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September 10, 2004

Teaching and Learning – Changes and Challenges

Panel Presentation for the Board of Regents

Remarks by Lisa Kornetsky, Director

Office of Professional and Instructional Development

I am here to talk to you today about how System Administration plays a critical role in advancing teaching and learning across the UW System.  The understanding of teaching as a practice and how differing approaches to it affect students’ success and contribute to the attraction and retention of diverse student bodies has grown by leaps and bounds.   System administration is committed to providing professional development opportunities, across the UW System, to faculty and instructional academic staff that is grounded in the most successful teaching and learning practices.  OPID, the Office of Professional and Instructional Development, is the integral unit of the Office of Academic Affairs that is charged with this work.  Our goals for professional development are twofold:  to understand and enhance student learning and increase student success; and to enhance and support the role of the faculty member as a teacher, scholar, and member of the higher education community.  By supporting faculty in their growth as teachers, by giving them the opportunity to discover how pedagogical practices impact student learning, and by creating communities of practice across disciplines and institutions, we help to contribute to the retention of good faculty, student success, and the promotion of academic quality across the University of Wisconsin System.

OPID brings people together through multi-institutional opportunities; sharing resources and best practices across campuses and disciplines; bringing national discussions on teaching and learning issues to Wisconsin, and from Wisconsin to the Nation.  We provide leadership by seeking innovative solutions to problems, bringing national issues to our constituents, and linking our activities to the larger priorities and strategic directions of System and campuses.  We provide service by bringing faculty together for workshops, discussions, seminars, and conferences.

The last 10-15 years have seen remarkable growth in terms of our understanding of how students learn.  We know so much more about learning styles, about the impact of classroom design, and about the relationship of classroom and campus climate to learning, among other things. There has been a paradigm shift from teaching to learning; from providing instruction and transmitting information, to focusing on student learning and understanding.  The assessment movement, the impact that technology has on teaching and learning, the growth of service and community-based learning, changing student and faculty demographics, and an emphasis on pedagogical strategies such as active learning, and group work have all contributed to changing the ways that programs design their curriculum and that faculty approach their teaching.  Our role is to help faculty explore the implications of this knowledge and these changing trends to classroom practice. 

Let me give you a few examples of how some of our programs are working to do this.  I think it will help you to see the interconnectedness of the work of individuals, campuses, and System Administration. 

Faculty College is an intensive 4-day workshop held each June.  Having just completed the academic year, Faculty from throughout the System have an opportunity to meet and discuss specific teaching questions and issues.   This year’s conference included seminars on:  strategies for using technology effectively to improve student learning; and "what every college teacher should know about teaching and learning." At the end of the four days, faculty leave with new knowledge, practical strategies, and new networks of colleagues from across the State.  They take what they have learned and bring it back to their classrooms, departments, and campuses.  

Two of OPID’s highly successful programs are our Wisconsin Teaching Fellows and Wisconsin Teaching Scholars programs.  These are year-long programs designed for outstanding teachers from across the UW System and from a range of disciplines.  The Fellows program, designed for early career faculty, and the Scholars program, designed for mid-career faculty, provide the opportunity for instructors to work on year long teaching/learning improvement projects, and to share their teaching questions, findings and subsequent changes they make in their classroom practice. 

This year a number of our 13 Teaching Scholars are focusing on issues related to teaching diversity courses.  They want to know how and what students actually learn in these courses.  One scholar, from UW-LaCrosse, is investigating whether required courses actually reduce prejudices and whether innovative pedagogy can improve the learning experience of all the students in a course.  By developing and implementing a particular teaching strategy – in this case simulations of real life experiences – and then studying students learning outcomes, she will be able to begin to answer that question.  Another faculty member, from UW-Parkside, is exploring the understandings that first year students bring with them about race and culture.  He seeks to know specifically what happens to students’ understanding of these issues as they practice observing and analyzing racial interactions from multiple perspectives in a communication course.

Throughout the year these faculty will share their findings with the other Teaching Scholars and disseminate their work on their campus and across the System.  The two projects I mentioned will also be presented at the "UW System Plan 2008:  Best Practices in Closing the Achievement Gap" conference in October.  In this way, other faculty can benefit from this work and begin to apply some of the ideas in their own practice.  At the same time, staff and administrators developing policies and programs around diversity issues may be influenced in their decision-making by information on what actually does or doesn’t work.

