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From the Director

Posted by on Friday, August 3, 2012 in Commentary.

It’s been fascinating in recent weeks to read story after story about open, online education.  Last spring, online courses at a handful of universities attracted hundreds of thousands of students.  This summer brought news of more institutions experimenting in this arena, partnering with online education companies to do so.  All this buzz has led to important conversations about the nature of learning and the kinds of teaching methods that promote it.  The focus on learning, particularly the learning of those students already enrolled in a university, is sometimes lost in the noise about online education, but student learning is front and center in the work of the CFT.

I sometimes joke that we don’t care about learning here—we’re called the Center for Teaching, not the Center for Learning, after all.  But we know that the objective of teaching is student learning.  The CFT works with faculty, students, and staff all across campus to support the teaching-learning mission of the university.  How can we help students engage in deep learning within a discipline?  How can we help them synthesize ideas and perspectives across courses and disciplines?  And how can we motivate and equip students to become active participants in their own learning? These are the questions we tackle in a variety of ways here at Vanderbilt.

This fall, for instance, we’re exploring with the Vanderbilt teaching community ways that…

  • community engagement can lead to more meaningful learning experiences for students,
  • course blogs and other social media can motivate students by connecting their work with authentic audiences,
  • issues of difference and power in the curriculum and classroom can be navigated productively, and
  • foundational teaching skills such as discussion-leading and lecturing can create active learning environments in the classroom.

We’re also working to make student learning more visible on campus, so that we can learn from our students about practices and structures that encourage deep, integrative learning.

More immediately, we’ll be welcoming to campus new faculty and teaching assistants and helping them to facilitate student learning in the Vanderbilt context.  Teaching at Vanderbilt, our new faculty orientation, will be held Wednesday, August 15th, with Teaching Assistant Orientation scheduled the next day, August 16th.  And our online guide, Getting Started Teaching at Vanderbilt, is packed with practical information and is available to instructors both new and returning.

Speaking of those new to Vanderbilt, I’m very happy to share that Cynthia Brame has joined our staff as an assistant director and liaison to the sciences and engineering.  Cynthia comes to us from a faculty position at Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, and brings with her strong skills in course and curriculum design, inquiry-based teaching, and undergraduate research, among other areas of expertise.

My colleagues and I welcome the chance to meet with you on an individual basis, to discuss any aspect of your teaching or your students’ learning.  We hope you had an enjoyable and productive summer, and we look forward to an exciting fall semester.

Derek Bruff
Director, Center for Teaching

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