The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis
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
Profile submitted by Regina Frey, PhD, Executive Director of The Teaching Center, Florence E. Moog Professor of STEM Education, Associate Professor in Chemistry, co-Director of the Center for Integrative Research in Cognition, Learning and Education; Beth Fisher, PhD, Director of The Teaching Center, Lecturer in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies; Shawn Nordell, PhD, Senior Associate Director, The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis.
Vision and Goals
The mission of The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis 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.
The Academic Services has 9 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 and represents a wide range of teaching experience and expertise. Because of the strong emphasis on STEM at Washington University, slightly more than half are in STEM disciplines. 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, the Standing Committee on Facilitating Inclusive Classrooms, and the Classroom Strategic Planning Committee.
The Classroom Services has 5 FTEs, all have a bachelors and some have masters-level education from varied technical and business disciplines. The Classroom Services staff, led by the Director of Classroom Services, provides expert technical support to faculty and designs state-of-the-art classrooms in which technology is as easy to use as chalk and chalkboard. The Classroom Services staff provide support for approximately 130 University-managed classrooms and evaluates and improves the design of classrooms and classroom multimedia systems–including active-learning spaces, SMART Boards, tablet PCs, and document cameras.
Our staff collaborates extensively with faculty and staff from all schools at Washington University as well as centers such as the Center for Advanced Learning (Student Educational Services), the University Libraries, Information Services & Technology (IS&T), the Writing Center, the Center for Integrative Research in Cognition, Learning, and Education, the STEM Education Research Group, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Cornerstone, the Institute for School Partnership, and The Center for Diversity and Inclusion. 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). The Executive Director of The Teaching Center is also co-Director of the Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning and Education (CIRCLE). This close integration provides a bridge between The Teaching Center, Washington University faculty, and researchers in the cognitive and learning sciences that promotes the facilitation of collaborative projects to improve student learning.
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.
This direct integration of classroom and teaching support as well as research support allows The Teaching Center to be expeditious in its implementation of new classroom technology and get immediate feedback from its faculty constituents that allow for facile modifications to best suit the teaching and learning needs of students.
Are there advantages of being structured this way?
The Teaching Center focuses on three interconnected goals:
- Creating a collaborative teaching culture
- Advancing the scholarship of teaching and learning
- Designing flexible, intuitive classrooms
The integration of these three goals allows The Teaching Center to improve teaching and learning by combining expertise in pedagogy and scholarship with classroom design. The combination of academic services and classroom services is a somewhat unique and certainly advantageous organizational structure.
Classroom design is based on what works pedagogically now and in the future and is fully supported for faculty each and every day by Teaching Center staff. Academic Services staff also serve as instructors in courses in different disciplines, which allows them to have first-hand experience with teaching and instructional technology so that they can provide valuable feedback to Classroom Services staff on new classroom technology and pedagogies. By having The Teaching Center closely aligned with the CIRCLE Center, Teaching Center staff are involved in assessing teaching and learning and have access to recent research in cognitive science.
Are there particular challenges that result from this structure?
In order to keep The Teaching Center functioning as an integrated, cohesive, unit, clear and direct lines of communication must exist between both areas. The Director for Academic Services and the Director for Classroom Services each manages their group and their activities and report directly to the Executive Director. The dual role of Executive Director of The Teaching Center and Co-Director of the CIRCLE Center allows for the close integration of pedagogy and scholarship.
The mission of The Teaching Center at Washington University is to improve teaching and learning by integrating pedagogy and scholarship with classroom design. This integrative approach allows us to foster innovation in the classroom. Our programs and services focus on three interconnected areas:
- Creating a collaborative teaching culture
- Advancing the scholarship of teaching and learning
- Designing flexible, intuitive classrooms
We work with faculty from all schools at Washington University to design and evaluate evidence-based pedagogy. We also provide formalized training in effective teaching for graduate students and postdocs. Our multidisciplinary Academic Services staff brings varied and extensive teaching and research experience to their work with faculty, graduate students, and postdocs. Our Classroom Services staff provides expert technical support to faculty and designs state-of-the-art classrooms in which technology is as easy to use as chalk and chalkboard. Teaching Center staff in both areas collaborate with one another to ensure that all aspects of our work are informed by knowledge about best practices in teaching, instructional technology and other tools, and have a shared commitment to Washington University's mission of excellence in teaching, learning, and research.
