CMNS Teaching and Learning Center

Our Teaching and Learning Center supports discipline-based professional development programs for faculty and graduate students according to their needs.

University of Maryland-College Park
Established: 2006

Profile submitted by Gili Marbach-Ad

Vision and Goals

The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) ( primarily serves faculty and Graduate Teaching Assistants in the chemical and biological sciences. Its overarching goals are to (1) provide opportunities for science faculty to collaborate and consult with science education experts, (2) make training in teaching science part of the standard graduate program alongside training in scientific research, and (3) create a structured environment of teaching and learning communities to support faculty and graduate students in their efforts to identify appropriate content and adopt effective pedagogies. To accomplish these goals, the TLC provides a wide variety of resources and support to faculty and GTAs, while continuously evaluating their needs and the effectiveness of resources provided.

Center/Program Structure

The CMNS TLC is nested in the college of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences. Currently it serves the ten departments in the College. The TLC works closely with the campus-wide Center for Teaching Excellence and the Office for Information Technology so as to extend, rather than duplicate, their efforts. The TLC is staffed by two individuals. The Director (a full-time position) is a science educator by training and serves as a bridge between the disciplines of science and education. She develops programming, teaches graduate courses in pedagogy and instruction, and provides individualized guidance to faculty. A graduate assistant provides additional support with program development and assessment. Importantly, the TLC also relies on the engagement of faculty members from across the College, especially lecturers, who are taking major roles in leading faculty learning communities and helping to create systematic mentoring programs. Most significantly, the TLC has catalyzed the establishment of a variety of faculty teaching and learning communities that facilitate curriculum redesign and support faculty in their efforts to adopt innovative teaching strategies.

Are there advantages of being structured this way?
There are advantages to a TLC nested in the College:

  1. Allows the TLC to be discipline-based
  2. The director can have closer relationships with department chairs and faculty members
  3. More personalized preparation courses for graduate teaching assistants

Are there particular challenges that result from this structure?
No particular challenges.

Center Funding

The center was established in 2006 with full support provided by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Undergraduate Science Education Program. This support paid for 1) the salary of the director and 2) activities offered by the center (e.g., Teacher/Scholar visiting faculty, workshops, small grants, travel). In 2010, the Teaching and Learning Center received additional support from the National Science Foundation (CCLI-TYPE 1), which supported a graduate assistant and covered some activities previously supported by HHMI. In 2014, at the end of the NSF and HHMI funding cycles, the majority of the center support moved to the College budget. Currently, the director receives partial support (~5-10%) from other external grants.

How has this funding structure influenced the undergraduate STEM education programming the center offers?
The center offers professional development activities (workshops, prep courses, individual consultations, learning communities) to the College faculty members and graduate students. As a result, faculty members and graduate students are changing their teaching approaches (curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment).

While grant funded, the center focused specifically on the disciplines of biology and chemistry. With the transition to College support, the disciplines supported expanded to encompass mathematics, physics, geology, astronomy, atmospheric and oceanic sciences, and computer science in addition to the original disciplines.

What are the specific advantages of having a center funded in this way?
The advantage of moving from external grants to internal funding sources are:

  1. More security for long-term functioning of the center (sustainability)
  2. More flexibility to make decisions that align with goals of the College (rather than goals of external funding agencies)

What are the challenges?
With multiple funding sources, staff can feel they are "spread thin" over multiple projects.

Has this funding structure has changed over time?
See above.

Description of Programming

The TLC offers a variety of enrichment activities open to the College community. This menu of opportunities for faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and GTAs provides a venue to learn more about effective teaching practices and foster dialogue about teaching and learning. The primary components of the enrichment programs are teaching and learning workshops, visiting teacher/scholar role models, and funding for participation in outside conferences. In developing these enrichment programs, we deliberately use an organizational model that parallels the practice of science, making it familiar and accessible to science faculty. Faculty can attend workshops to learn new skills. They can learn about current developments in science education and interact with the broader science education community by attending national conferences and seminars by visiting experts.

In addition to the enrichment programs that are generalized to broad audiences within the College, the TLC offers one-on-one support in response to the specific needs of individual faculty. In many cases, the consulting relationship begins with an individual faculty member coming to the TLC director with a specific question about a course that he or she is teaching. TLC staff then offer highly individualized support on topics including changing course curriculum, implementing new pedagogies appropriate to the course content and the instructor's strengths, reviewing student course evaluations and responding to issues raised in those evaluations, designing formative and summative assessment tools, and observing classes to provide constructive feedback. All new faculty members participate in a short workshop to open communication with the TLC, provide an overview of pedagogical approaches in the sciences, and introduce them to other resources for teaching and learning. They receive a welcome basket that includes material with information on teaching and learning. The TLC also promotes and supports faculty involvement in a variety of faculty learning communities (FLCs) that facilitate curricular redesign and support faculty in their efforts to adopt innovative teaching strategies. Our support program for graduate students includes components that are required for all new GTAs in the College (six week mandatory course) and optional components for graduate students with an interest in teaching and learning, that includes: participation in workshop and seminars, enrolling in a 2 credit science education course, observing classes, mentoring, creating teaching portfolio and participating in a teaching and learning project.

Successes and Impacts

The impact of the TLC on faculty teaching and student learning is evaluated through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, including surveys, concept inventories, focus groups and interviews. Our survey data indicate that Faculty Learning Communities are a highly effective means of encouraging effective teaching practices. Faculty who participated in communities were more likely to use student-centered instructional approaches than those who were not in communities. In terms of graduate students professional development, our research demonstrates that, on average, chemistry GTAs who had completed the preparatory courses received significantly higher scores in the university student evaluation process on measures such as effective teaching, respecting students, and the instructor's level of preparation for course sessions than the previous cohort of new GTAs (who had not completed a preparatory course). The GTAs who participated in the preparatory course also indicated that they found the course to be valuable. Faculty Leaning Communities are developing their own concept inventories and assessments of student learning, which collectively provide additional support for the impact of evidence-based teaching methods on improving student conceptual understanding, scientific skill development, and attitudes toward interdisciplinary thinking.

Evaluation and Assessment

In order to create appropriate programming for the stakeholders, we are doing needs assessment (surveys and interviews with faculty members, administrators, graduate students to learn about areas of need).

In order to assess the value of our program components, we use Colbeck's model for evaluating professional development programs to improve teaching and learning. This includes the following five levels of evaluation.

  1. Participation
  2. Satisfaction
  3. Learning
  4. Application
  5. Impact

We collect data on these five levels through surveys, interviews, class observations. We publish the results through conferences and papers in science education journals. We provide yearly reports to funding agencies.

Elements Contributing to Success

The success of the TLC has been facilitated by many factors. There has been widespread college and campus support for national efforts to reform the undergraduate curriculum to more closely reflect the way that science is practiced, and with that has come a greater appreciation for teaching methods that actively engage students in learning. There has also been growing recognition of the need for more formal preparation in teaching for graduate students. The TLC helps to fill both needs and is perceived as a valuable resource by both faculty and administrators. Indeed, the strong and vocal support of the dean and department chairs has been instrumental in encouraging faculty involvement in TLC activities. The mission of the TLC has been achieved through a combination of external grant funding (primarily the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Science Foundation) and internal support from the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences. Finally, we believe that having explicit ties to the discipline and recognizing the importance of Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) are critical to the success of the TLC and its perceived value among faculty.

Supplemental Materials

Essay: Evaluation and Assessment - Gili Marbach-Ad, CMNS Teaching and Learning Center, University of Maryland-College Park