Campus News

Meeting professors’ needs: CTL launches initiative to help instructors handle classroom challe

C. Edward Watson is using results from a survey of 800 faculty and instructors to develop programs that address technology issues

UGA professors are among the most knowledgeable in their given fields. However, successfully transferring that knowledge to students in the classroom amid growing class sizes, ever-changing technological tools and an increasing list of responsibilities can be challenging for faculty and instructors.

Those challenges were highlighted in a recent survey conducted by the university’s Center for Teaching and Learning, a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Instruction, that provides campus-wide leadership on matters relating to instruction.

The survey, which included responses from 800 teaching faculty and instructors, found that technology issues, engaging with students, time management and large classroom sizes were the biggest challenges for teaching at UGA. It also sparked recent efforts by CTL to begin facing those challenges.

C. Edward Watson, the director of CTL, said the survey was intended to give him and the university a better sense of the issues facing faculty and graduate teaching assistants in the classroom. It also asked respondents about ways that CTL could help.

Watson took over the role as director of the center last summer, succeeding Nelson Hilton, who returned to teaching in the English department and also now serves as chairman of the executive committee of the University Council.

To address the challenges articulated in the survey and also to raise its profile on campus, CTL has launched a speaker series that will cover a range of topics related to challenges and developments in classroom and online instruction. Watson said he hopes the series will fuel a campus dialogue about teaching.

“This series is designed to provide opportunities for those who teach at UGA to engage in discussion about their classroom practice,” Watson said. “We’ve tried, as we select topics, to certainly meet the needs that have been articulated, but to also create a breadth of conversation.”

The first discussion took place Feb. 14 with Lisa DuPree McNair of Virginia Tech’s engineering department. The next talk in the series will focus on a topic that recently has garnered a lot of attention within higher education: Massive Open Online Courses. MOOCs, as they commonly are called, are online courses typically freely available to sometimes thousands or tens of thousands of students. Recently, major universities like Stanford, Harvard and MIT began offering MOOCs.

“MOOCs over the last year have been an exceptionally hot topic within the teaching and learning world and within higher education,” Watson said.

The buzz about MOOCs also has given rise to questions about how or if universities should deliver the courses, whether they provide meaningful instruction and whether those who pass the courses should earn credit hours.

A panel discussion titled “MOOCs: Opportunities and Limitations” will be held Feb. 27 at 10 a.m. in the Dogwood Room at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education with an 11 a.m. reception to follow. The lecture, which is co-sponsored by the Office of Online Learning, will feature Thomas C. Reeves, professor emeritus in the College of Education; Alicia Corts, a doctoral student in the theatre and film studies department; Georgia Tech interactive learning associate professor Tucker Balch; and Emory University music professor Steve Everett, who is also director of Emory’s Center for Faculty Development and Excellence.

Other special guests for the CTL Speaker Series are Terry Doyle, an author who focuses on research-based learner-centered pedagogy, and David Wiley, a proponent of free and open access to education. Times and locations for those events have not been finalized yet.

Moving forward, CTL also is preparing to adapt to challenges for UGA’s instructors. Watson said he is in the process of hiring new staff, including a coordinator of faculty development and a coordinator to track trends in emerging technologies. Once the new hires begin work, Watson said CTL will rollout new services for instructors.

“I’m hoping to have a more concerted faculty development presence in the fall,” he said.