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The Blue & Gray Press | May 23, 2018

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New Center Integrates Disciplines

Aiming to pull together campus resources in multimedia, speaking and writing for the benefit of both the faculty and their students, a new Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation is in its fledgling stages.

Associate Provost John Morello described the center’s primary objectives as the, “twin missions of developing excellent teaching and being exploratory.”

The center’s name choice was deliberate, Morello said, seeking to emphasize the importance of progressive methods and unifying the elements of campus that promote quality instruction.

“There is no shortage of reports about how higher education needs to change,” Morello said. “If you’re not innovating, you’re falling behind.”

President Rick Hurley has stated that he wants the University of Mary Washington to be the best liberal arts school in the country, and this development is a step in that direction, Morello said.

In the same way that UMW encourages its students to be lifelong learners, it also wants to facilitate its professors’ lifelong development as educators, according to Morello. New and tenured professors alike can learn from one another’s experience and innovation, he said.

The center will try to, “help faculty think more about not just teaching but the other side,” Morello said. “How do we know what students are really learning? They’re two sides of the same coin. How do we know whether any of it results in improved learning so that students acquire what they should from the experience?”

These are questions that the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation will attempt to address.

Uniting the efforts of the Writing Center, the Speaking Center, Distance and Blended Learning, and the Division of Teaching and Learning will give the directors of each of these units an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate.

“We never had that kind of coordination before,” Associate Professor of Communication Anand Rao said. “We’ve all coordinated and integrated some of the programs informally.”

Rao, who was recently named chair of the committee to select the center’s director, said that increased appreciation for how to implement digital models in the classroom will be a part of the center’s work.

The search for a director for the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation is nearly ready to launch, and the committee in charge of it held its first meeting on Monday. Rao said the committee hopes to hire someone by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

The university has been interested in hiring a permanent director for a number of years, according to Morello, and has had economics professor Steven Greenlaw as acting director in the interim time.

“We want to hire an excellent person, and we want to do that as soon as possible,” Morello said. “But we don’t want to rush ourselves. It needs to be a the right fit.”

Both Morello and Rao said that there has been rising interest among faculty on campus to develop a more centralized way of discussing and developing teaching methods.

“From my vantage point, it makes a lot of sense given current configurations,” Rao said.

While the university looked at the models of other schools including Stanford, Vanderbilt and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the primary focus was to find a structure that would bring together the units already in existence at Mary Washington, according to Morello.

The finalized budget for the center has not yet been determined, Morello said. The existing teaching center has a budget of $50,000, a figure that will hopefully be enhanced for the new center.

One thing that is certain is that each individual component, such as the Writing Center or the Division of Teaching and Learning, will keep its current budget.