Author Profile

The Teaching Center

The mission of the Washington University Teaching Center is to advance teaching and learning by integrating pedagogy and scholarship with classroom design.

Washington University in St. Louis
Established: 1990

Profile submitted by Regina Frey

Vision and Goals

The mission of the Washington University Teaching Center is to foster excellence in teaching and learning by integrating pedagogy and scholarship with classroom design. This unique approach allows The Teaching Center to develop and support the methods, tools, and physical spaces that can improve student learning. The Teaching Center serves all schools at Washington University.

Our integrative approach involves collaborating with faculty to design and evaluate effective pedagogy; advancing the scholarship of teaching and learning via collaborations with faculty and University centers; providing formalized, multi-disciplinary training in pedagogy for teaching assistants and future faculty; and designing and supporting well-equipped, intuitive classrooms.

The first three of these four areas are the focus of the professional staff in the Academic Services section. The fourth area is the focus of the Classroom Services section. Teaching Center staff in both sections collaborate frequently to ensure that all aspects of our work are informed by knowledge about the best practices in teaching, instructional technology and other tools that can support teaching and learning, and a shared commitment to Washington University's mission of excellence in teaching, learning, and research.

Center/Program Structure

The Teaching Center reports to the Office of the Provost. The Teaching Center has two main areas: Academic Services and Classroom Support. Both of these areas report to Gina Frey (Executive Director, Florence E. Moog Professor of STEM Education, Chemistry; co-Director of the Center for Integrative Research in Cognition, Learning, and Education (CIRCLE)). The Academic Services has 6.5 FTEs, all of whom are Ph.D.s and teach every year. The staff is multi-disciplinary with Ph.D.'s from Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Humanities, and the Social Sciences. Because of the strong emphasis on STEM at Washington University, slightly more than half are in STEM disciplines. The Classroom Services has 5 FTEs, all have a masters-level education from varied technical and business disciplines. In addition, we have an administrative coordinator.

The Academic Services staff members represent a wide range of teaching experience and expertise. Each year, they interact closely with students by teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in the Arts & Sciences curriculum; by serving as academic advisors, mentors, and teaching consultants; and by participating in other University programs and committees. Examples of University committees are the University Committee on Assessment of Student Learning, the Teaching and Professional Development Committee of the Graduate Council, the University Steering Committee for Blackboard Learning Management System, the Washington University's HHMI Advisory Committee for Undergraduate STEM Education, the Association of American Universities STEM Initiative Steering Committee for Washington University, the Chancellor's Committee on University Policy and Practice Affecting Students with Disabilities, and the Classroom Strategic Planning Committee.

Our staff collaborates extensively with faculty and staff from many of the schools at Washington University and centers such as the Student Learning Center, the University Libraries, Information Services & Technology (IS&T), the Writing Center, CIRCLE, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, and the Institute for School Partnership. The faculty with whom we currently collaborate are from the following departments and schools: biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, education, and women, gender, & sexuality studies, the School of Engineering (especially biomedical), and the Medical School. We also participate in external collaborations such as CIRTL(Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning) National Network for STEM Future Faculty, National POGIL Project, PLTL International Society, and POD (national faculty-development organization).

These collaborations include projects focused on developing, implementing, and evaluating outreach programs, supplemental academic-support programs, and pedagogical techniques in classes (including those that utilize collaborative learning and instructional technology). Hence, the formal study of pedagogy is an integral part of The Teaching Center's mission. Currently our scholarship focuses on the following broad areas: STEM education, faculty and graduate-student development (including faculty development of the scholarship on teaching and learning), and digital pedagogy.

Description of Programming

The philosophy behind our faculty and graduate-student development programs is guided by the integration of scholarship, learning communities, and structured learning opportunities. We give workshops on a variety of topics for audiences ranging from faculty in multiple disciplines, assistant professors, STEM faculty, and medical-school faculty. Our consultations are individual and group, and involve working with faculty on incorporating different pedagogical methods into their courses (for example, active learning, group work, and teaching writing in the disciplines). In addition, we consult with faculty on designing education-research projects. We have also started several learning communities for faculty, such as our STEM Education Research Group.

We bring this same philosophy to our professional-development programs for graduate students. We have multiple tiers of workshops: TA-training workshop series, advanced-level multi-disciplinary workshop series, and a STEM pedagogy series. We have a Teaching-Citation program, which focuses on gaining teaching experiences, and a Preparation in Pedagogy program, which focuses on gaining knowledge about a variety of pedagogical methods. One of most successful graduate-student programs is our WU-CIRTL program, which is designed to create a learning community focused on improving teaching and learning in STEM. This program comprises STEM-pedagogical workshops, a teaching-as-research graduate course, a teaching-as-research internship, and evaluated teaching opportunities.

