Articulating How Centers for Teaching and Learning Are Changing

Answers to 3 CTL questions from Vanderbilt’s Derek Bruff.

October 13, 2015

This week I asked 3 questions about the changing role of Centers for Teaching and Learning in higher education.

Question 1: Are Centers for Teaching and Learning gaining a greater thought leadership voice within individual campuses and across higher education?

Question 2:  How are CTL organizational structures and staffing levels changing?

Question 3: How is the relationship between CTL organizations and departments of Academic Computing changing?

Derek Bruff, Director of the Center for Teaching and a Senior Lecturer at Vanderbilt University, has some answers:

(Note…These thoughts from Derek are a bit expanded from his response in the comments section).

Derek writes:

A few thoughts, from my perspective as the director of a teaching center...

Q1:  Yes, I'm seeing more teaching centers "at the table" for discussions of institutional strategy and resourcing for teaching and learning. That's not universally true, in part because some teaching centers see themselves as safe havens of a sort--places where faculty members can come to get advice on teaching without administrative oversight. It's important to have such places on campus, but too much of that thinking can leave teaching centers at the periphery of campus, figuratively speaking.

One challenge for teaching centers is to continue providing safe spaces for professional development, while also partnering with university leaders to create campus environments more supportive of teaching excellence. Many are navigating this well, but it's a challenge in some cases.

A related shift I’ve noticed in teaching centers is a move away from working almost exclusively with individual instructors on their teaching, and towards working with departments, schools, and other units.  I don’t know of teaching centers that are giving up individual consultations, but many, including mine, are expanding their reach and impact by partnering with department chairs and school deans to support curricular initiatives.

Q2 & Q3:  I'll address these together, because it's in the area of educational technology that I see the most changes to teaching center staffing and structures.

There's something of a continuum here. At one end, you have centers like mine that have expanded staffing and responsibilities in recent months to include educational technology. We're now the administrative home for our course management system, and we've staffed up to provide both support and outreach for the CMS. These administrative and support roles are new ones for my center.

At the other end, I've seen one or two teaching centers absorbed by technology units, perhaps to the detriment of the teaching center's resourcing and mission. Somewhere in the middle, you have instances where a teaching center and an academic technology center have been merged. That's a tough situation to navigate, but I've seen units come out stronger for the merging. And, in some places, teaching centers and technology units co-exist side-by-side, sometimes cooperating well, sometimes more uneasily.

I don't think we have data on changes to teaching center staffing and organization--yet. But that's the kind of data that POD Network members have collected and analyzed in the past. I'm heading to San Francisco for the POD conference, so I'll keep an eye out for new reports!

What do you think of Derek’s answers?

Do you want to take another shot at addressing these questions?

What would be the best format to have a larger discussion outside (but including) the CTL community on the changing (and growing) strategic impact of CTL’s on campus?

What do you think of the practice of taking the most substantive comments and turning them into “guest posts” that we can discuss?



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