The Value of a Teaching Center

by Constance Ewing and Mary Deane Sorcinelli
(This article appeared in a recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education)

These days, the hottest issue in higher education may well be student learning – how to improve, measure, and ensure it. Higher education’s constituents, from taxpayers and parents to legislators and business leaders, demand that colleges and universities educate their students better, and our institutions have responded. As they have accorded more priority to student learning, especially in undergraduate courses, most have offered more teaching support to faculty, usually through a teaching center. During the last 10-15 years, most research universities have created teaching centers; few do not yet have one, and there are increasing numbers at comprehensive universities, liberal arts, and community colleges. The teaching center is a concept whose time has come.

That is why it is especially surprising to have the University of Nebraska at Lincoln eliminate the teaching center it developed 38 years ago, long before most other institutions had created one. Nebraska, facing the same budget cuts as most state institutions, has decided it is cheaper and wiser to move the responsibility for teaching improvement out of a central unit and into separate departments. At first glance, this concept appears to have merit. Because content knowledge differs, teaching issues and approaches often vary by discipline; and faculty may take teaching improvement more seriously when their colleagues embrace it and visibly take leadership in fostering improvement. The old saw that no lasting changes occur on a university campus without faculty buy-in also applies to good teaching.

But any approach that depends on the interest and availability of individual faculty members is an approach with a short life span. Department chairs have too many other responsibilities to assume steady leadership on teaching support, and with decreasing budgets, individual departments will be less able to shoulder responsibility. While respected teachers and scholars may take the lead, they usually lack time to stay abreast of the burgeoning literature on student learning and are seldom given the resources or long-term responsibility for overseeing and guiding efforts that link to other campus teaching initiatives.

Teaching centers occupy a unique place in the structure of an institution because of their mandate to address the needs and interests of the entire academic community in support of the education of students. An effective teaching center plays a key role in creating a campus culture that values and rewards teaching. It takes a systems approach to being a change agent and provides synergy to campus support activities. It provides an overview of campus activities in order to highlight and disseminate instructional innovations and prioritize areas where more support is needed. It offers a guarantee of confidentiality to individual instructors so they view it as supportive, not evaluative. It has the institutional memory to provide continuity in teaching support services as department chairs, deans and provosts come and go. It makes the reward structure more responsive to teaching, for example by consulting on development of teaching evaluation processes and criteria for judging teaching excellence. It is entrepreneurial and coordinates campus involvement in local student learning projects, as well as those offered by foundations, associations, and federal agencies.

Most institutions value interdisciplinarity, and the activities of a central teaching center foster it. Centers facilitate networking, connecting instructors with common interests across disciplines, and organizing events at which faculty come together and share their disciplinary perspectives and strategies. In fact, “getting to know other faculty members and sharing ideas about teaching” is often described as one of the primary benefits of participation in teaching center activities. Faculty conversations within and across disciplines often provide the means for an individual teacher to adapt an idea or strategy for his or her course. A center does not provide all the answers; rather, it serves as a convener to foster collegial dialogue and to showcase faculty expertise in teaching.

Teaching support is most effective when it operates out of a teaching center with a comprehensive program of services – services of many types to reach faculty with varied interests and needs. Among the typical teaching center services are individual consultations, midterm student feedback, and videotaping for instructors; seminars and workshops on teaching methods and issues; orientation programs for new faculty and graduate student instructors (GSIs); administration of grants competitions to stimulate teaching improvements; and publications and websites with both basic and cutting edge information about teaching and student learning. It is impossible to provide services of this kind without an infrastructure of support staff and physical space that is simply cost-prohibitive at the departmental level.

Studies of faculty development programs indicate how vital it is to have an individual with the commitment, time, and talent to take the lead in developing, maintaining and evaluating services. Faculty do serve as directors of teaching centers, and they play other roles as well, such as rotating through as an affiliate (e.g., a faculty associate), serving on a center’s advisory board, or sharing their own expertise at center-sponsored programs. But critical to the success of many teaching centers is a high-quality staff of instructional developers who may or may not come from faculty ranks but are able to position their efforts within the context of the campus culture. Typically, these developers have Ph.D.s in a variety of fields, college teaching experience, and experience working on teaching improvements with colleagues. Some have specialized expertise in instructional technology, evaluation research, course and program assessment, and multicultural education to promote inclusivity.

Many instructional developers enter the profession by serving apprenticeships with a teaching center. There they get practical experience, learn about best practices, and access the rich body of literature on student learning. The community of developers is well-connected, with a national association of 1100 members, an annual meeting, several journals and newsletters, and an active listserv. This network of professionals expands annually as more new teaching centers are established.

The elimination of the teaching center at the University of Nebraska is news because it is so unusual to close a center. Our hope is that Nebraska eventually will reconsider its decision. Apart from changes in the faculty reward system, teaching centers may well be the single best way to improve student learning. One cannot remove a vital organ and expect the body to prosper.

