Q-and-A: Jim Spain describes plan for MU teaching and learning center

Thursday, May 29, 2014 | 6:08 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A draft of a plan establishing a center for teaching and learning excellence will be underway this fall as part of MU’s strategic plan, which was released in January. Jim Spain, the vice provost for undergraduate studies, will lead the development of the proposal.

On May 20, at MU’s fifth annual Celebration of Teaching conference, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin asked Spain to develop a proposal for the center. Spain said his office will determine what types of financial resources and space will be necessary for the center, which has no official name yet. His goal is to bring a plan to the chancellor before the end of the fall 2014 semester.

Earlier this week, Spain answered some questions about the center and his plans for putting a proposal together.

What’s the current status of this plan?

"Chancellor Loftin has asked us to provide him and our interim provost a plan. We’ll wait until our faculty get back this fall so that we can ask them for their input. We’ve got a number of faculty who are on nine-month employment contracts, so they’re not active and available over the summer, and we don’t want to exclude anyone from having an opportunity for input."

From whom else will you seek input?

"We’ll certainly get the input from Faculty Council, given that the council has endorsed the need for a center. We’ll get the input from the Graduate Faculty Senate, who also has endorsed the need for a center. In addition, we’ll be getting input from deans and chairs, as well, because they’re responsible for helping support faculty in their teaching roles. We want to make sure we get their perspectives as to what types of things would be most helpful for their faculty. We’ll also be inviting some input from graduate students."

How will you gather this input?

"We’ll start with some research we have already completed and do some surveys. We may do a few focus groups where we’ll invite some folks in to sit with us and give us their perspectives through a more qualitative research process. This will complement the information we collect through the quantitative process with surveys. The surveys will include some open-ended research questions for them to give us more specific feedback."

What will be included in the plan?

"The faculty will help us clarify what they need. The strategic plan identified some things the center should provide. We need to go back to the campus community and confirm that things like peer review are still important.

"What (Chancellor Loftin) wants is for us to provide him with a plan: How would it be administratively structured? What kinds of financial resources are required? What kind of space will be necessary? How does it meet the needs of the campus? He needs to see that plan before he can identify what pieces of that can we afford because we are undergoing a strategic planning process that involves the reallocation of financial resources."

The strategic plan identified the responsibilities of the center as sponsoring workshops, an annual teaching conference, peer review and faculty development. Are those goals consistent with what you’re looking to create?

"That’s really the question that we’ll be posing to the faculty, administrative leaders, Faculty Council and the Graduate Faculty Senate. Are these still the things that we need the center to be doing in support of teaching and learning at MU? My guess is yes. But it’s not my guess that’s going to drive how the center is organized. It’s been a while since that strategic plan was put together and launched, and we need to go back and get fresher and more recent, more current input from our faculty."

What is the Teaching and Learning Center at Mizzou? Is that something that will be incorporated into the center?

"The Teaching and Learning Center was designed as a virtual center in the absence of a programmatic center. And so what the TLC was designed to do was just pull together all the resources around teaching and learning that the campus offers through central campus and this office. So TLC served more as a virtual center, sort of a clearinghouse or landing page. I would expect that as a programmatic center comes online that that website will be incorporated into, probably redesigned and relaunched — but it would become the responsibility of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence for teaching and learning excellence."

What other programs does MU have that meet the teaching excellence goals outlined in the strategic plan?

"The Celebration of Teaching was established five years ago. It focuses on bringing nationally prominent and nationally recognized speakers in for keynote. We get faculty input by getting them to tell us: 'These are the kinds of things that we’d really be interested in learning more about as it relates to teaching.'

"Our Campus Writing Program sponsors brown bags and workshops and other opportunities for our faculty to collaborate with our staff and with their colleagues about teaching and learning and using writing. Educational Technologies, ET@MO, holds a whole series of workshops that help faculty learn how to better use technology to better support their teaching. Some of the departments and schools and colleges have their programs or events or activities that also help support faculty and their teaching roles and responsibilities."

Who will run the center?

"We would identify a director for the center. Depending on how the plan comes together and what resources are available, we could do a national search or an internal search. I suspect that the preferred process would be a national search to hire the very best person we could to run the center."

Will this be based off of programs at other universities?

"We’ve already done some of that as far as taking a look at how other schools are structured and what other schools do, and we’ll use that information. That’s not going to define what we will and won’t do because we need a center that meets the needs of our faculty at Mizzou. We need to design our center so that it reflects how Mizzou is organized and meets what the Mizzou faculty needs. At the end of the day, it’ll be our design."

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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