The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning

Lucas Hill, University of Wisconsin - Madison

***Important Caveat - I am writing this from the perspective of a member of the research and evaluation team in the CIRTL Network, NOT as a central leader in the Network. Thus, my comments below are based upon my research, experiences, and observations over the years. While I am very familiar with all aspects of CIRTL, I may still present an incomplete picture, though I will do my best!***

The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) is multi-institutional network of 40 universities (mostly research-intensive) that is dedicated to preparing future faculty members in STEM in effective teaching practices through professional development programming. The Network has a long history since its beginnings in 2003, originally existing as 3 campuses, then 25 (dropped to 21 by the time of the next expansion), and now at the current number of 40. Communication happens at a few different levels.

First, the central administrative team (known as CIRTL Central) sends out regular email communications about network operations (e.g., updates on initiatives, requests for information or to fill out paperwork, opportunity to participate in a grant application), network resources (e.g., check out this cool new resource guide on topic X), and network programs (e.g., a new online course that starts next month) to institutional representatives from all 40 campuses. In this type of communication, a common mission and vision is assumed across CIRTL membership.

Second, CIRTL Central packages information on programming opportunities and sends it to member campuses for wider dissemination across campuses. This often happens through the assigned institutional leader for the local CIRTL initiative or a key contact staff person. The message contains information about opportunities with hyperlinks to learn more and is sent to mostly graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, but sometimes current faculty as well. CIRTL spent years trying to develop consistent branding, which it has not accomplished, with minor improvements periodically.

Third, institutional representatives (i.e., local CIRTL leaders) serve as key boundary spanners by connecting their campus to the Network. These individuals identify what CIRTL resources, ideas, or knowledge is relevant for their specific institutional context, diffuse that information to their local CIRTL teams, and translate CIRTL gains (with the help of their teams) for local implementation. Local CIRTL leaders and their respective teams then interact with their campus with the purpose of informing campus stakeholders of CIRTL opportunities (local and online, cross-network) and gaining support from various groups such as potential program participants, faculty, academic leaders such as chairs, graduate deans and colleges, and administrators. These individuals often draw on their institutional roles (e.g., assistant dean, director of a teaching and learning center) and the social capital from being a member of CIRTL (i.e., connected to peer institutions, prestigious funding, etc.) to "make the case" for the importance of learning effective teaching strategies in preparation for the professoriate. It is also common for prior participants to help market the programs by telling their peers of their positive experiences. In summary, local CIRTL leaders and teams use their connections, social capital, and experiences to gain support from diverse campus stakeholders and inform the campus of what CIRTL is, what it stands for, and how to get involved.

Fourth, members of CIRTL leadership regularly keep funders informed of how the Network is doing, its growth and development, and new initiatives (e.g., CIRTL has recently been involved in an INCLUDES pilot). CIRTL members also frequently "get the word out about CIRTL" through presentations, offshoot grants, and so forth in order to continue to build a national imagine and brand for CIRTL. In particular, I have witnessed several key CIRTL members work with new partners in other initiatives (e.g., INCLUDES pilot) to help them understand what CIRTL does, how it relates to what they do, and how they could potentially work together. Thus, CIRTL has tried over the past 15 years to build name recognition and build synergy with related initiatives.