Center for Teaching & Learning expands efforts starting with 12 faculty fellowships this summer
Matthew Trevett-Smith sent an email in April inviting faculty to apply for a six-week summer fellowship at the Center for Teaching & Learning designed to inspire creative changes in classrooms across BU. And while the fellowships include a $6,000 stipend, new center director Trevett-Smith didn’t expect a big response given that it was already late in the semester and both he and the center were unknown quantities. “I thought 5 or 10 responses would be a good number,” he says.
Instead, 40 proposals came in from faculty members in nine schools across both campuses. The applicants’ objectives ranged from improving class videos to fine-tuning collaborations among students. Trevett-Smith chose 12, he says, because a dozen is the most you can have in a comfortable and cohesive faculty learning community, “particularly if you want to get everyone around a single table.”
And that was exactly what he wanted. Weekly group conversations over lunch and dinner at Silber Way were high points of the six-week program, which ran concurrently with the first summer term.
“I found so many connections through these meetings and learned so much,” says Pary Fassihi (SED’04,’10), a lecturer in the College of Arts & Sciences Writing Program. “I got together with faculty from other departments and other disciplines that I would never get together with otherwise—from physics, math, the Medical Campus. I was learning what they do in their classes and the software that they use, and thinking, hey, I could use that.”
“One faculty member in chemistry asked about certain labs because she had been wanting to implement a lab component, and somebody in engineering knew precisely the classroom you could get,” says Sophie Hochhäusl, a CAS assistant professor of history of art and architecture. “So it was very good for tactical questions, but also to share larger ideas.”
The fellows also had private weekly meetings with Trevett-Smith, who focused on data-based resources specific to their projects. And when classes start in the fall, he will also help with assessment, including student feedback.
Fassihi wanted to make a change in her Academic Writing for ESL class so students could get help with grammar without its taking up too much class time. Last fall she began recording instructional videos students could watch at home, enabling them to do the homework, mostly critical writing exercises, in class when she could work directly with them.
It worked to a point, but web analytics showed that half of the students weren’t watching all of the 15- to 20-minute videos. Trevett-Smith convinced her to make the videos shorter and more interactive, changes she was able to test immediately in her Summer I class. She now offers one- to 4-minute videos, with activities in-between, and she’s getting essentially 100 percent participation.
“What motivates me is those aha moments when you see the students’ faces change and you know it has clicked, that they’ve gotten the material,” Fassihi says. “I’m seeing more of those.”
Hochhäusl wanted the mix of undergraduate and graduate students in her Twentieth-Century Architecture and the Environment seminar to research and write in teams, like lab researchers in the hard sciences.
“I had to develop strategies for how students can rely on each other in a collaborative research project,” she says. Those projects were sometimes as simple as how they marked the photographs they were taking and the folder structure used for storing them.
The fellowship also gave her time to work with archives at MIT and Harvard, where she found resources that students could use to research model home projects connected to those universities.
Christophor Cavalieri (COM’81), a COM assistant professor of television, planned a comprehensive review of his TV Studio Production class. But what he wanted even more was to find ways to keep students involved and productive outside of the weekly four-hour class.
Cavalieri looked at many software options, and decided to use plain old email to shape new ways to hold students accountable for out-of-class assignments—and pair them up for that work. He also took heart from hearing professors in other disciplines talk about the same problem with student preparation.
Trevett-Smith came to BU from the University of Virginia, where he had been assistant director of the Center for Teaching Excellence. A cultural anthropologist by training, he’s known for his expertise in digital technology and also for facilitating faculty learning communities.
His brief here was to turn what had been BU’s Center for Excellence & Innovation in Teaching, the precursor to the Center for Teaching & Learning, into a full-time resource for the University. The prior center faculty director, Janelle Heineke (Questrom’92), a Questrom School of Business professor and chair of operations and technology management, “did a phenomenal job with limited time and resources,” Trevett-Smith says. He has an administrative coordinator and plans to hire a learning experience designer for the center, which is currently in temporary offices at One Silber Way until a permanent location has been chosen.
His next big project is a retreat for new faculty from August 8 to 12, with space for up to 40 of the approximately 250 faculty members joining BU this fall. All of them will be invited to apply online. The program features topics from student motivation to course goals and objectives and from writing a syllabus to taking advantage of University technology.
He’s also working with the associate provost for digital learning and innovation, Chrysanthos Dellarocas, the Richard C. Shipley Professor of Management and a Questrom professor of information systems, on ways to contribute to BU’s Digital Learning Initiative. Trevett-Smith is hoping to help with assessment programs and the general education plan. And he’ll be bringing back the education and innovation conference run by the center.
He says his best and not-so-secret weapon is his first group of summer fellows.
“I have 12 champions for the center who are eager to go out and talk about it to their departments, and they’re already doing that on their own,” Trevett-Smith says. “There’s just so much opportunity out there and so much energy that at this point, we’re rolling.”