Emory Report

January 25, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 17

Emory taking up mantle and mandate of Commission on Teaching with new council

The Commission on Teaching officially wrapped up its work with the September 1997 publication of the report, Teaching at Emory. Since last spring, however, a new body, the University Advisory Council on Teaching, has been appointed to act on the work and recommendations of the commission and to chart a continued course of excellence for pedagogy at Emory.

"I hope that the advisory council can continue to help Emory support and enrich teaching," said Provost Rebecca Chopp, who appointed council members based on recommendations from deans and faculty at the various schools. "Higher education in general, and teaching in particular, are undergoing rapid change, and we will need to bring focused attention and resources to teaching in the context of our changing environment.

"Changes in the digital environment, changes in disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge, changes in student population, changes in international and national culture will require us to invent new ways of teaching and to update current practices," she added.

The advisory council has decided to focus initially on issues such as teaching and technology, teaching students with disabilities, soft money concerns and the documentation of teaching excellence. Plans are also underway to present a colloquia series of award-winning or highly regarded Emory professors on the subject of teaching. The council has formed subcommittees to discuss each of these issues.

This spring the council will offer a seminar for faculty led by Peter Seldin, a nationally known expert in the creation of teaching portfolios. "He has a whole program, a kind of pilot developmental program, that we're trying to get a small group of faculty from each of the nine schools to participate in," said Walter Reed, advisory council chair.

"Chuck Foster and Marianne Scharbo-DeHaan, the chairs of that subcommittee, have been anxious not to focus too much attention on the concept of the portfolio per se," he added, noting that teaching portfolios have become something of a buzzword in academia. "The subcommittee sees portfolios as a useful instrument in the larger quest for legitimate documentation of just what faculty teaching excellence might be. And that's Seldin's goal as well."

Law professor Gary Smith leads the subcommittee charged with developing the colloquia series. "We're looking at people who have been singled out for their teaching abilities here--whether through the Emory Williams Award or the Great Teachers Lecture series--to share their methods with the broader community." The advisory council is also approaching several well-known outside authorities on teaching to bring to campus as well.

Smith sees communication as the common thread in all good teaching. "Methods that improve our communication with students--these will improve our teaching skills no matter what our discipline happens to be," he said, adding that good teaching involves a "chemistry that is sometimes easier to see and recognize than it is to describe."

In these and other programs, the advisory council's goal is to follow the faculty's lead in identifying areas that require attention to ensure continued excellence in teaching at Emory. For example, Reed said, faculty greeted the creation of a Universitywide center for teaching--one of the recommendations of the Commission on Teaching--with a "certain amount of skepticism and suspicion."

While not totally shutting the door on the concept, the provost and the advisory council have now turned their attention to developing local centers in the schools that examine issues arising from the particular intellectual and academic concerns in each, Reed said. He cited council members Scharbo-DeHaan of nursing and David Kleinbaum of Public Health, who have tentatively explored the possibility of creating a joint center for pedagogy once the two schools are located closer together.

"I continue to be encouraged and impressed with the existing commitment to teaching and the enthusiasm with which people enter into discussions of these issues with colleagues both within their own departments but also in widely scattered disciplines," said Reed.

Reed and other members of the advisory council are no longer content to let good teachers hide their lights under a bushel. "There has been a feeling that while research was easily and eminently part of a public domain, teaching was more private," he said. "And what we're trying to do is explore ways in which public displays of teaching, public recognition of teaching, and public sharing of information, insight and experience about teaching is a more normal part of our academic and intellectual culture at Emory. So far, we're finding there is a considerable appetite for this."

--Stacey Jones

Editor's note: Emory faculty who are interested in the work of the advisory council are invited to contact Cheeku Bidani, staff support for the council, at 404-727-1886 or sign up for an e-mail listserv discussion of teaching by sending e-mail to <listserv@listserv.cc.emory. edu> with the message "subscribe UACT-L" in the body of the message.

Return to Jan. 25, 1999, contents page