The University Record, December 6, 1999

Provost wants 5 proposals on scholarship of teaching

By Jane R. Elgass

Faculty should think of teaching in the same way they think of their research, affording it the same enthusiasm and interest, Provost Nancy Cantor told those attending the “Provost’s Seminar on Teaching” on Nov. 15. The seminar theme was “Improving Teaching and Learning: The Experience of Other Research Universities.”

To underscore the importance of viewing teaching in this manner, and to encourage “initiatives to really make teaching and learning front and center” at the U-M, Cantor called on her audience of more than 80 deans, associate deans and department chairs “to put five concrete proposals on my desk” by this spring. She especially highlighted some of the major foundations of a modern education: diversity, technology and collaboration.

The teaching seminar followed a Nov. 14 conference hosted by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) and sponsored by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. That program focused on the special challenges inherent in fostering greater attention to teaching at major research universities, setting the theme for the teaching seminar. Participants in the Carnegie program included administrators and faculty from Brown, Carnegie Mellon, Emory, Ohio State, Princeton and Stanford Universities; the Universities of Washington, Wisconsin, Georgia and Nebraska, as well as representatives of The Carnegie Foundation and the American Association for Higher Education, some of whom stayed to participate in the teaching seminar.

There is a national effort under way to define the scholarship of teaching, and the U-M is among several institutions leading the way, Cantor explained at the Nov. 15 seminar, citing several areas “that play to the strength of research universities.”

Research universities provide “a rich environment that stretches us, forces us to cross boundaries, to challenge ourselves. We mix and match all the time, and ask constantly ‘Who are we bringing together?’”

Much work at research universities is done collaboratively, “which is critical to our understanding of self and the world. We need to be able to see problems from another’s perspective and develop a shared understanding,” Cantor said. Unfortunately, she added, under current structures, junior faculty are not encouraged to take on collaborative activities.

Teaching and learning need to become a critical part of the evaluation process, Cantor added, “without placing additional burdens on junior faculty. We raised the bar, but we haven’t followed with a support system.”

All faculty, the provost noted, should be encouraged to share in the excitement and the potential in research universities for the integration of teaching and learning.

Attention also must be paid to the role of graduate and professional students in working with undergraduates. “GSI training is not the end of the story, but we must begin with this,” Cantor said, calling on the participants to “build intergenerational learning communities” composed of faculty, graduate students and undergraduates sharing expertise and life experiences in collaborative groups.

“Graduate students play a huge role on these campuses,” she said. “We need to capture their youth, enthusiasm, flexibility and curiosity.”

There is a great deal of talk about the centrality of learning and teaching, the provost noted, “but we don’t mark the importance of the dignity of the enterprise. We need to bring forth the dignity, we need to equate [teaching] to the awe with which we hold our disciplines.”

CRLT Director Constance E. Cook characterized Cantor’s remarks and her commitment to funding projects aimed at raising the dignity of teaching as “an important milestone in educational improvement at the U-M.” She also cited several programs in this area already supported by CRLT. They include:

  • CRLT’s Interdisciplinary Faculty Associates Program, which this year funded five projects involving team teaching of undergraduate courses. In addition to their teaching responsibilities, the Associates meet monthly as a group to discuss course design and the scholarship of teaching, and how student learning and faculty teaching differ in interdisciplinary courses when compared with traditional offerings.

  • The U-M, through CRLT, is one of several members of a consortium of institutions studying peer review of teaching through the use of external reviews of course portfolios. The project is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

  • CRLT is collaborating with the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies in designing a seminar on college teaching to begin in May 2000. It is for graduate students, especially doctoral candidates, who will be in the market for faculty positions.

    Lester P. Monts, associate provost for academic affairs, who was instrumental in bringing the Carnegie conference to campus, echoed Cantor and Cook in calling for a focus on the scholarship of teaching.

    “We need to pay more attention to the pedagogy of teaching and look for ways to apply that pedagogy to the challenges presented by interdisciplinary and multicultural curricula, as well as to the use of new technologies to support and enhance teaching.

    “We need to explore how we do these things, how we get outstanding scholars and researchers to bring their experience to bear on undergraduates,” Monts added.

    Participants in the Nov. 15 Provost’s Seminar on Teaching, “Improving Teaching and Learning: The Experience of Other Research Universities” were asked to identify ideas generated in a series of roundtable discussions that could hold promise for the University’s efforts to improve teaching and learning.

    The University’s commitment to good teaching

  • Take Provost Nancy Cantor up on her offer to fund proposals that would “promote and dignify innovation in teaching.”

  • “Deans sometimes start from the practical budget side, while it’s very important to start from the ‘how can we support learning’ side. Our provost’s talk modeled this starting point.”

  • “There is a stronger University commitment to teaching than was previously apparent. Knowing that, faculty members are more likely to think about ways of improving their teaching.”

    Improving the evaluation of teaching through peer review

  • Develop an “effective peer review system for enriching teaching, and for providing incentives for participation in it.”

  • Pay attention to the need for diverse methods of evaluating teaching.

    “We must consider how teaching and learning are evaluated and assessed if the future faculty are to take this seriously. It bears careful thought about teaching portfolios and casebooks that are an essential and integral part of promotion and tenure.”

  • Use portfolios and partners to evaluate/improve courses.

  • “Think more about team teaching as a way of improving the quality of teaching and its evaluation.”

    Technology in teaching

  • Pair graduate student assistants and faculty in training programs on technology issues.

    Developing teaching academies, using outside speakers

  • The U-M should develop a teaching academy composed of “winners of outstanding teaching awards, who would be asked to strategize about creating new ways to improve general teaching excellence and to make being an excellent teacher a more honored, better recognized role for faculty.”

  • Invite individuals “whose scholarship is at the highest level—impeccable credentials—to be guest speakers on the subject of good teaching.”

    Learning communities

  • Create vertical learning communities or teams, especially in laboratories and service learning arenas, composed of undergraduate students, graduate student assistants and faculty.

  • Plan, implement and evaluate courses in collaborative teams consisting of upper-level students, graduate students and faculty, possibly both early career and senior faculty.

    Support for junior faculty

  • Consider a “teaching nurturance leave,” comparable to one for research activities that often is built into offers made to beginning assistant professors.

  • Release time for course development funded by the Office of the Provost or the college or school.

  • Formal support to help junior faculty learn to successfully combine teaching and research, such as mentoring, orientation programs, release time for course preparation in their first term.

  • Clearer emphasis on quality of research, instead of quantity.

    Preparation for graduate and post-doctoral students

  • “There must be serious and strategic attention paid to the preparation for teaching. This includes the preparation of graduate students and post-doctoral students.”

  • Develop a list of expectations for graduate student instructors (GSIs), with monitoring by a faculty committee.

  • Provide faculty seminars on mentoring GSIs.

  • View work done with GSIs as ongoing preparation and development of teachers rather than “training.”

  • Provide “comprehensive professional development for GSIs that combines general and field-specific pedagogical training.”


  • Reward teaching at the department level.

  • Award large sums of money to departments, recognizing excellent teaching or research.

  • Give awards to units as well as individuals.

  • “Honor good teachers with a designated parking place!”