Constance Ewing Cook is director of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) at the University of Michigan, established in 1962 as the first teaching center in the nation, and is associate professor in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education.

Mary Deane Sorcinelli is associate provost and director of the Center for Teaching (CFT) and associate professor in the Department of Educational Policy, Research, and Administration at the University of Massachusetts. She is current president of the association of instructional developers, the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD)

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Upcoming February Events!

Faculty Luncheon Discussion: Preceptorial Basics

Thursday, February 3, 12:15-2 p.m. in Kroc IPJ I

Preceptorial courses began at USD in 1973 to address rising student attrition. The program was an immediate success and was expanded as first year class sizes increased.  The goals of providing effective academic advising to first year students, introducing students to the university’s intellectual atmosphere, academic program planning, and establishing early and continuing communication between students and their advisors have continued. Additional resources were established in recent years to help foster an integrative learning approach and support the special role of preceptor. In this session, Dr. Jim Gump, Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences will:

  • Provide an overview of preceptorial program
  • Explain the nature and extent of the commitment to teach a preceptorial
  • Offer tips and tools for the academic advisor
  • Clarify the Preceptorial Assistant student mentor positions
  • Detail compensation for serving as a preceptor

Please RSVP by January 31st.


New, Adjunct, and Junior Faculty Social
Thursday, February 3, 5-7 p.m. at Casa Guadalajara

Located at 4105 Taylor St., Casa Guadalajara has reserved a space for USD new, adjunct, and junior faculty to meet and mingle. Two drink tickets (good for wine, beer or a house margarita) and an appetizer buffet are located in a special patio area we’ve reserved. RSVP required by Tuesday, February 1st. .


Monday Morning Mentorship – How to Get Students to Read Assignments
Monday, February 7, 8:30 – 9:15 a.m.

Many students come to class without having done the assigned reading. Even though many faculty members routinely spell out course requirements in syllabuses and give individual announcements and reminders, students continue to come to class unprepared.

Why? Because nothing happens to them if they come unprepared. In this Magna 20 Minute Mentor, Maryellen Weimer, Ph.D., describes several strategies that you can use to help students learn the value of reading. She demonstrates what to say and do in your classroom to increase the level of student preparation before class.

Attendees will learn how to:

  • Motivate students constructively to come to class prepared.
  • Create and adopt consequences for students who come to class unprepared.
  • Convey to students the value of having read the assigned text.
  • Communicate to students that they are responsible for reading the assigned material.

Join us for coffee and pastries and share ideas with colleagues after the presentation. RSVP here.


Luncheon Discussion: Creating a SACNAS Student Chapter at USD
Tuesday, February 15, 12-1:30 p.m. in Degheri 120

SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in the Sciences) is a gathering of scientists dedicated to fostering the success of Hispanic/Chicano and Native American scientists—from college students to professionals—in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership. For over 35 years, SACNAS has provided strong national leadership in improving and expanding opportunities for minorities in the scientific workforce and academia; mentoring college students within science, mathematics, and engineering; as well as, supporting quality pre-college (K-12) science education. SACNAS’ annual national conference and pre-college teacher training workshops, chapters program, post-doc and leadership initiatives, and online internship and job placement resources are tools that help a diverse community of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, professors, administrators, and pre-college educators achieve expertise within their disciplines.

Student chapters enhance year-round mentorship and networking opportunities for SACNAS student members, as well as ongoing, local support for their development as scientists and science leaders. Please join us for lunch and to learn more about SACNAS and the creation of a University of San Diego SACNAS chapter from our panel of SACNAS student chapter advisors and student attendees of a recent SACNAS national conference. Panelists include:

  • Veronica Bejar, SACNAS Student Chapter Advisor for San Diego State University
  • Krystal Carrillo, SDSU Student, SDSU SACNAS Student Chapter President
  • Yajaira Nunez, USD Student
  • Stephanie Ramirez, USD Student
  • Norma Rojas, USD Student
  • Octavio Romero, SACNAS Student Chapter Advisor for San Diego Mesa College

Please RSVP here by Friday, February 11th so we can be sure to order enough lunch.

College campuses are places where many people have their first experiences encountering and interacting with a wide range of people from many diverse backgrounds, experiences, and worldviews that are different from their own. Many colleges strive to educate students to develop an understanding of their personal relationship to the world’s social, cultural, political, economic, technological, and natural environments.  In order to create an environment conducive to student success, faculty, administration, and staff must collaborate (literally co-labor) to create a community of mutual respect and understanding.


Webinar Part I: Diversity, Inclusivity and Civility-Developing and Enhancing Students’ Cultural Competence
Tuesday, February 15, 11:45 a.m.-1:45 p.m. in Warren Hospitality Suite (upstairs in the Jenny Craig Pavilion)

This two-part webinar will address how developing and enhancing cultural competence must be the primary outcome of diversity/inclusivity programs. Cultural competence is the ability to understand, communicate and effectively interact with people across cultures.  While “culture” is often viewed in the U.S. as being primarily related to race, ethnicity, and gender, effective diversity/inclusivity programs must also address sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability/ability, religion, age, and other issues which lead to marginalization and exclusion. The workshop is split into 2 sessions – Part I to be held on February 15 and Part II on March 9th

Part 1 – It takes a campus community to create inclusive and civil environments wherein students, faculty, and staff feel welcomed,are encouraged to do their best work, are treated with respect and dignity, and are valued for who they are.  This session will increase participants’ awareness of difference and consider how issues of diversity can impede the development of inclusive communities.  It will examine issues of “implicit cultural assumptions,” stereotyping, and biases and consider how attitudes toward race, gender and other diversity operate at a conscious and unconscious level.  The session will support participants to expand their cultural competence and ability to make distinctions, and encourage them to use their natural empathy in relations with others in order to strengthen their campus communities. A light lunch will be provided, first-come, first-served. Please RSVP. For more details on this session , please visit the Innovative Educators website.

Co-sponsored with the College of Arts and Sciences, Student Affairs, and the Center for Inclusion and Diversity.


Luncheon Workshop: Revealing Hidden Meanings of Non-Verbal Communication
Thursday, February 17, 12:15-2 p.m. in KIPJ I

There’s a secret life in the classroom.  Messages are being exchanged.  Information is being passed from person to person.  Conversations are humming in the corners.  The time has come to reveal these secrets – the secrets of nonverbal communication.

Your students are constantly giving you important information, especially when they’re not speaking.  And your behavior is revealing things that may be undermining or even contradicting the material you’re trying to teach.  This interactive workshop will help you recognize the physical behaviors of your students that indicate their attitude toward the material and toward you.  Your own unconscious physical behaviors will also be brought into the limelight so that they can be controlled and used to reinforce your verbal communication, enhance your authority, and increase your inclusiveness and rapport.

The workshop is led by Terry Glaser, a faculty member in the Theatre Arts Department since 1995.  In addition to her university teaching credentials (UCSD, USC, CalArts, and Earlham College) Terry has over twenty-five years of experience as a professional acting teacher, stage director, and communication-skills trainer.  Using techniques drawn from the world of theatre to integrate the body, voice, and intellect into an irresistible instrument for communication, negotiation, and persuasion, Terry has worked with clients in business and government, including the American Management Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Bureau of the Census, the Support Center of Washington, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, and the California Western School of Law.  Using her extensive knowledge of whole-brain learning techniques, Terry has also trained public school teachers in the Prince William County, VA, School System; the Prince George’s County, MD, Library System; and the Oswego, NY, School System.

Please RSVP here by Friday, February 11th.


Luncheon Presentation: Leveraging USD’s Educational Partnership with The New York Times
Tuesday, February 22, 12-1:20 p.m. in UC Forum B

Join Brother Donald Stabrowski, C.S.C., Provost and Professor of Political Science at the University of Portland, for a luncheon presentation on his use of The Times in his courses for the last 15 years and how he continues to teach with the newspaper. Leigh Anna Moore-Jones, Education Manager, for The New York Times and Norm Wave, Education Regional Manager for The New York Times provide information on accessing and navigating the online resources and will have provided the complimentary luncheon for our faculty and interested staff.

The workshop will demonstrate specific ways to integrate The New York Times newspaper into your course and introduce you to the wealth of resources The New York Times has available to faculty, including our library of instructional strategies. Additionally, it will highlight our extensive online resources within

The New York Times is an academic resource available to University of San Diego students through Associated Students and Residential Life. Over 2,000 college educators across the country have incorporated The New York Times into their courses. Those who include The Times in their course syllabus receive a complimentary, weekday, home-delivery subscription for the duration of their course.

A substantial sit-down lunch will be served, please RSVP by Wednesday, February 16th.


Tech Talk: Instruction and Research Using iPads and Mobile Devices
Friday, February 25, 2-3 p.m. in MRH 135 (SOLES)

Jonathan  Mack, R.N. Ph.D., faculty member in the School of Nursing and Health Science, chairs a new campus-wide group investigating mobile devices and their application to education and research. Join Dr. Mack as he shares his own experiences using iPads, iPods, tablets and mobile devices to innovate teaching and learning practices in his classes.

Tech talks are opportunities for USD faculty members to gather for one hour to learn about a teaching technology from other faculty showcasing their innovations. Factors to consider in adopting the technology are discussed. Coffee/refreshments are available. RSVP here.

Goals Debate



CEE LocationWelcome to CEE’s new blog. For those of you that don’t know where we are located, we are in Copley Library at the north end of the main floor. We invite you to participate in discussions about themes in higher education today and especially about topics of importance at USD.