We collaborate with departments on curricular initiatives focused predominately on introductory undergraduate STEM education, especially in collaborative-learning techniques such as peer-led team learning (PLTL) and process-oriented, guided inquiry learning (POGIL), and active-learning techniques, such as the use of personal response systems (clickers). Collaboration in advanced-level STEM courses involves incorporating and evaluating technology and in-class active-learning activities, as well as guided-inquiry, research-based laboratory experiments. We are part of the following external grants: HHMI undergraduate education grant, AAU STEM initiative grant, LUCE consortium grant, and the CIRTL NSF grant.

For a given year, the total participation number for faculty in our faculty programs (workshops, consultations, learning communities, and scholarship projects) per year is over 1000 faculty. For a given year, the total participation number for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows is over 1800; approximately 90% of which are graduate students. For a given year, the number of undergraduates at Washington University who are affected by our work in our scholarship projects is over 2500.

Successes and Impacts

Success in undergraduate STEM program (PLTL):

In 2001, we launched and have continued to support the Peer-led Team Learning (PLTL) program in General Chemistry at Washington University. We studied the effectiveness of our General Chemistry PLTL program and published the results in the Journal of Chemical Education. In 2004, we helped launch, and subsequently trained the faculty involved in, the PLTL program in our 3-semester calculus series. In 2008, we consulted with our Engineering School during the developing and implementing of their Problem-Solving Teams program, which is based on the PLTL methodology, in biomedical engineering and chemical engineering.

In 2003, we developed, and now co-teach two complementary peer-leader training courses; our PLTL leaders take a semester-long training course on facilitation and group dynamics and a second course to continue refining their facilitation skills and hone their knowledge of the course material and problem-solving ability in the subsequent semesters. Outside of Washington University, we have consulted with, and in some cases helped implement and initially train their peer leaders, at numerous research and liberal-arts institutions.

For General Chemistry, there are approximately 670 students in PLTL each semester; hence, over the course of this program, over 13,000 undergraduates have participated in this PLTL program. In addition, over 600 peer leaders for General Chemistry have been trained. In the calculus series, the total number of undergraduates who have participated in PLTL is approximately 5400.

Success in graduate-student professional development program (WU-CIRTL):

One of our most successful graduate-student professional-development programs is our WU-CIRTL program, which is designed to create a learning community focused on improving teaching and learning in STEM. This program comprises STEM-pedagogical workshops, teaching-as-research graduate course, teaching-as-research internship (WU-STAR), and evaluated teaching opportunities. CIRTL (The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning) is a national network of universities dedicated to preparing future faculty who will be equipped to meet the challenges of improving learning and increasing diversity in STEM. In May 2011, Kathy Miller (Professor and Chair, Biology) led an effort collaborating with The Teaching Center and faculty from across the STEM disciplines to apply for inclusion in the CIRTL Network, and in late summer 2011, the Network expanded to 23 universities, including Washington University. K. Miller is the Institutional Leader on the Washington University CIRTL program, R. Frey is the administrative co-leader, and B. Fisher is a key person in the designing, implementing, and managing of the WU-CIRTL program and interacting with the national CIRTL network.

Since 2011, we have had a total attendance of approximately 400 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows participating in our STEM Pedagogy workshops. These workshops are supported, in part, by the University's multi-year grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HMMI). These participants come from all STEM fields in both Arts & Sciences and Engineering Schools. There have been 144 unique attendees since the series began: 87 graduate students and 57 postdocs. One third (34%) have taken multiple workshops; 10% have participated 4 or more workshops.

The Introduction to Teaching as Research graduate course was developed and taught by The Teaching Center for the first time this past spring and had full enrollment with 12 students (8 graduate students and 4 postdocs). The WU-STAR internship was piloted in 2011-2012 with four graduate students; formalized in fall 2012, three graduate students participated during the 2012-2013 academic year. The internship stipend is supported by the HHMI grant.

Elements Contributing to Success

Three factors contribute to our center's success:

  1. The first is our philosophy of integrating scholarship of teaching and learning, learning communities, and structured learning opportunities, which is described above.
  2. The second is the culture of collaboration we have that brings together four groups of experts at Washington University: Teaching Center staff, researchers in the learning sciences, researchers in cognitive science, and faculty teaching in the disciplines. Each group brings expertise that is essential to a shared goal of improving teaching and learning in higher education. Teaching Center staff—PhDs in the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities—bring expertise in the scholarship of teaching and learning, and in designing, implementing, and assessing pedagogy across the disciplines. Learning scientists bring knowledge of research on how to design and assess curricula and classrooms that promote learning. Cognitive scientists bring conceptual models of learning that are derived from experimental research in the laboratory. Faculty teaching in the disciplines bring knowledge of specific teaching and learning challenges, drawn from their experiences designing and teaching courses, and from their knowledge of discipline-specific educational research and SoTL. This collaboration has allowed us to develop an approach for disseminating research on learning to faculty, and working with faculty to help them develop, implement, and assess pedagogical modifications based on this research. It has also allowed us to develop learning communities for faculty with specific foci.
  3. The broad expertise of the Academic Services staff and their experience in undergraduate teaching and scholarship leads faculty from all schools to value their interaction with Teaching Center staff.

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