The Teaching Center is funded directly by institutional/university support. The Teaching Center is part of the Central Fiscal Unit at Washington University; each school of the University contributes to support the Central Fiscal Unit for the running of The Teaching Center. There is no fee for Teaching Center services. Some scholarship and curricular-development projects are supported by external grants, including the funding of post-doctoral positions.
How has this funding structure influenced the undergraduate STEM education programming the center offers?
The funding of The Teaching Center from the Central Fiscal Unit of the University means that The University's priorities help to inform The Teaching Center's priorities. For example, one of the primary areas of focus of the University is the improvement of undergraduate STEM and pre-health education; therefore, this area is also a focus of Teaching Center efforts.
In the past two years, inclusive teaching and diversity has become a major focus for Washington University. The Teaching Center is an important player in bringing inclusive teaching and learning strategies to faculty, as well as to graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who are preparing for faculty positions. The goal of these programs is to ensure that different perspectives and backgrounds enrich teaching and learning at the University. The Teaching Center staff collaborate with the Office of the Provost, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the College of Arts & Sciences and the First Year Center also on the effort. The Teaching Center's programming explores research on diversity in higher education and aims to help faculty and graduate students develop teaching practices that foster inclusion and improve learning in all disciplines, including STEM disciplines. This focus on inclusive teaching and diversity has resulted in an increase in FTE in The Teaching Center staff.
Grant funding helps The Teaching Center develop, implement, and evaluate STEM education initiatives. For instance, funding from the Association of American Universities (AAU) Initiative to improve STEM education provides opportunities for sustained focus on the integration of active-learning approaches in our classrooms. Moreover, this funding is helping to create a culture of scholarly teaching by promoting discussions about teaching and learning across the STEM disciplines. Indeed, one of the most exciting aspects of the initiative is its emphasis on learning communities composed of faculty who come together within and across departments to study and discuss approaches to teaching.
What are the specific advantages of having a center funded in this way?
Because all schools contribute to the Central Fiscal Unit, The Teaching Center can reach out to and support faculty in all departments and schools. This structure creates opportunities for faculty to learn from colleagues across all disciplines and schools. Rather than supporting projects in "pockets," The Teaching Center supports the entire Washington University community of graduate students, post-docs, and faculty. The Teaching Center has extensive collaborations across disciplines.
What are the challenges?
The Teaching Center has been steadily funded since 1990 and there is assurance that this support will continue. The Teaching Center has been very successful in applying for and receiving external grant support from several private and governmental institutions and these have allowed The Teaching Center to pilot new initiatives. External grant support is never assured, but The Teaching Center will continue to apply for support for future initiatives.
Has this funding structure has changed over time?
The funding structure has not changed over time. The Teaching Center staff has increased in size due to the continued growth of the Center's programs. In addition, under the Executive Director's leadership, The Teaching Center has successfully gained external grant support that supports research on teaching and learning.
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.
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.
Graduate Student Training
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 predominantly 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: Great Lakes Higher Education Consortium, AAU STEM initiative grant, LUCE consortium grant, Tiegle Foundation, and the CIRTL NSF grant.
The CIRCLE Fellowship is a faculty-development program supported by the Washington University AAU initiative to improve undergraduate STEM Education. The CIRCLE Fellows program provides support for faculty who are incorporating active-learning approaches and other evidence-based strategies that can enhance student engagement and learning. A collaboration between Washington University STEM faculty, The Teaching Center, and the Center for the Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning and Education (CIRCLE), the fellowship is designed to cultivate scholarly teaching that spurs sustainable innovations in the University's classrooms and curricula.
The CIRCLE fellowship is a two-year commitment that brings in a new class of fellows each year. Fellows are either instructional teams who teach large, introductory courses, or colleagues who teach related courses in the STEM curriculum. This structure expands the learning community, fosters conversation about teaching across the STEM disciplines, and helps to sustain long-term curricular change. Each fellow receives a modest stipend for developing their teaching innovations and participating in the learning community over the two years of the Fellowship. CIRCLE Fellows work closely with staff at CIRCLE and The Teaching Center in designing, implementing, and evaluating their classroom innovations.
