In this issue












Check out these recent posts to our blog.

Students as Producers: Vanderbilt Commodore Orchestra

Students as Producers: “¿Dónde está él?” (“Where is he?”)

Students as Producers: Designing For Marie Antoinette

New CFT Guide on Syllabus Design

From the Director: Celebration of Learning in Review

CFT Now Accepting Applications for the SoTL Scholars Program








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June 2014

Reflections from SoTL Scholar Vivian Finch

“Scholarly teaching is what every one of us should be engaged in every day that we are in classroom, in our office with students, tutoring, lecturing, conducting discussions, all the roles we play pedagogically. Our work as teachers should meet the highest scholarly standards of groundedness, of openness, of clarity and complexity. But it is only when we step back and reflect systematically on the teaching we have done, in a form that can be publicly reviewed and built upon by our peers, that we have moved from scholarly teaching to the scholarship of teaching.”  -Lee Shulman, 2004

SoTL (the scholarship of teaching and learning) is an academic movement in which an instructor investigates student learning with a scholarly question in mind about “what works” or “what is/what it looks like” in the classroom. The challenge, as posited by Shulman (above), is moving towards SoTL teaching, not just scholarly teaching. SoTL investigates how we foster student learning through our teaching approaches by asking good questions and gathering evidence from students about their learning, our teaching practices, and often discipline-specific challenges.  Then, we share our findings with the greater academic community.  In this way, SoTL is a collection of evidence-based conversations about teaching and learning.

“ The program has given me the tools to conduct future research and become a constant contributor to the SoTL field as well as my own field."

The SoTL Scholars Program encouraged me to explore aspects not only of my own teaching, but also of my students’ learning in ways I hadn’t previously thought to consider.  Moreover, participating in a group of scholars from across campus provided me with valuable insights on my own research and approaches, culminating in a well-thought out project that I hope will contribute to existing discourse on my project's topic. The program has given me the tools to conduct future research and become a constant contributor to the SoTL field as well as my own field.  Most importantly, the program has taught me to be more mindful about what it is we do as instructors in the classroom and what we can do as instructors when we work together.

The CFT invites applications for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Scholars Program for the 2014-15 academic year. Deadline for applications is Monday, August 25th. For more information and to apply, visit the SoTL Scholars Program web page.


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Summer Reading Recommendations from the CFT

by Nancy Chick, CFT Assistant Director

I think I’ve begun an annual tradition of offering summer reading recommendations. Last summer, I suggested a collection of short essays by famous writers looking back on the poems that made them fall in love with writing.  The summer before, I recommended a professor’s memoir of her days as a student and how they influenced her work now as a teacher.  This summer, I again turn to a book full of memories, but this time they frame some of the most important psychological research in recent history.

Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (2010) is both one of the best examples of good science writing and a compelling narrative weaving together Steele’s memories as an African American young man, graduate student, early career- and now leading social psychologist; his groundbreaking findings about what we can actually change when it comes to living with stereotypes of all kinds; and the fascinating explanations of the process of doing this careful psychological research over the last 20 years. These three threads are ultimately all about stereotype threat, or the effects of potentially confirming negative stereotypes about any of one's group identities.  It affects women in math classes, black students in standardized testing, white men in sports, older students on traditional campuses, etc., by weighing heavily on their cognitive loads, making it difficult to fully focus on high-stakes tasks.  It’s too nuanced to effectively explain in a sentence or two, so grab a copy of Whistling Vivaldi, and be prepared for the ground to shift beneath your feet as you realize not only the effects of the stereotypes “in the air” around us but also what we can do about them.

The Center for Teaching’s 2014-15 theme will be “Teaching, Difference, & Power,” so I selected Steele’s book for our office’s reading circle. Four of us met at the Edgehill Café last month for a substantive and thoughtful conversation about identity, privilege, power, and teaching.  In August, I’ll weave strategies for diminishing stereotype threat into a workshop on student anxieties in the classroom.  You’ll hear more from us about stereotype threat throughout the year.  Get a jump start by reading the book over the summer, and join us next year as we explore teaching, difference, and power.

 CFT Graduate Teaching Fellow Dani Picard offers a summer reading recommendation that connects to the CFT’s 2013-14 theme, “Students as Producers.”

This summer I am reading T. Mills Kelly's Digital Humanities: Teaching History in the Digital Age (2013), which explores the ways historians can incorporate digital projects into their classrooms. Kelly’s core argument is tantalizingly similar to the CFT’s “Students as Producers” theme from this last school year. Both embrace the idea that educators should design learning opportunities that address discipline authentic questions and “give students enough free rein to take real ownership of their work" (Kelly, 5). 

For Kelly, digital history allows students to move beyond the basic skills of historical analysis and toward one of two goals: "to produce either new knowledge about the past, or old knowledge presented in new ways." (Kelly, 12) Kelly’s book looks at the research behind these sorts of projects and examines practical projects that help students develop a clearer understanding of what history is, how it’s created, and how it’s communicated to audiences through a variety of mediums. Further, Kelly explains that we may not be able to predict how our students’ projects will develop– and that allowing for that sort of surprising creativity is a worthwhile experience for our students and the discipline.

