Plans for a New Center for Teaching & Learning are Underway

Wheaton College has a history of teaching excellence that has led to many innovations. Some of these innovations resulted in our nationally recognized gender balanced, connected, and experiential learning curricula. Wheaton’s faculty and staff are committed to collaboration, innovation and experimentation to deliver the transformative liberal arts education that is at the core of the College’s mission. In support of this history, in the spring 2017 semester I convened a group of faculty and library staff (experts in a variety of disciplines and the uses of teaching and learning technology) and delivered their charge—to develop a model for a center for teaching and learning at Wheaton.

As a student-focused college, faculty are expected to excel as both scholars and educators. They must keep current in their academic disciplines and specialties, incorporate new teaching techniques, understand the latest findings regarding student learning, consider offering new classes (which may require that they broaden their own knowledge base), plus regularly update and revise their courses. What a center for teaching and learning does, then, is serve as a physical and virtual space in which faculty and staff collaborate with and support one another on all of these endeavors.

With their charge in hand, the group of six faculty and librarians read about the scholarship of teaching and learning, interviewed the heads of centers, and conducted many site visits throughout last summer. As a result of this work, they developed an exciting proposal for Wheaton.

What our Center will do that is relatively unique is provide support not only for faculty but also academic staff (staff who interact with student regarding their in-class experience and develop programming that complements student learning). Further, the center will be devoted to inclusive pedagogy. This means understanding how the unique backgrounds of our students affect how they learn and also being as inclusive as possible in terms of the content of classes, which would involve incorporating scholarship by and about underrepresented and marginalized groups (e.g., ability, race, gender, nationality, social class).

The Center for Teaching and Learning will build educational development expertise across campus, paying close attention to its cross-campus partnerships and engaging in collaborative work with the Writing Across the Curriculum Program, The Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning, The Center for Global Education, The Wheaton Institute for the Interdisciplinary Humanities, The Center for Social Justice and Community Impact and Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, The Filene Center for Academic Advising and Career Services, Wallace Library, Media Services, and Information Technology Services among others.

Wheaton is a community filled with innovative educators who are dedicated to student success. We have many examples of exciting pedagogy, so it makes sense that a component of the center will be to highlight our own master educators. We have faculty who use equipment and technology in our makerspaces to bring course content alive. They use VR (virtual reality) so that students can reimagine the topography of maps of the regions they study in language classes, show students how archives can be interactive, and have created 3-D viewers that can be used on a phone or tablet to virtually hold and view pieces from Wheaton’s permanent art collection.

Because the Center will refine and showcase faculty accomplishment as educators, one other focus will be to support faculty in their scholarship of teaching, learning and pedagogy. Publishing on what techniques they use is another way to establish at the national level the expertise of our faculty as master educators. Students will be encouraged to collaborate with faculty on their research; this may include opportunities to attend conferences and serve as co-authors on publications.

The Center for Teaching and Learning will serve as the institution’s engine for evidence-based educational development. It will be a vibrant hub that would energize faculty and staff as educators—enabling the College to truly prepare students to “create innovative solutions to big problems—and act on them.”

—Provost Renée T. White