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Center for Teaching and Learning: Faculty Development Center supports innovation in teaching

March 17, 2023
By: Nancy Sheehan

With so much research emerging regarding brain and learning science, and experiences through COVID, faculty recognize that there are many different considerations and strategies to cultivate learning environments that are inclusive to all students. 

The Center for Teaching and Learning: Faculty Development Center (CTL) works with full time and part time faculty members to reflect and strengthen their teaching and learning strategies.  In response to engagement and the University’s commitment to teaching, the CTL has tripled in size recently, adding two more positions. There are two faculty members who contribute their expertise part time, and the center hired Julie Habjan Boisselle, its first full-time staff member.

“We’ve grown in size – and in terms of woman power,” Emily Soltano, professor of psychology and the CTL’s director, said with a smile. To assist with the CTL’s mission, Mary Fowler, professor of mathematics, was added as the faculty fellow for equity in 2021 and Boisselle came on board last summer as the faculty development specialist.

The CTL provides support, tools, and inspiration to improve teaching and learning, an interconnected process. The Center works to facilitate faculty development in higher education teaching through innovative, creative, and evidence-based practices.

“That’s important because Worcester State is a teaching institution, so we need to have resources in place to support our faculty,” Soltano said. And that’s no small task. “We have over 200 full-time faculty and 200 adjunct faculty,” she said.

Among learning opportunities offered by the CTL this semester is a series of brown bag discussions for faculty. The next discussion will be March 24 in room 204 in the Wellness Center. The subject is “Responding to Academic Dishonesty: New Trends and Old Challenges,” and the presenters will be Henry Theriault, associate vice president for academic affairs, and Noah Daleo, associate professor of mathematics.  And, with support from Jessica Nachilo ’22 (December) the team also just launched a portfolio of new resources on the web, including Teaching Resources & Strategies & Guides and a Faculty Mentoring Community.

Boisselle comes to Worcester State with over two decades of experience collaborating with faculty. She started as a teaching librarian and then transitioned into instructional technology and digital pedagogy roles. Most recently, through the pandemic, she earned a certificate in instructional design. “I’ve worn a number of different hats in terms of partnering with faculty to facilitate best practices related to teaching and learning,” she said.

When a faculty member comes to the CTL seeking Boisselle’s input, she starts by listening. 

“I ask a lot of questions,” she said. “It’s important for me to just hear what’s on their minds, and some of that comes from my librarian roots. Often people know they have a need but they sometimes haven’t yet clearly defined it. They’re uncertain. Librarians call this moment ‘seeking the question behind the question’ so I just give them space to think and talk aloud about what it is they’re navigating and where they want to go.”

One thing faculty members can be certain about, however, is that their conversations with Boisselle will remain private, she said. “Something Emily and I have talked a lot about is how important it is to develop trust so that when faculty come to me, they know that whatever they’re navigating stays with me and remains confidential.  We want to provide space for faculty to feel safe trying new things and innovating.” she said. 

The CTL staff stay abreast of research on learning science and best practices which many faculty, involved in their own research, don’t always have time to do. “Sometimes we’re just five minutes ahead of everybody monitoring the research,” Boisselle said. “What’s the research saying about the different ways students prefer to wrangle with new concepts? How do we develop learning environments that bring out the best in all of our students? It’s not one size fits all.”

Diversity is a focus of Fowler’s work as the faculty fellow for equity. In that position, she works toward bringing equity into classrooms, through both teaching equitably and teaching equity.

An example she gives is how she handles it when a student asks for a special accommodation. “Maybe their mother is sick, so they want to take a quiz on another day,” Fowler said. “So, if I give any accommodation, I post it on Blackboard so all students could take advantage of it if they need to.”

Fowler says universal design is a key to equity in the classroom. “Universal design just means that if you make the on-ramp to the learning very accessible, then it should be accessible to everyone,” she said. “Then when students run into roadblocks, they have access to the ramp back on which helps people of different abilities or different economic and cultural perspectives.”

Fowler also tries to include as much diversity as possible in her own statistics curriculums. “We do a lot of problems that include social issues, including income or housing availability or race and ethnicity,” she said. “And then I try to talk with faculty about how they can do similar things in their classrooms, which of course have different student-learning outcomes and different topics. but we all just need to continue to think about that.”

 In the above photo (from left) Julie Boisselle, Emily Soltano, and Mary Fowler. 

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