Teaching and learning support- an institutional perspective
The Educationalist. By Alexandra Mihai
Welcome to a new issue of “The Educationalist”! I hope you had a good summer break and feel ready for a new Academic Year that seems, unfortunately, to be as filled with uncertainty as the previous year- if not more. Over the summer I’ve collected and published some more useful resources from my guests (links below), which I hope will provide you with some inspiration for this new start. This week I’d like to address a topic that has been on my mind both before the pandemic and even more so during the prolonged emergency response to Covid-19: the role of Centres for Teaching and Learning (CTLs). I’m reflecting on their institutional position and role(s) and, more importantly, sharing some of my thoughts on where I see them heading in the near future. As always, I’ve also put together some resources in case you want to go deeper on the topic. I hope you enjoy reading and look forward to your comments!
Centres for Teaching & Learning
Faculty development and support is a very diverse topic and universities have established different types of structures to address the existing needs. The amount of human and financial resources allocated for this purpose differs largely, so we are dealing with a very diverse landscape, where some universities have one or two people (sometimes formally calling themselves a Centre) doing educational development work, some have none- or at least had none before the pandemic, and other, (usually) larger universities have sizeable teams in charge of teaching and learning support. Beside coming in different shapes, these units also come under a variety of names, such as Centre for Teaching Innovation, Centre for Educational Development, Learning Academy, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation, etc.
The way faculty development and support is organised is very context-specific. Some universities have dedicated Teaching and Learning Centres at central level, while some others take a more decentralised approach, leaving it to faculty or department level. In some cases, structures at both levels coexist and share the workload, albeit not always in the most efficient manner. Moreover, some CTLs are actually research departments (like in my case at the Department of Educational Research and Development (ERD), School of Business and Economics, at Maastricht University); this gives them the advantage of being embedded in the faculty structures, as well as being able to create synergies between evidence-based research and the faculty development work.
In some universities the teams specialised in digital education are part of these Centres, in other cases they belong to the central information services. In the latter case this means that while people working in the CTLs are part of the academic side (or at least somehow embedded into it), digital education teams are part of the administration. This adds an extra level of complexity to their interactions, not least because of the perceptions (and expectations) regarding their roles.
Role(s) and mission
The diversity in structure and position within the university results in a variety of mandates for the CTLs. I’ll try to summarise some of their roles, but this is by no means an exhaustive list and each CTL focuses on one or more of these roles, according to context and resources:
Faculty development: everything that has to do with professional development, taking different formats, both formal and informal: workshops, coaching, mentoring, resource creation, etc;
Educational development: working together with faculty on course design and, at programme level, with faculty teams on curriculum design. I wrote more about this type of partnerships here and here;
Support: this is something like a “fixer” role, providing troubleshooting on a variety of issues, ranging from learning design (e.g. alignment, assessment (re)design, etc) to technology-related issues in the case of online/ blended learning;
Inspiration: while a bit more vague, this role is extremely important: CTLs are also there to provide inspiration, through identifying and sharing good practice and facilitating peer learning.
Regardless of the role(s) they take on, one thing the CTLs have in common is the fact they bring together very diverse teams of professionals: educational developers, faculty developers, educational technologists, instructional designers, sometimes even faculty taking some time off teaching and/or passionate about this kind of work. This creates a very dynamic work atmosphere and accounts for a good mix of disciplines and perspectives that feeds into the different activities.
And the Covid-19 came…
The pandemic brought CTLs into the limelight, as first responders. Many institutions chose to reinforce their teaching support structures by adding resources and in some cases hiring more people on what we hope will become permanent positions. For some institutions this was actually the beginning of CTLs.
The rapid response to emergency remote teaching included, among others: producing huge amounts of resources, running numerous workshops- off the shelf and on demand, providing faculty with flexible drop-in sessions (more here). It was a mainly reactive approach to educational development, with CTLs seeing an increasing amount of requests coming their way, as they became a trustworthy and valuable partner for faculty in these uncertain times.
