Keeping the Conversation Going: The Institute of Teaching and Learning at College of the Canyons

March
2009
Russell Richardson, Director, College of the Canyons

Achieving teaching excellence is a career long endeavor requiring a never-ending exploration of the mysteries of the teaching and learning process. Increasingly, colleges support this endeavor through teaching centers or institutes, which provide a broad-based collection of programs focused on teaching improvement. College of the Canyons (COC) has developed its Institute for Teaching and Learning (ITL) with this purpose in mind. The ITL is a collection of programs designed to provide teachers with opportunities for study, discussion, and reflection on teaching paired with concrete incentives for participation.

The ITL includes three major components. Our efforts to provide faculty development actually began in 1989 with a program exclusively for adjuncts, The Associate Program. Like most community colleges, adjuncts at COC far outnumber full-time faculty. Given the significance of their role in the teaching-learning process, it makes sense to tailor a program to the needs of adjuncts and to provide them with a vehicle for professional advancement as well as teaching improvement. The Associate Program is a series of six Saturday workshops spread across two semesters. The first three are based on microteaching and provide faculty with opportunities to practice their teaching skills in front of other teachers and to receive feedback. The second three workshops cover a variety of pedagogical issues and topics and give participants opportunities to exchange views about their teaching and the use of the techniques involved. The program also includes a mentoring phase in which each participant, working with a mentor, plans a lesson based on the methods introduced in the program. The lesson is then implemented in the teacher's classroom and observed by the mentor, who provides the teacher with feedback. The culmination of the program is a reflective paper based on the mentee's classroom demonstration and the accompanying feedback. Two hundred and sixty nine adjuncts have participated in the program, which leads to "associate adjunct status" and a 10% increase in pay.

A second component offers both full- and part-time faculty courses and workshops on teaching. COC full- and part-time faculty may receive salary advancement by accruing 12 units of course credit. Rather than taking additional courses within their teaching discipline, the college believes that some faculty may be well served by taking courses in pedagogy. To promote this practice, the ITL offers credit courses and course-length workshops on teaching, approved by the District as eligible for salary advancement. The courses are developed in-house and taught by COC faculty. There are currently eight courses covering a variety of topics including online teaching, educational technology, and other pedagogical methods.

Third, the Institute promotes classroom research through individual grants to faculty members who design and implement research projects based on concepts and principles they have encountered in Institute classes. Faculty members receive stipends of $500, $1,000, and $1,500 for completing classroom research projects (CAPs) that promote reflection and change in classroom practices. CAPs are a key piece in the web of support that the ITL weaves to promote reflective practice. The process gives teachers an incentive to make an idea their own by thinking deeply about the criteria for success when introducing a new technique. Through peer review and the give and take process by which the projects are designed, participants take classroom research a step further than they are likely to take it by themselves.

In addition to these programs, the ITL offers Flex workshops, provides facilitator training, publishes in-house articles on teaching, and supports an online center for teaching resources. Over 500 faculty members have participated in ITL courses and workshops. In some ways, we want studying and reflecting on teaching to be like a never-ending, campus-wide conversation and all the programs above are the vehicles for keeping that conversation going. Undoubtedly, the more we talk, study, and reflect on teaching, the better teachers we become.

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