The first few cohorts of CIRCLE Fellows were faculty who teach the introductory courses in the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, and Energy, Environmental, and Chemical Engineering. Several fellows, for example, are developing active-learning approaches in their courses through the use of student-response systems (i>clickers), which are provided in collaboration with the Schools of Arts & Sciences and Engineering, as well as the University Libraries. Teaching Center staff members, who have expertise in evidence-based teaching, are collaborating with the faculty to design effective strategies for incorporating clicker questions into large lectures; The Teaching Center also provides observational feedback—including data gathered via the application of our Observation Protocol for Active Learning (OPAL)—that enables faculty to refine and improve their methods. CIRCLE staff are dedicating their expertise to design and implement evaluation methods to study the effects of these curricular innovations on student performance in the course.
One of the clear lessons from the existing literature is that active-learning techniques must be well-executed to be effective (Andrews et al., 2011). The CIRCLE Fellowship provides a support structure for innovation so that faculty can smoothly and effectively integrate evidence-based teaching, as well as evaluate the effects of their curricular innovations on student engagement and learning. Collaboration with The Teaching Center helps faculty to design innovations that fit their respective objectives and teaching styles, and to take creative leaps in their pedagogical approaches. In addition, the involvement of the CIRCLE research team from the beginning of each Fellowship project allows for evaluation to be integral to the process of pedagogical innovation.
While the CIRCLE Fellowship is focused on introductory STEM courses, its robust structure for spurring and sustaining curricular innovation makes it a useful model for similar faculty-development initiatives in all disciplines.
Andrews, T. M., Leonard, M. J., Colgrove, C. A., & Kalinowski, S. T. (2011). Active learning not associated with student learning in a random sample of college biology courses. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 10(4), 394-405.
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 800 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, scholarship of teaching and learning 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, Washington University joined the CIRTL Network. 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 1000 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 (HHMI). These participants come from all STEM fields in both Arts & Sciences and Engineering Schools. There have been 382 unique attendees since the series began: 239 graduate students and 143 postdocs.
The Introduction to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning graduate course was developed and taught by The Teaching Center for the first time during spring 2013. Since then we have had a total of 44 graduate students and postdoctoral appointees complete the course. The WU-STAR internship was piloted in 2011-2012 with four graduate students; formalized in fall 2012. Since then we have had a total of nine graduate students participated in the program. The internship stipend is supported by the Teaching Center
Evaluation and Assessment
How does your center demonstrate its value, both in terms of assessing its own programming and responding to external evaluation?
Each year The Teaching Center prepares for the Provost's Office an annual report which includes data on faculty, post-doc, and graduate student programming offered and program participation, as well as information on classroom support and data on the usage of classroom technology. To date, The Teaching Center has not had the opportunity for an external review.
The effectiveness of the WU-CIRTL program has been assessed through a STEM pedagogies Perception and Knowledge Survey, knowledge-clicker questions, and a "One-minute Paper" reflective writing. The SURVEY has been administered from Fall 2013 – Spring 2016 to both workshop participants and non-workshop participants who are mostly doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows in STEM fields at Wash U. Assessment through the STEM Pedagogies Perception and Knowledge Survey compares the Awareness of, Likeliness to implement, and knowledge about, evidence-based teaching between workshop participants and non-participants. The clicker questions assess knowledge of workshop participants about evidence-based teaching before and after the workshops, while the One-minute Paper assess the concepts from the workshops that participants "perceive to be most useful."
Analyzed data indicate that workshop participants are significantly more aware of, and significantly more likely to implement, evidence-based teaching approaches than non-workshop participants. Clicker data show significant knowledge gains about evidence-based teaching approaches for workshop participants. Findings from one-minute papers reveal varied perceived gains on evidence-based teaching by workshop participants."Elements Contributing to Success
Three factors contribute to our center's success:
- The first is our philosophy of integrating scholarship of teaching and learning, learning communities, and structured learning opportunities, which is described above.
- 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.
- 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.
Essay: Using Collaborations to Transform the Culture of Teaching and Learning - Regina Frey, PhD, Executive Director of The Teaching Center, Florence E. Moog Professor of STEM Education, Associate Professor in Chemistry, co-Director of the Center for Integrative Research in Cognition, Learning and Education; Beth Fisher, PhD, Director of The Teaching Center, Lecturer in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies; Shawn Nordell, PhD, Senior Associate Director, The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis.