August 25, 2011 — English professor Stephen Arata received one of the first fellowships the University of Virginia's Teaching Resource Center offered in 1992, intended to create an interdisciplinary community focused on teaching.
Landscape architecture professor Elizabeth Meyer, another faculty member who became part of that community, went to the center for mentoring and has continued to be a mentor up to the present.
Now they are among a group of 37 experienced faculty members participating in the University Academy of Teaching, a new program of U.Va.'s Teaching Resource Center that aims to provide an arena for faculty to focus on the "big questions in teaching and learning," center director Marva Barnett said. The program will bring together master teachers who have already helped others reach a higher level of excellence, and who are interested in offering their expertise to colleagues across Grounds.
The inaugural group invited to join the academy includes faculty members who have given back to U.Va. either through Teaching Resource Center programs or within their schools or disciplines, and who are regarded as master teachers. Most have received University-wide teaching awards.
Barnett calls the group "change leaders," saying, "The academy formalizes contributions faculty members have been making in sharing their expertise in different ways."
The Academy of Teaching leverages this corps of master teachers to maintain and enhance the quality of the undergraduate experience through great teaching, providing opportunities for professional development even during financially austere times like these, she said.
U.Va.'s enrollment is growing at a time when the number of faculty has decreased, providing another reason to enhance the emphasis on teaching, associate director Judith Reagan said.
Hiring should soon pick up, according to a recent blog post by College of Arts & Sciences Dean Meredith Woo. Wayne Cozart, executive director of the Jefferson Trust – which backed the academy with a $49,000 grant – mentioned Woo's online discussion when he spoke at an Academy of Teaching reception Thursday.
Cozart and Milton Adams, interim executive vice president and provost, offered remarks as the academy and its new members were introduced.
The Jefferson Trust is an unrestricted endowment initiative of the Alumni Association that provides funding to University projects "with the intent of enhancing the University's margin of excellence," its website says. The Teaching Resource Center and the provost's office are also supporting the project.
"This is exactly the kind of program the Jefferson Trust wants to foster," Cozart said. For many alumni, the excellence of the faculty is the most important factor in their view of U.Va., he said.
"We are very gratified to have received Jefferson Trust funds in support of it for this year and next," Barnett said.
|Inaugural Members of the University Academy of Teaching
* Academy of Teaching Advisory Board members
In Woo's blog, she said the number of retiring faculty will require a lot of new hires, Cozart pointed out, making the Teaching Resource Center more relevant than ever.
Adams emphasized "the joint mission of research and teaching" by mentioning a study published that same day in the journal Science by David Feldon, an assistant professor in the Curry School of Education, that found graduate science and engineering students' research skills improved if they had also been teaching.
The academy offers several ways for its members to share their expertise and passion for the classroom. They may choose to apply for any of a suite of programs, which come with different levels of stipends and resource funding, from $1,000 to $7,000, Barnett said.
In "Teaching Partnerships," members will work one-on-one with professors who would like to expand or improve their teaching skills. "Grants for Learning" will support targeted pedagogical projects, such as departmental or interdisciplinary learning communities, reading groups or lunch discussions. Academy members may apply to undertake a "Fellowship Project," which has a broad scope, involves groups of instructors and promises results that will be disseminated at U.Va. and beyond.
In addition, members will each choose an associate – a less experienced faculty member who may be from the same department or not – to work with in an informal way on teaching topics they mutually determine would be helpful.
Many academy members have benefitted from the center's programs and demonstrated their ability to communicate their skills in facilitating students' learning.
John Dobbins, professor of Roman art and archaeology in the College's McIntire Department of Art, wanted to make his large classes more interactive and work more closely with graduate teaching assistants. As director of the Pompeii Forum Project and now NEH Mayo Distinguished Teaching Professor, he has participated in center fellowships, workshops and mentoring programs.
Archie Holmes, a professor in the Engineering School's Charles L. Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, also wanted to increase student participation in his big classes. He used the center's "Teaching Analysis Poll" to solicit student feedback and said he now creates small groups and partnerships among his 120 to 140 students.
Carolyn Callahan, Commonwealth Professor of Education and a leader in gifted education in the Curry School, turned to the center to develop a program on college teaching for a group of visiting professors from King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia.
"I want to do something that matters, that'll be useful," she said of joining the academy.
Dr. Eugene Corbett joined the Medical School faculty after 12 years of private practice as a general practitioner and was a little rusty on teaching skills. He has now been teaching medical residents and nursing students for more than a decade. Through the Teaching Resource Center, he designed his teaching portfolio, signed up for workshops and went on to participate in national medical education programs.
"It turned me on to teaching," he said. He said he found his niche – helping improve teaching and learning in the high-pressure environment of academic medicine, which often stresses research and clinical practice. "I love good teaching. I believe there's a good teacher in everyone," he said.
The center plans a call for nominations and self-nominations for five to 10 new members in the spring. Those who join the Academy of Teaching remain members for life, but are not expected to be active continuously. Faculty interested in academy membership should contact Reagan, firstname.lastname@example.org or 434-982-2867, or Barnett, email@example.com or 434-982-2816, at the Teaching Resource Center.