For the past four years, many Oxford College faculty
members have been thinking as much about learning as they have about
teaching. Professors from departments across the campus have been
engaged in projects that focus on learning that involves the heart
as well as the head—the education of the whole person.
The culmination of that research is the recent designation of Oxford
as a national cluster leader for the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship
of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) Campus Program, a Carnegie Foundation
initiative designed to improve teaching and learning in higher education.
“It is gratifying to have the faculty’s commitment to
teaching and learning both inside and outside the classroom recognized
by selection as a Carnegie cluster leader,” said Kent Linville,
Oxford dean of academic affairs. “This initiative encourages
and facilitates the Oxford faculty to engage collectively in a form
of research that complements the college’s teaching-centered
focus and, in fact, makes their teaching more intentional.”
Oxford’s specific focus will be the heart-mind connections
that make learning deeper and more enduring, officially known as
cognitive-affective learning connections. As a cluster leader, the
college has a three-year commitment to CASTL that includes establishing
a Center for Cognitive-Affective Learning that will conduct research
into effective methods, educate staff and faculty through workshops
and seminars, offer support for teaching and learning projects,
and build a scholarly community dedicated to cognitive-affective
“This is an outstanding opportunity for the Oxford community
that not only will benefit our own students and faculty, but also
will enhance the practice and profession of teaching for colleagues
at colleges and universities across the nation,” said Patti
Owen-Smith, Oxford professor of psychology and women’s studies
and co-director of the new center.
Incorporating community-service elements into her psychology classes,
had the core idea of exploring what makes the proverbial “light
bulb” come on for her students. Her co-director, Sharon Lewis,
also an Oxford professor of psychology, has led the faculty initiative
in the scholarship of teaching and learning these past four years.
Owen-Smith said Oxford will hold a teaching conference in fall 2004
similar to the one it held last fall on “Cross-Disciplinary
Inquiries into the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning,”
which was designed in cooperation with the Carnegie Foundation,
the American Association for Higher Education and the Pew Charitable
Trusts. The conference brought together Oxford staff and faculty
and Carnegie fellows from other institutions around the country.
With just 600 students, Oxford is by far the smallest institution
selected for the next phase of the 5-year-old CASTL program; other
cluster leaders include the University of Michigan, Indiana University,
Georgetown University, Illinois State University and Portland State
University. The program was created in 1998 to establish and refine
standards for the critical review of teaching and learning by faculty
members in college and university classrooms.
“Our focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning has
been, in one sense, the shift from focusing on teaching to focusing
on learning,” Linville said. “We are changing the culture
of the institution collectively.”
Linville cited the example of Heather Patrick, assistant professor
of chemistry, who teamed up students in her class with the local
Boys & Girls Club to do water assessment tests for the county.
Once the Oxford students mastered the process, they were responsible
for teaching the club kids to do the testing.
“It was transformative for our students, in terms of self-esteem
and the quality of the work, because they knew the expectations
were high,” Linville said.
Or, as articulated by veteran biology professor Eloise Carter: “I’m
trying to close the gap between what I teach and what students are
learning.” Carter’s impact on teaching also reaches
beyond her own classroom; as co-director of the Oxford Institute
for Environ-mental Education, the 2003 Emory Williams Award winner
is a leader of the summer institute that trains K-12 educators in
hands-on natural science teaching methods.