But this entire operation, still ongoing as the pandemic is not yet over, stretched even the better prepared CTLs to their limits, as they quickly had to scale up their activities and adapt to ever-changing circumstances. While their response has largely been deemed a success, it’s time to reflect on how we can build on what they achieved and turn it into sustainable educational development practice.
What’s next for CTLs?
I may not have a crystal ball to know for sure when the pandemic will be over (and even less how education will look like in its aftermath), but based on what I’ve observed in the past months, I think these are some of the things CTLs will be/ should be focusing on:
Moving beyond firefighting- being more proactive and thinking beyond the immediate needs; this links back to the “inspiration” role I mentioned above;
Working towards a more coherent faculty development offer (both on online and face-to-face learning and teaching), building on the resources and social capital already created;
Focusing on community-building (Communities of Practice)- facilitating peer support and sharing is, in my experience, one of the most effective forms of faculty development. You can find some ideas here and here;
Building networks- going beyond one’s immediate surroundings and creating links both locally and globally with similar Centres or teams; this often already happens at individual level, so it’s a matter of formalising and scaling these partnerships up. I put together a (growing) list of examples of inter-institutional partnerships in faculty development here).
If you want to read more about faculty development around the world, I kindly invite you to read the different stories on my blog; this series would not exist without the generous contributions of passionate educational developers from various corners of the world.
Whitepaper: Disruption in and by centres for teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic leading the future of Higher Ed- a study of 19 Centres for Teaching and Learning and equivalent teams from Canada, the USA, Lebanon, the UK and France about the practices they used to support online delivery of courses during the pandemic; the study also includes publicly shared resources from 78 CTLs in 68 universities from 23 countries;
The role of Centres for Teaching and Learning during Covid-19 – and beyond- commentary by Tony Bates one the above-mentioned study and the future roles of CTLs beyond the pandemic;
Supporting Academic Continuity by Building Community: The Work of a Faculty Development Center During COVID-19, by Linda C. Hodges, Jennifer M. Harrison, Kerrie Kephart, Sarah Swatski, and Tory H. Williams;
Investigating the Transition to Remote Teaching During COVID-19: Recommendations for Campus Leaders and Centers for Teaching and Learning, by Andrea Aebersold, Ashley Hooper, James J. Berg, Kameryn Denaro, Danny Mann, Leslie Ortquist-Ahrens, Brian Sato, & Mayank Verma;
Journal on Centres for Teaching and Learning- a very useful resource of academic articles on CTLs (where the above-mentioned 2 articles are published);
3 Questions for Caltech’s Cassandra Volpe Horii- an interview with Cassandra Volpe Horii about the role of CTLs within universities;
Crisis and Opportunity for Faculty Development- an interview with Jessamyn Neuhaus about the challenges and opportunities of running a small CTL with limited resources during the pandemic;
List of Teaching and Learning Centres of Twitter- a list of (currently) almost 200 centres from all over the world that support faculty on teaching and learning matters, including the use of technology and innovative teaching practices; they regularly post useful educational development resources.
What’s new @ The Educationalist?
During the summer I’ve been very happy to host one insightful guest posts and two podcasts on my blog, which I wholeheartedly invite you to read and listen:
Educators as human beings? Applying behaviour change science to teaching practice- an article where Dr. Danielle D’Lima from UCL provides some ideas on how to use behaviour change interventions to adapt and innovate teaching practice;
Part of the “Around the world” faculty development series:
“Around the world” podcast- Episode 1- Jessamyn Neuhaus- where we talk about Jessamyn’s approach to faculty development as a connector and curator and her personal experience before and during Covid-19;
“Around the world” podcast- Episode 2- Online Learning Toolkit (OLT)- where Judith Dutill and Melissa Wehler, co-creators of Online Learning Toolkit, offer some useful tips on how to support faculty beyond the pandemic, focusing on the community aspect.