POD Network Response to Commission on Undergrad Ed Reports

Dear POD member,

POD Network’s Governance Manual indicates that one key purpose of the organization is to fulfill an advocacy role, to intentionally promote the work of educational development and Centers for Teaching and Learning (CTLs). We write to inform you of a multi-pronged approach that the Executive and Core Committees are taking in response to two recent reports by the Commission on Undergraduate Education for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. We invite you to offer suggestions and feedback on these steps by emailing executive@podnetwork.org. Additionally, because you may hear about this report from constituencies on your own campus, we offer you a draft email template below, with resources to respond to key critiques raised in these documents.

Background

In mid-November, the Commission on Undergraduate Education for the American Academy for Arts and Sciences released Policies and Practices to Support Undergraduate Teaching Improvement (hereafter referenced as “Teaching Improvement”). Although the POD Network appreciates the Commission’s attention to the elevation of undergraduate teaching, we find that the report vastly mischaracterizes the work of Centers for Teaching and Learning. Based on a review of websites, the authors claim that CTLs’ “attention to teaching is overwhelmingly rooted in general pedagogical knowledge, and indifferent to specific disciplines and subjects and their distinctive concepts and ideas” (p. 2) and that “rigorous studies of [CTLs’] effects on faculty members’ teaching appear non-existent — or if these do exist, they are not publicly posted” (p. 19). On November 30, the Academy followed up with a culminating report, The Future of Undergraduate Education. Although much less problematic, the absence of CTLs throughout this 100+-page report was striking, given our recognized role in advancing teaching and learning.

POD Network Response

In response to these reports, the POD Network Executive and Core Committees have taken the following steps:

  • We have contacted center directors of all institutions represented by a Commission member, and all campuses mentioned inTeaching Improvement, to offer support for personal outreach.
  • We have spoken several times with Academy staff members about Teaching Improvement, and we hope to maintain that communication to continue to register our concerns and to develop a proactive relationship with the important work of the Academy moving forward.
  • POD Network presidents have attended two Academy events. At the November 30 event, an oral statement was made that noted that a rigorous literature on CTL effectiveness does exist, our work is profoundly shaped by pedagogical research in the disciplines, and we work in close collaboration with departments to share, adopt, and support more pedagogical research on these ideas.
  • Working in collaboration with multiple leaders in the field of educational development, members of the Executive Committee are drafting an accessible review of the literature on faculty development impact as a resource to our members. We are also proactively discussing other resources that would be helpful to post on the POD Network website.
  • In the future, after a conversation with the Academy, the POD Network Executive and Core Committees will likely follow up with an organizational statement in response to the Commission’s overall work, in collaboration with the Network of STEM Education CentersWe affirm the key role that Centers for Teaching and Learning and STEM Education Centers play in advancing teaching and learning.

What You Can Do

If you know a Commission member or an Academy member on your campus and would like to engage in a discussion, we invite you to do so. Below, we also provide a template message for you, in case key stakeholders on your campus reference the report.

We welcome your feedback on these ideas by emailing executive@podnetwork.org. Please be in touch about ways that we can partner with you to make visible your impact, collaborations with faculty and departments, and institutional change initiatives to move the needle on teaching and learning enhancement.

 

Best,

POD Network Executive and Core Committees

 


TEMPLATE RESPONSE (Please modify to fit your context)

 

Dear ____,

Thank you for calling to my attention the report, Policies and Practices to Support Undergraduate Teaching Improvement. I am appreciative of your outreach to begin a conversation about this work.

While I commend the report’s emphasis on teaching improvement, I have several concerns about the findings and web search-based methodology.

For example, the report states (bold text is mine):

  1. 19: Clearly, teaching centers are significant loci of professional development and teaching support in higher education. However, rigorous studies of their effects on faculty members’ teaching appear nonexistent—or if these do exist, they are not publicly posted.

What a web search may miss is that there is a strong literature on the impact of Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) work. For example, a multi-year, multi-institutional Spencer-funded project rigorously established the link between faculty development and student learning, and a 2004 study across eight countries found that the students of faculty who taught and concurrently participated in educational development programs reported fewer surface learning approaches (focus on memorization rather than understanding) over time. There are also multiple examples of other impact studies with other CTL constituencies, such as this large NSF-funded study on the long-term impact of graduate student professional development. I have selected just a few large studies but I would be happy to discuss others, or how [Name of your campus’s center] uses evidence-based approaches to guide its practice.

  1. 2: We find that teaching centers and faculty mentoring programs may address features of the faculty role that are decoupled from teaching; and their attention to teaching is overwhelmingly rooted in general pedagogical knowledge, and indifferent to specific disciplines and subjects and their distinctive concepts and ideas.

As a faculty member who is familiar with the work of [Center Name], you are aware that our work with faculty is not decoupled from teaching. Instead, our work is profoundly shaped by pedagogical research in the disciplines, and we work closely in collaboration with departments to share, adopt, and support more pedagogical research on these ideas. An example of this at our campus’s center is [e.g., a collaborative discipline-centered project on your campus, the range of disciplinary backgrounds held by your center’s staff/faculty, use of the Decoding of the Disciplines approach].

I look forward to talking more with you about how we can deepen our collaborations, in partnership to support teaching and learning at [your campus].

Best,