Kelly was notoriously banned by Wikipedia for using it in his classroom as a medium to create historical hoaxes (with viral success!). The project’s purpose was not to stir up the internet or simply learn about what goes viral – rather, his goal was to teach his students how to be better consumers of historical information because they had experienced being the creators of it – and debated the many ways the information could appear online. Our own Derek Bruff, Director of the CFT, frequently cites some of Kelly’s digital projects in his sessions on using digital technology in the classroom.

 Derek Bruff also recommends a book that extends our "Students as Producers" theme, as well as one on social media use.

Just yesterday, I received a copy of Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching by Alison Cook-Sather, Catherine Bovill, and Peter Felten.  Peter was an associate director at the CFT before founding the teaching center at Elon University, and I consider him a mentor and friend.  I participated in a conference session he and his co-authors led at a conference a couple of years.  They described different kinds of student-faculty partnerships, ones that invited students to take more responsibility for the design and direction of their courses.  I was impressed at the resulting benefits to student engagement and learning—and how much the faculty members got out of the partnerships.  I’m looking forward to reading Peter’s book this summer and drawing connections to our recent “Students as Producers” theme year. 

Also on my summer reading list is It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd.  The book presents the results of an in-depth, qualitative study of how teenagers use social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  I’ve heard danah boyd give a couple of presentations on her research.  Hearing her describe some of the clever ways that teens navigate issues of identity and privacy online made me realize that I have a lot to learn about how our students might navigate these issues.  Instead of making assumptions about their behavior or projecting my own use of social media onto them, I’m hoping to learn from what boyd has discovered through her research.

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Make the Most of Your Course Preparation Time This Summer

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Summer time is here, and many faculty members have a break from their usual schedules, a chance to slow down a bit and start planning their fall courses. 

If you have a breather, you may find this an opportune time to review and refresh your teaching plans and practices.  The Center for Teaching is open all summer, with consultants ready to help you review your classroom accomplishments this past year and consider how to recreate your course designs.

We tailor our consultations to your specific needs, based on a “backward design” process described in Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.  This useful framework works “backwards” by starting with what we usually consider the last phase of course development, the desired results.  Identifying the outcomes you want from the course—the learning goals you set for your students—lays a solid foundation for an effective learning experience.  Then you proceed to creating targeted assessments that provide evidence that they’re making progress toward those specific goals. 

You end by designing assignments and activities that give your students practice in using their learning to initiate that progress.  In sum, you

    • Identify desired results (learning goals).
    • Determine acceptable evidence (assessments).
    • Plan learning experiences and instruction (assignments and activities). 

Come in today and we’ll help you fine-tune your current designs or create brand-new courses.  Call 322-7290 to schedule an appointment.


In addition to consultation, the CFT website contains a wealth of useful resources like our collection of guides, online documents in which we synthesize and condense some of the research and resulting practices of specific topics in teaching and learning. These guides support our mission by contributing to two main areas in our programs and services:

  • Identifying, sharing, and advocating for research-based practices in university teaching and the resources that support them, and
  • Fostering campus conversations on teaching and learning that are informed by national and international higher education developments.

Visit the CFT website and discover new ways to structure and organize content, evaluate student learning, and create activities to better engage students with the course material. Our 68 guides are organized into five categories.

Some of our more recently added guides include:

We have an ongoing process of revising existing guides and developing new ones, so keep your eyes open for announcements here and on our blog. If you have any questions or comments, or if we can help facilitate a conversation using any of our guides, please contact us at 322-7290.

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Reflecting On and Documenting Your Teaching Experiences


Reflecting on Teaching: 
What?  For Whom?  Why?

Often, the motivation to improve one’s teaching by revising practices or experimenting with new initiatives stems from reflection.  This reflection often focuses on feedback received from others, such as student evaluations or peer reviews.  Reflection further involves one’s own assessment of experiences, through self-observation and activities that foster self-analysis such as teaching workshops or individual consultations, and/or pedagogical research. 

Written reflections on teaching can be used for personal, professional, or pedagogical purposes. While teaching statements are increasingly an important part of hiring and tenure processes, they also are effective in helping one clearly and coherently conceptualize his or her approaches to and experiences of teaching and learning, and deepen and renew their commitment to values and goals for their teaching.    

At Vanderbilt, promotion and review processes require faculty to reflect on their work and document their progress in teaching, research and service.  When reporting on teaching, faculty are encouraged to articulate their teaching philosophy and objectives; describe past and planned course and curriculum development; and explain pedagogical initiatives, innovations or experiments, and their results.

The Center for Teaching provides one-on-one consultations on evaluating and documenting your teaching.  As we assist you in preparing your teaching documentation, we work with you to reflect deliberately on your practice as a means of deepening your understanding of pedagogical goals and methods, and linking those goals and methods to student learning.

If you’d like more information about reflecting on and documenting your teaching, please stop by, or call, the Center for Teaching (322-7290) or visit our set of teaching guides on the topic.

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