May 6, 2013

Deans offer outlook on Vanderbilt’s teaching landscape at Celebration of Teaching event

Changes in instructional technology as well as changes among the student body present opportunities and challenges in today’s university classrooms, said three Vanderbilt deans at a recent Celebration of Teaching event.

L-r: Deans Carolyn Dever, Camilla Benbow and Bonnie Miller and Center for Teaching Director Derek Bruff at the Celebration of Teaching May 3. (Steve Green/Vanderbilt)

When it comes to quality of teaching and research, Vanderbilt holds its faculty to high standards of excellence. But changes in instructional technology as well as changes among the student body present opportunities and challenges moving forward, said three deans at a recent Celebration of Teaching event.

College of Arts and Science Dean Carolyn Dever, Senior Associate Dean for Health Sciences Education Bonnie Miller, and Camilla Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Peabody College, shared thoughts on how teaching at Vanderbilt has changed in recent years and discussed trends that might affect university teaching in the years to come May 3 at The Commons Center.

Today’s graduate students, who represent the next generation of university faculty, have a different relationship to technology and can provide keen insight on up-and-coming teaching practices, Dever said, including massive open online courses (MOOCs) and innovations in day-to-day instructional practices, such as the use of flipped classrooms.

Better methods of assessing teaching practices and course effectiveness are needed, she added. In recent years, Vanderbilt students have given strong ratings to teaching quality, but just moderate ratings for how effective their courses are. Dever suggested that courses may need to be adapted to better meet the needs of today’s student body.

“We must change thoughtfully, with an eye toward knowledge,” Dever said.

Senior Associate Dean for Health Sciences Education Bonnie Miller at the Celebration of Teaching May 3. (Steve Green/Vanderbilt)

With so much information so readily available in the world, “when does information need to be transformed into knowledge, and how do we do that efficiently?” asked Miller, who has been part of continuous efforts to revise the School of Medicine’s curriculum over the past decade. Instructional technology should enhance traditional teaching but not replace it, she said.

Miller also questioned the civic mission of teaching. She said the goal is to encourage students to be engaged, curious and committed lifelong learners, and for medical faculty to consider themselves not only as physicians but educators as well.

One of the biggest challenges in medical education today is aligning curriculum with the current health care delivery system, where the focus is increasingly on preventive self-care and community care. The teaching model has medical students doing their learning in hospital and clinical settings, yet the current goal is to keep people out of the hospital or doctor’s office.

Benbow said that becoming a good teacher is not only an art, but also a science and a practice. Vanderbilt should put as much emphasis on training its graduate students to be good teachers as it does on training them to be good researchers.

Today’s students are more savvy and intellectually curious than students in years past, requiring faculty to “go deeper” in their teaching, Benbow said. But current students also seem to have greater social and emotional needs, requiring faculty to be resourceful in meeting them. “We must teach to the whole student,” she said.

Advising and mentoring is integral to the faculty mission, not merely an act of service, Benbow said.

The daylong Celebration of Teaching was sponsored by the Center for Teaching and the Graduate School to recognize the achievements of Vanderbilt’s teaching community. The annual event was expanded this year to include panels and presentations discussing successes, innovations and research in teaching and learning at Vanderbilt.

The day concluded with a ceremony recognizing graduates of the Center for Teaching’s Teaching Certificate Program, recipients of the Certificate in College Teaching, graduates of the SoTL Scholars Program and faculty who have received teaching awards in the past year.