The new 2019–2020 academic year marks the official opening of Drexel University’s Teaching and Learning Center, an independent unit housed within the Office of Faculty Affairs to provide professional development opportunities and support for University instructors looking to improve student learning and enhance their teaching.
The center will be open to adjuncts, clinical faculty, teaching-track faculty and tenure-track faculty on all campuses and at all colleges and schools. Now, it’s beginning to support all of those instructors — after a year-long process to create the center, form a 16-person committee to advise it, appoint an inaugural director to run it, and find a physical location to host it on campus.
“We’re trying to build a uniquely Drexel center that is different from the kinds of teaching and learning centers all around the country, and I think the University really has a great opportunity to develop something that’s about innovation and all of the different kinds of experiential learning that happens here, including co-op and community-based learning,” said Senior Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs Erin McNamara Horvat, PhD. “The Teaching and Learning Center is part of a larger, comprehensive vision to support the faculty at Drexel and advance the faculty’s work, because at its heart the University is its faculty and students.”
The center is starting the academic year by offering two series of workshops and meetings for faculty in October and November.
First is a three-part workshop called “Principles and Practices for Effective Teaching,” which is especially designed for faculty who have started at Drexel within the past three years who want to connect with colleagues and explore research-based teaching strategies (held in the Hill Conference Room in the LeBow Engineering Center from 2:30–4 p.m. on Oct. 1, Oct. 15 and Oct. 29, as well as online through Zoom from 9–10:30 a.m. on Oct. 9 and Oct. 23 and Nov. 6).
And then there’s a three-part fall book group in which faculty will read and discuss “Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons From the Science of Learning” by James Lang either through in-person meetings from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in Room 368 of Gerri C. LeBow Hall on Nov. 4, Nov. 11 and Nov. 18, or online via Zoom from 2–3:15 p.m. on Nov. 5, Nov. 12 and Nov. 19). These will bring together instructors from across the University (and also, hopefully, inspire interpersonal connections and encourage word-of-mouth buzz for the center).
The idea for Drexel’s Teaching and Learning Center came when Nina Henderson Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs M. Brian Blake, PhD, joined Drexel in 2015. Horvat was charged with creating a comprehensive vision for supporting faculty and set out on a year-long envisioning process with a broad group of stakeholders from across the University as well as outside facilitators to see what needed to be done. During that time, a mission was created for the center: “to inspire and promote excellence in teaching throughout Drexel University’s diverse learning environments.”
The next thing to do was find someone to carry out that mission.
That person is Inaugural Director of the Teaching and Learning Center Johanna Inman, who came from Temple University, where she had served as director of instructional technology, and previously assistant director, for Temple’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching. She also has over 18 years of teaching experience, teaching everything from writing-intensive courses to general education courses to first-year seminars, as well as studio and capstone courses in the visual arts. For the past six years, she taught an online graduate seminar on innovation, technology and teaching in higher education for Temple’s College of Education.
“I love that there’s this very rich background that Johanna brings that allows her to think about teaching and the variety of different contexts across the University,” said Horvat. “One of the pieces of feedback we got from the advisory committee when searching for a director was concern over whether someone could understand what it’s like to teach in a studio environment or in a lab or in a large lecture or wherever. Johanna brings a wide set of experiences that prepare her to really address most of those contexts from a very authentic place.”
Inman, whose office is located on the lower level of the Hagerty Library, began at Drexel near the end of May 2019. Once she started, she quickly began what she coined her “Drexel learning tour.”
She established relationships with different stakeholders — from vice provosts to deans to faculty to directors of academic and administrative units — to learn how teaching is already being performed at the University and what could be done to improve that. This summer, the Teaching and Learning Center also supported existing initiatives like the Office of Faculty Affair’s New Faculty Orientation and the Graduate College’s TA Orientation, and Inman also provided pedagogical development to instructors at those events as well as the First-Year Writing Orientation, the Faculty Resources Fair and orientations for University 101 instructors and faculty from the College of Nursing and Health Professions.
Up next? Facilitating customized workshops for individual departments, completing a three-year strategic plan for the center and compiling a list of resources available within the University, as well as journals and online resources through Drexel University Libraries, that faculty can use. Inman also plans to launch a program for mid-career and senior-level faculty to foster leadership in teaching across the University.
“One of the overarching things we want to do is make teaching more of a public and shared endeavor across the University,” said Inman. “It’s about faculty talking with each other and sharing what’s happening in their classrooms — sharing ideas and creating a community around teaching. We found that people share their scholarship and what they’re doing with their research, but often teaching is something that gets held close to the chest as this private endeavor.”
Inman wants to encourage more conversations and promote the available resources for faculty at Drexel — and create a culture shift around teaching at the University.
“I think it’s really important that people don’t see the center as a place that is punitive — you don’t get sent here because you’re a bad teacher or you got in trouble,” she said. “I see it as a place where great teachers go to get better and a place where we celebrate great teaching.”
Another common misconception she’s come across during her “Drexel learning experience” was why Drexel, as an R1 research university and a research-focused institution, even needed a center like this, or what role it could play.
“Because we’re an R1 institution, we value research and disseminate it,” said Inman. “This focus on research extends to teaching as well — the center will serve to make faculty aware of up-to-date research on teaching in higher education and practical ways to apply it. But, the center will also be a place that generates research and supports faculty to engage in research about their teaching — especially in Drexel’s signature areas of experiential learning and technology-infused education. It’s about constantly reevaluating our teaching to ensure the best possible learning experiences for our students but also sharing that knowledge.”
“And that’s really the whole Drexel brand, right?” Horvat added. “That’s what we’re all about at Drexel.”