Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Top Services in Centers for Teaching Excellence

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I am currently serving as a visiting scholar at Utah State University (USU). I have been working with the Office of the Provost to identify ways that teaching can be support more effectively at USU. As part of my research, I have been reviewing the websites of several Centers for Teaching Excellence at other large universities across the United States with the goal of identifying the common kinds or services and supports given at the university. In this blog post, I will describe some of my findings.

How I Chose the Centers to Include in My Review
I used a fairly unscientific approach for selecting these centers. I performed a Google search for the term "Center for Teaching Excellence." I then began reviewing each site in the order of their ranking by Google. I reviewed a total of 7 sites using this process. I also reviewed the sites of Utah Valley University and the University of Utah, though U of U's site appeared to be in transition from one structure to another and I therefore did not include it in the review.

To document and tabulate my findings, I created a giant table with the university in the first column and the potential services throughout the subsequent columns. I placed a check mark to indicate whether the center provided the service and also made notes in the limited space. I ended up adding an additional piece of paper to the table to add more columns. I also took notes on  a separate Word document on what I found interesting as I went through the sites.

Common Services/Programs at Centers of Teaching Excellence
The following table lays out the most common services offered at these centers. The services are organized from most common to least common.
Service/Program
# offering service (of 8 reviewed)
Online teaching resources for faculty (e.g. blogs, web pages, videos, podcasts related to teaching excellence)
8
Teaching workshops and/or institutes
8
New Faculty Teaching Preparation
7
Teaching Consultations
7
Teaching Observations
6
Small Grants for Teaching Innovation/Improvement
6
Graduate student teacher support program
4
Teaching awards
4
Center-led mentoring program
4
Faculty fellowships to promote teaching excellence
3
Teaching Certification Program
3
Faculty portfolio development support
2
Department-level faculty ambassadors/liaisons
2
Instructional technology programs and research groups
2
International graduate student teacher support program
1
Customized workshops
1
System for faculty observation of high impact teachers
1
Center-run “Journal of Teaching Effectiveness”
1
Faculty Writing Academy
1


Typical Staffing of Centers for Teaching Effectiveness
I made it a point to document the basic staffing structure of each of these centers. Based on my review, the following staffing structure seems fairly typical and standard in higher education. It should be noted that many universities had several more employees and programs than these; however, these appeared to be the most common.
  • Director – The director should have expertise in faculty development and capacity to lead the center while working closely with administrators of the various faculty support initiatives.
  • Faculty Fellow –Some kind of temporary visit from a faculty member to the center, perhaps for 1-2 semesters.
  • Support Staff – Administrative assistance and support, maintenance and support of website, communication, etc..
  • Graduate Student – Students providing research and support to director and to the faculty fellows.
The average number of employees at the centers reviewed is about 6. This usually included 2-3 individuals with doctorate degrees who were usually directors or associate directors. Most centers include 2-3 support staff, though some had many more, including instructional design and technology support. I assume that some of the universities that didn't have these kinds of roles in the center likely had them in separate areas.

Structure of the Center Website 
I found that the structure of most of these sites was unique. Many of them were fairly disorganized, and as I looked at them from a faculty member's perspective, I had a hard time figuring out what they might be able to do for me. I would probably keep the faculty member in mind when creating the site. Here is what I currently think should be the basic structure of the site of a center for teaching excellence (though some further analysis and testing is warranted). Basic sub-pages should include (1) the About page, (2) the Services page, (3) the Workshops page, and (4) the Resources page.
Recommended structure for center for teaching effectiveness website. 

A Few Final Notes
It should be noted that this was a review of a relatively small number of centers (only 8), but I believe they are typical for what is out there. Also, these were larger universities, and it would be difficult for a smaller university to implement some of these programs. However, the general categories of support appear to be very sound and useful, and it makes sense to me to use these categories in many settings.

This is my current thinking on the topic, but I am still doing plenty of investigating. I have purchased some books on teaching support at the university level and will continue to deepen my knowledge as I focus on this kind of work going forward.
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