CONTACT: SCOTT HAUSER
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0007; fax (319) 384-0024
UI Center offers training and support to professors and graduate
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Tom Rocklin and Carolyn Lieberg of the University
of Iowa Center for Teaching like to tell the story of the graduate teaching
assistant who was worried about her first teaching assignment:
The teaching assistant showed up at the center the second or third week
of class. She was nervous and apprehensive.
Lieberg and the student met infrequently over the semester as the graduate
student worked out the kinks in her new role as teacher.
When the second semester began, the graduate student showed up again
at the center. This time she brought a request from several of her fellow
graduate teaching assistants that the center present a workshop for them.
"That graduate student has gone from being scared to death about
teaching to being a leader of educational improvement in her department,"
Rocklin says. "She's gotten the message that she will be supported
in her efforts to become a better teacher.
"I think that's a great message," Rocklin says.
It's a message Rocklin, the first director of the center, and Lieberg,
associate director, hope is slowly filtering throughout campus. The center,
which formally opened with the fall 1996 semester, is getting the word
out that teaching is a valued skill that needs to be supported and nurtured
at all faculty levels.
Located in the Iowa Memorial Union, the center is a resource for faculty
and teaching assistants interested in ideas and information about teaching.
The center offers programs, training sessions, critiques, as well as forums
to discuss pedagogical issues.
Rocklin, an educational psychologist who is a professor of quantitative
and psychological foundations in the College of Education, says he's been
pleasantly surprised at the interest faculty and graduate students have
"The nightmare of the director of a new Center for Teaching is
that you give a party and nobody shows up," he says. "That hasn't
been the case at all."
The center is an example of a growing interest at the UI and nationwide
about the importance of teaching at research universities. The center --
an idea first discussed in the 1980s by the Council on Teaching and other
faculty -- was approved by the administration and the Board of Regents
President Mary Sue Coleman says the ultimate goal of the center is to
improve the quality of education for students.
"A Center for Teaching is one tool that universities can use to
focus attention on the teaching mission," Coleman says. "Faculty
will be able to learn about new teaching tools. Graduate students will
get help as they acquire teaching skills. But mostly, undergraduates will
see improvements in the overall quality of instruction throughout the university."
Rocklin says the balance between research and teaching may have tipped
too far toward research since World War II but that doesn't mean teaching
has been ignored.
"There are a lot of excellent teachers here," he says. "What
the University lacked was the mechanism to talk about teaching and to share
ideas and interest in teaching."
He hopes debate moves beyond "teaching vs. research." "If
we do our jobs well, we'll start thinking about them as integrated, and
we'll start thinking about our jobs in terms of 'knowledge' rather than
in terms of teaching and research," Rocklin says.
Since last fall, the center has begun a number of initiatives, including:
-- A series of brown bag lunches for faculty and graduate students to
discuss issues surrounding teaching; an electronic discussion group that
currently has about 125 regular subscribers; a newsletter that goes to
4,000 faculty and teaching assistants every other month; a series of papers
on issues in teaching also is being published.
-- Regular workshops on topics such as technology in instruction, teaching
basics (for TAs), using active learning techniques in large classes, and
-- Individual, confidential consultations; training, evaluation, and
critiques of teaching for individual faculty and graduate students; and
help in locating resources of interest to individual faculty.
-- The first Norwest Bank Summer Fellowships for Curriculum Innovation
for three faculty in summer 1996.
-- Plans are under way to offer a new initiative this summer to lead
workshops on the use of technology for 100 faculty members.
Lieberg, who leads some of the center's sessions on teaching skills,
says one of the center's goals is to give teachers new ideas.
"A lot of what we have been bringing people are things they haven't
been doing at all, or didn't know they could be doing," Lieberg says.
"It's not an oppositional attitude. We have time to mine resources
for helpful ideas."
Rocklin says the center also tries to give teachers a framework to improve
their skills, rather than to giving a "one-size-fits-all" solution.
"Quality teaching can only be defined within disciplines,"
Rocklin says. "What works well in physics won't work well in music,
and something else entirely will be needed in mathematics."
He likens the craft to cooking."Faculty are bright, talented people.
You don't have to give them the recipe. You tell them which ingredients
might be relevant and then they make their own dish."