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Teaching at Vanderbilt: A Dean’s Perspective

Posted by on Wednesday, May 8, 2013 in News.

by CFT Director Derek Bruff

Last Friday, the Center for Teaching and the Graduate School honored the achievements of the Vanderbilt teaching community at our annual Celebration of Teaching, held this year at the Commons Center. We expanded the event for 2013 to include a variety of panels and presentations throughout the day featuring successes, innovations, and research in teaching and learning. We’ll recap several of those sessions here on the blog in the next week or two. Today, I’d like to share a few highlights from our lunch session, which featured a panel of three deans.

Carolyn Dever, Dean of the College of Arts & Science, spoke first, and pointed to a few features she sees in the teaching landscape in A&S. She noted that changing technologies are providing new options for teaching and learning in and out of the classroom, arguing that we need to uses these technologies in ways that enhance, not distract from, the teaching that we do. Dean Dever also shared a trend she has seen lately in course evaluation data: For some courses, students rate the instructor very highly while rating the course somewhat lower. Dean Dever hypothesized that this may indicate that we instructors need to rethink some of our courses to meet the expectations of the very capable students Vanderbilt now attracts. Finally, Dean Dever emphasized the importance of preparing our doctoral students for their future faculty teaching roles.

Bonnie Miller, Senior Associate Dean for Health Sciences Education, also mentioned changing technologies as an opportunity to enhance teaching effectiveness.  When students have quick access to information on their smart phones and tablets, how should our learning goals for those students change? Dean Miller emphasized the need to help our students become lifelong learners, particularly in the rapidly changing field of medicine. She also pointed to some of the non-classroom contexts relevant to medical education, from teaching in the clinic (while simultaneously caring for patients) to helping future doctors learn how to support patient care outside the hospital. These aspects of medical education have motivated much of the curriculum change at the School of Medicine that Dean Miller has helped lead.

Camilla Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development, offered her perspective on teaching and learning at Peabody. Dean Benbow echoed Dean Dever’s call to prepare graduate students for future faculty teaching roles, noting that our faculty must do this alongside the excellent preparation they provide doctoral students in research. Dean Benbow also praised our undergraduates for their intellectual curiosity and argued that meeting the academic needs of these students requires faculty to “go deeper” with their teaching. Meeting those needs occurs outside of the classroom, too. The dean noted that advising is a form of teaching and, as such, is a part of our educational mission that deserves more attention.

Thanks to Deans Dever, Miller, and Benbow for sharing their perspectives on teaching at Vanderbilt and for expressing their support for the teaching mission of the university. You can read a bit more about the panel on MyVU.

Photo by Steve Green / Vanderbilt.

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