February 1, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 17°F


Part five: Integrating new teaching methods

In the fifth part of a series on IC 20/20, The Ithacan takes a look at the college’s new faculty development resources and updated alternative learning methods. 

To broaden the resources and collaboration opportunities available to Ithaca College faculty, the college is planning to substantially revamp the Center for Faculty Excellence, which currently organizes new faculty orientation, tenure application assistance, faculty excellence awards and educational workshops.

From left, Brian McAree, Carol Henderson and Virginia Mansfield-Richardson discuss the core curriculum in a committee meeting last spring.

The changes, suggested by a CFE IC 20/20 subcommittee, include hiring a full-time director, adding learning tools to help professors strengthen their teaching skills and creating an office for the CFE. The center currently has no physical space allotted to it and a staff made up of professors who must find time between their other responsibilities.

The CFE aims to become a hub where faculty can trade ideas with colleagues for improving teaching, researching and using new technologies through needs-based workshops and personalized consultations. These functions will be a critical component for the new Integrated Core Curriculum, which emphasizes collaboration between schools and new methods of teaching.

Carol Henderson, associate provost for academic policy and administration, who currently oversees the Faculty Development Committee, which is the CFE’s advisory committee, said the college community wants to allow faculty to collaborate across schools and build relationships that will strengthen the faculty community and yield positive results in classrooms.

“The CFE is intended to bring faculty members together and to bring in any kind of expertise and also use our existing internal expertise to just help people get even better at what they already do,” she said.

The college is concluding its search for a full-time CFE director. The new director will come to campus during the summer and begin work at the center by the fall semester in a temporary space until a permanent place is found or built. All current staff are expected to remain, though their responsibilities will shift.

Janice Elich Monroe is currently the faculty development coordinator and helps plan events and implement ideas from the FDC. Monroe said the addition of a full-time staff member will greatly reduce her workload; she is allotted six hours of release time from her duties as a professor — equivalent to two classes per semester — to complete the work. She said IC 20/20 will add even more responsibilities to the CFE.

“IC 20/20, if you looked at that carefully, you will see almost every task force says faculty development, faculty development, faculty development,” she said. “There’s a lot of initiatives that are new and different, and to make that work we’re just going to have to provide a lot of resources for faculty so that they can do the job effectively.”

The workshops have already seen a growth this year because they address topics suggested by the IC 20/20 task forces, Monroe said. There was a total of about 275 people attending eight workshops, and a wine and cheese social this year with three more workshops planned this month. In the 2010-11 school year, about 125 faculty attended six workshops. This is almost 18 percent of the 724 full-time and part-time faculty employed at the college last academic year.

Michael Reder, director of Connecticut College’s Center for Teaching and Learning and member of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, which provides support and resources for faculty development nationwide, said faculty development centers give professors more resources to teach better.

“We claim that we care about teaching and we claim that we do it well, but the best way to do that is with a group of people who are also teaching, and doing it well,” he said.

Reder said the creation of faculty development centers is rising at small colleges, but centers with full-time staff like the one the college will build up are not typical.

Monroe said the new CFE will bolster more collegiality at the college with further idea sharing and community building.

“After 20 years at a place, you would think you would be bored and ready to move on,” she said. “I’m excited because it’s a whole new set of learning opportunities for all of us.”


Alternative learning

Another aspect of the plan includes alternative learning delivery methods. Many are already in use by specific departments across campus, but the inclusion of this initiative is aimed at making students’ experiences in the classroom more consistent.

Initiative 12 calls for the use of instructional technology, including more online courses, as well as adaptation of non-traditional calendars, opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, incorporating alumni instruction and other plans.

Rob Gearhart, associate dean of graduate and professional studies, chaired the alternative learning delivery methods task force. Gearhart said the expansion of an online platform for learning is still in the development stages.

“We are primarily a residential, undergraduate institution. So we’re not going to wholesale, just become an online institution. That’s not what Ithaca College is all about,” Gearhart said. “However, there are ways that we can support our existing population of both undergrad or graduate students by carefully utilizing online courses.”

Michael Taves, executive director of Information Technology Services, said many of the details for increased and enhanced educational technology use have not yet been defined under the IC 20/20 plan.

