From the CTE Staff
As we near the conclusion of the 2011-2012 academic year, we hope that you, your students, and your colleagues have been successful across all of your endeavors. In this installment of VCU Teaching, we highlight the types of discussions, programs, and services that the CTE and our partners have coordinated throughout the past year—whether offered through the Faculty Learning Communities (FLC) Program, the CTE Small Grants Program, or the CTE Brown Bag Lunch Series on Friday afternoons—as well as upcoming CTE Summer Institutes and activities for professional and personal renewal. Also featured are two reviews of recently-published, thought-provoking monographs, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (by Richard Arum and Joseph Roksa, 2011) and The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out (by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring, 2011), which have implications for the kinds of work that we do in our classrooms as well as in our departments, colleges, schools, and communities. These books challenge us to reflect upon (and possibly reconsider) our practices within the academy, especially given the economic and technological pressures that institutions of higher education continue to face.
It has, as far as we can tell, never been particularly easy to be a teacher in post-secondary classrooms. In the July/August 1994 issue of Change, William F. Massey, Andrea K. Wilger, and Carol Colbeck report on a large-scale study of conditions that limit or enhance departmental support for teaching. From their research, they found that three key features of academic departments constrain faculty in their ability to work together on teaching. First, fragmented communication patterns isolate individual faculty members and prevent them from interacting around issues of undergraduate [and graduate—Ed.] education. Second, tight resources limit opportunities and strain faculty relationships. Third, prevailing methods of evaluation and reward undermine attempts to create an environment more conducive to faculty interaction.
Isolated. Under-resourced. Unrecognized and unrewarded. These are characteristics that appear consistently in the literature—and, if we’re being completely honest, are likely sentiments that each of us feels from time to time—and faculty at institutions throughout the country continue to struggle against them.
There is some cause for optimism: at this institution, teaching and learning matter. Student success matters. VCU’s latest strategic plan, Quest for Distinction, notes that “as the premier urban, public research university in Virginia, VCU’s mission is to advance knowledge and student success through its commitment to an engaged, learner-centered environment that fosters inquiry, discovery and innovation in a global setting.” What is less immediately clear from this statement is how we come to understand which aspects of our teaching are contributing most substantively to this mission, and that clarity is something that we can grasp only when we push ourselves into venues where we can have deliberate conversations with others about our teaching and our students’ learning.
Over the last eleven years, one of our goals has been (and continues to be) to engage with schools, colleges, departments, and other student-success-related units to foster and sustain a culture of teaching excellence here at VCU—a goal that would be impossible to achieve without the commitment, persistence, and engagement of VCU faculty, staff, and graduate students who have partnered with the CTE. With this issue of VCU Teaching, we are, therefore, striving to highlight the people who have offered their time and expertise to make these various initiatives possible; if you have a chance to interact with any of the individuals who are recognized in VCU Teaching, please feel free to start (or continue) the conversation with them about teaching and learning at the University. On behalf of the entire CTE staff, we sincerely value the collective effort that you and your colleagues contribute to cross-campus dialogues around teaching and learning at VCU, and we remain enthusiastic about our opportunities to expand, sustain, and enhance this on-going conversation together.
Massey, W. F., Wilger, A. K., & Colbeck, C. (1994, July/August). Overcoming “hollowed” collegiality: Departmental cultures and teaching quality. Change, 26(4), 11-20. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost.