Teaching commission finishes

draft report,next to Chace,

Frye for comments, review

The work of the Commission on Teaching shatters the "myth" that good teaching and good research are mutually exclusive. "What we discovered is that people at Emory are equally committed to both teaching and research," said Rebecca Chopp, who served as the commission's chair. "People who love their subject matter love to teach it and research it. Emory faculty really value their teaching and they want it to count."

The commission was formed in January 1996 by Provost Billy Frye to "prepare a report that assesses the current state of teaching and the teaching environment" at Emory. After a year of information gathering through focus groups, one-on-one interviews, a web site, faculty lunches and consultants, among other measures, a draft of the commission's final report was recently completed.

Their report outlines the scope of teaching at Emory and the many different forms of pedagogy already in place here. It also gives very concrete recommendations for strengthening the role of teaching and making sure that teaching has the high visibility and priority routinely accorded to research.

"Our report suggests a number of new structures for the support of teaching," reads the report. "But it also advocates a change in our collective thinking. We want to get beyond the tired and erroneous notions of the monologic lecture as the typical form of teaching, of the faculty member who is forced to stint on his classes in order to achieve excellence in research, of department faculties who frankly don't care about their students."

The commission rose to Frye's challenge at its first meeting a little more than a year ago "to balance their work between the general and the specific and between the philosophical and the pragmatic."

"We wanted to address a very coherent discussion of the issues while also capturing the spirit of teaching," said William Branch, who served on the teaching practices subcommittee. At commission co-chair Walter Reed's suggestion, the subcommittee collected examples of the different types of teaching going on at Emory, which "enrich the report and tie it down to real teaching," said Branch.

Real teaching, the commission stressed, must take place in a conducive environment-from infrastructure improvements and technological upgrades to the establishment of a teaching center and portfolios for use in teacher evaluation.

Unique institution, unique circumstances

"We examined what was being done at other institutions," said Al Merrill, who chaired the subcommittee on development, rewards and incentives. "We deduced pretty early on that it was best to find out Emory's situation exactly and to make an impact at the ground level, rather than following some general principles that every one believes."

And despite the diversity of Emory's faculty, added Merrill, "a fairly uniform number of themes kept cropping up."

Among the problems commission members found was a lack of reliable criteria for evaluating and rewarding teaching across the University. "One essential recommendation is that each school come up with their own clear cut, objective set of guidelines," said David Kleinbaum, who chaired the subcommittee on evaluation. What's more, the commission stated, each school's guidelines "about how teaching figures in decisions on hiring, tenure, promotion and raises ... should be published across the University."

The commission recommends the development of teaching portfolios, similar to those used to evaluate researchers, that document teaching for purposes of advancement, and dossiers kept by individuals that help strengthen and develop their teaching skills.

Once good teaching is documented, then excellent teachers should be recognized, as is common in research, with the establishment of awards, rewards and chaired professorships. "Until you can concretely identify those people who have been rewarded for good teaching, then [the rhetoric of valuing teaching] gets to be just a set of hollow words," said one faculty member quoted in the commission report.

The proposed University Teaching Center would be a centrally located conduit through which faculty members improve their ability to teach, said Kleinbaum. For example, "it should allow us to develop better objective materials [like] evaluation forms-or develop ways to perform peer review," he explained. A "board" of faculty representing each school would guide the center, Kleinbaum's subcommittee stated, with the primary goal of "nurturing and improving teaching over time, as well as providing a basis for evaluating the outcomes of instruction."

The subcommittee also recommended locally organized centers for teaching, modeled on Emory College's Center for Teaching and Curriculum. The local offices would work with the main center, but provide "discipline-specific expert help" for each school.

The teaching commission plans to present their draft report-with many more recommendations than those outlined here-to President Chace and Frye by the end of this month. A final version will be produced over the summer and distributed to faculty in the fall for comment and discussion. "We want to engage the campus in talking about teaching and create a climate in which teaching flourishes and we can learn from one another," said Chopp. Like good teaching, the commission's legacy will be an ongoing dialogue-dynamic and ever evolving. "We'll need faculty input and guidance at every step," stressed Branch.

-Stacey Jones

 Goals of the teaching commission

  • To assess teaching at Emory and consider ways of making excellent teaching a higher priority within the structure of the University;
  • To facilitate faculty discussion of teaching and bring together those already engaged in conversations about teaching; and
  • To find a way to address the future of teaching and research at Emory in relationship to interdisciplinary scholarship and the digital environment.


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