From the Director: Students as Producers in 2013-14
by Derek Bruff, CFT Director
This summer I’ve been reading College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be by Columbia University humanities professor Andrew Delbanco. The book is this year’s Commons Reading, and I hope it generates thoughtful conversations among the Class of 2017 about the college experience they begin this fall. Between Delbanco’s book and our Chancellor’s recent challenge to consider the possibilities of residential education at a research university, I’ve been thinking about the purpose of an education at a place like Vanderbilt. Our world faces significant challenges—global warming, waning resources, public health concerns—and we need bright, informed people equipped to help us address those challenges. A university is a place where this equipping can take place, where students are prepared to solve tough problems, create new knowledge, and build technologies and organizations that make a difference.
In the coming year, the Center for Teaching will share and explore ways that instructors can teach for this kind of learning as part of our “Students as Producers” theme year. Students, particularly undergraduates, are often seen as “consumers” of knowledge, memorizing information delivered to them by professors during class and then simply repeating it back on exams and essays. But we know that they can be “producers” of knowledge, as well, capable of generating meaningful, creative work, even within the confines of a semester-long course. This theme points to ways students can become more active participants in their own learning and construct their own meaning and understanding within and across disciplines. Look for a number of events and resources from the CFT this year exploring “production” activities that can be embedded in a variety of courses, such as writing projects, digital stories, design projects, service learning, and research endeavors.
More immediately, we’ll be welcoming to campus new faculty and teaching assistants and helping them think about ways to foster student learning in their classrooms. Teaching Assistant Orientation will be held on Wednesday, August 14th, with Teaching at Vanderbilt, our new faculty orientation, held the next day, August 15th. Also, our online guide, Getting Started Teaching at Vanderbilt, is packed with practical information and is available to instructors to both new and returning. We’re also hosting three workshops for new and returning faculty early next week on leading discussions, “flipping” the classroom, and teaching with blogs.
Speaking of welcoming, I’m happy to welcome to the Center for Teaching our new program coordinator, Tracy Tveit. Tracy comes to us from Vanderbilt’s Department of Cancer Biology, where she was the graduate program education coordinator. At the CFT, Tracy will work with our senior staff to coordinate events and programs for graduate students and faculty, including orientations, workshops, and ongoing programs like our Certificate in College Teaching. We’re very excited to have Tracy on the team.
Here’s to an exciting fall semester!