Let me give you another example, and here I’ll use Denise Scheberle, our award winner from UW-Green Bay.  I know Denise well.  She has been a Wisconsin Teaching Fellow and Wisconsin Teaching Scholar where she was, as you might imagine, a star in both programs.  Along with another former fellow on her campus, Denise received a grant from OPID to begin a teaching fellows program at Green Bay.  OPID supported that program, through grant funds, for two years at which point campus administrators, convinced of its effectiveness, found money to sustain the program.  This last year Denise wrote a grant for a mid-career scholars program focusing on systematic inquiry into student learning.  We have funded this program as well.  (It is important to point out, I think, that these programs have been funded with fairly small dollar amounts.)  What has happened, through Denise’s leadership has been phenomenal – and we see echoes of this across the System.  Using a System program as a model, Denise developed a campus specific program to meet the needs of her institution.  Indeed there has been wonderful cross-fertilization between these programs.   In addition, Denise has provided advice and feedback to other System institutions that have developed their own programs for faculty.  She has presented at OPID conferences on both her scholarly work in teaching and her faculty development activities.  At a recent national conference, Denise was part of a group of us who presented a panel on faculty development in the UW system. To me, this is a wonderful example of how OPID- a system-level organization, can partner with talented faculty and campus faculty-development initiatives and activities, to build leadership and to build practitioner knowledge about teaching and learning across the system, and beyond.  It is the work of faculty like Denise and her talented colleagues who are developing that knowledge and expertise.  OPID’s role is to provide opportunities for and to leverage that work and help it to impact the work of others.

There is one more point I’d like to make about the System role in advancing teaching and learning.  The programs are structured to develop leadership.  Across the UW System, many of the leaders in teaching enhancement are former Teaching Fellows and Scholars.  Individuals, like Denise Scheberle; Bill Cerbin from UW-La Crosse a two-time national Carnegie Scholar; Provost Dick Telfer, from UW-Whitewater, along with many department chairs, deans, faculty development directors, and associate provosts from across the System have participated in these programs  As a former faculty member at UW-Parkside, I was a Teaching Fellow in 1987.  It was the single most transformative experience of my career to date.  It not only changed the way that I taught, but changed the way that I thought – about my role in the classroom, my students, my disciplinary content, and my pedagogical methods.   Through various assessments we have done of our programs, I know that I am not alone in that experience. 


From my perspective, the challenges and the strengths of our programs are inseparable.  In other words, what makes it difficult to do this work across institutions is at the heart of the successes we have.  Meeting the needs of different campuses with different missions and cultures around teaching is a challenge. 

The UW System is considered a national model for system wide faculty development.  We hear this over and over again.  At national conferences, and particularly through our work with AAHE and the Carnegie Foundation, we have frequently been told that others look to our example of how to "do this work" at a system level.  While the very nature of professional development in tough budget times, at a System and a campus level is a challenge, we have made great strides and we take great pride in our accomplishments, our reputation, and the work of so many people across the state that contribute to what we can achieve through our professional development initiatives.

What Might the Regents do?

I am very excited by the changes that are occurring in our knowledge base in this area.  It is important to understand that we are not talking here about fixing something that is broken.  This is an evolutionary process.  We are doing things differently because we know so much more about how students learn.  We are providing opportunities for faculty to take advantage of that research and to engage in it themselves where they can.  The most important thing that you as Regents can do, is to keep teaching and learning front and center your work.  Look at the impact of policy on faculty ability to do their job and to keep student learning at the top of their agenda.  Student success is our priority – faculty success in the classroom should be as well – the two go hand in hand.

I ask you to support the need for professional development as a positive way to retain good faculty, and to increase quality and student success.  Finally, let us show you examples, like those you have had from our award winners today, of what faculty do.  I  I would love nothing more then to bring those examples to the Board for you to see the ways in which so many of our faculty are exploring these issues in their classrooms and contributing to what we know about student learning for understanding.  I invite you to spend time with us at Faculty College or another of our events, to participate in the rich discussions that faculty have around these issues. 

Publicly rewarding and acknowledging teaching is so important.  I applaud you for this and I know that it means a tremendous amount – not only to our award winners but to their colleagues across the UW System. Thank you.

Return to Regents News Summary for September 10, 2004