“We know that there’s going to be a general trend towards encouraging more online learning, online course offerings,” Taves said. “The college is already preparing for that in terms of supporting some programs that ITS is co-sponsoring for faculty to learn how to develop effective online courses. But exactly what form that’s going to take, or how extensive it is, is not known yet.”

Gearhart said online course offerings will allow students to get ahead with credits, study outside of the traditional academic year and take courses while participating in an internship-based study abroad program without needing to spend time in a classroom.

Other aspects of the initiative also call for learning outside of a classroom setting. The Environmental Studies and Sciences Department has implemented an experiential learning approach for years. Professor Jason Hamilton, who will be chair of the department starting in fall 2012, said the Ithaca College Natural Lands serve as a hands-on learning method for the ENVS department and others at the college.

“The lands out there are our classroom in many cases, and in addition to that, they are our equipment,” Hamilton said. “The trees outside become an important part of our equipment, and the water and things like that. It’s our equipment, it’s our study organism, it’s our place to be, it’s our classroom,” he continued.

Hamilton said ENVS has already been “doing IC 20/20” before it was actually created. However, he said it is important that all students, not just those environmental studies and science majors, have these alternative learning experiences. Many colleges and universities are making innovative changes to their higher education approach, according to Hamilton, because it has been recognized that a change needed to be made.

“Status quo isn’t going to cut it anymore,” Hamilton said.

One aspect of the status quo is the idea that higher education entails students being taught by professors. However, the college saw other learning opportunities and noted them in IC 20/20. For instance, the Park School of Communications has used alumni in the classroom setting for years.

“We have always been active in using alumni as guest speakers and as mini-course presenters in the Park School,” said Diane Gayeski, dean of the Park School of Communications. “But when I became dean a few years ago I wanted to have a more systematic way of incorporating even more alums.”

What resulted from this desire was the creation of a new position in the school, assistant to the dean for industry relations, and the Spark at Park course offered to freshmen during their first semester at the college.

“It was taught for the first time in spring of 2011 with a small group of students, about 30 students, to try it out as a concept,” Gayeski said. “And then we enrolled all freshman in it this fall.”

The course will now be required for all communication majors in their freshman year. The course works as a mini-course and is designed to “ignite a future in media and communications” through media professionals — mostly alumni — talking about the industry.

“Learning from alumni is really a special thing because not only are they interesting professionals, but they can also relate to our students because they have had many of the same courses and have a lot of the same career aspirations,” she said.

IC 20/20 doesn’t just call for alumni learning opportunities, but for peer-to-peer education as well.

The Department of Sociology has used teaching assistants for years to lead breakout sessions for introductory classes held in the large Textor lecture halls. Professor Jonathan Laskowitz said the discussion sessions led by teaching assistants — or as he prefers to call them, discussion facilitators — parallel the materials discussed in lecture.

“They’re getting their 20 students to discuss the issues I’m talking about in broader way, they’re talking about them up close and personal,” Laskowitz said. “And so in that way we take a space that’s conventionally a lecture and create an intimate setting for the students to work through the ideas that I’m basically lecturing about.”

Junior Madison Vander Hill, an environmental studies major, developed a syllabus proposal for a gardening class out of the student organization Organic Growers of IC. Working with Michael Smith, a professor in the History and Environmental Studies and Sciences departments, Vander Hill succeeded in creating a class, which began this fall semester.

“I was one of five course assistants, and just because I had done a lot of the organizing already, I did a lot of the organizing throughout the course,” Vander Hill said. “As a course assistant we did not give grades, that’s the one thing we did not do. But with Michael we prepared and gave out assignments, and we led the whole class sessions.”

Gardening Principles and Practices brought 25 students, the five course assistants and Smith down to the student garden run by the Organic Growers. The course focused on the basics of gardening, and Vander Hill said despite her background in gardening she was able to learn through her role as a course assistant.

“I know a lot about gardening, but when I’m able to teach that to someone else I learn it in a completely different way,” Vander Hill said. “Honestly, for peer-to-peer learning, that is one of the most important benefits that students can get out of it as peer leaders.”


For a more in-depth look at the 12th initiative, visit theithacan.org/22818.