be filled by real-world teachers and learners of teachers and learners, creating a cutting-edge environment in which active verbs can be not just utilized, but coined.

In addition, you may wonder: Who will instruct the staff of the new Center for Teaching and Learning Teaching and Learning? Or rather, and more correctly: How will the learners in the new Center for Teaching and Learning Teaching and Learning themselves learn?

We in the current "outer ring" Center for Teaching and Learning are aware of this infinite regress and recommend that you build continuous funding into the long-term strategic plan, especially since competing universities in China and India are already doing so.

An exponential budget line would enable us to reach—indeed to grow, split, animate, and enlarge—multiple forms of excellence. Such hallucinatory levels of excellence are possible only when a university supports not just a Center for Teaching and Learning, but also a Center for Teaching and Learning Teaching and Learning, and—eventually—a Center for Teaching and Learning Teaching and Learning Teaching and Learning.

The possibilities are truly endless.

Angela Sorby is an associate professor of English at Marquette University.