Fifty-five Haas School faculty members fill a campus conference room one sunny July day and contemplate the best teachers they've ever had. "What made them so great?" asks Adam Berman, executive director of emerging initiatives and facilitator of this seminar on course management.
The seminar, offered under the auspices of the new Center for Teaching Excellence at Berkeley-Haas, is part of an orientation for new faculty members and an opportunity for current faculty to learn new skills and stay current on best practices. As participants answer Berman's question, appreciation for teachers who have touched their lives registers clearly.
Participants described great teaching as: "Reaching out to individual students and understanding an individual's unique strengths and weaknesses." "Making a topic come alive through stories, humor, and the sharing of real-life experiences." "Energy, enthusiasm, and passion." "Making the subject relevant."
Through the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) the Haas School aims to equip instructors with the tools and support they need to deliver this kind of teaching every day. "Teaching is part of the University of California mission and we will always strive to share our faculty's wealth of knowledge in the most interesting, intriguing, and curiosity-provoking way possible," says Jay Stowsky, senior assistant dean for instruction.
"Teaching has the single biggest impact on the quality of our students' experience," agrees Dean Rich Lyons. "This center ensures that the educational experience for students is stronger than ever.
From Orientation to an "Excellence Exchange"
CTE's four core initiatives include a three-day orientation for all new instructors; personal and confidential coaching services; a mentoring program for instructors called Excellence Exchange;; and continuous learning events, including structured workshops targeted at improving a specific aspect of teaching.
Launch of the center was made possible by a gift from Steve and Susan Chamberlin, MBA 87, former members of the Haas School professional faculty, who have invested $750,000 in CTE. The goals of CTE resonated with the Chamberlins because of their own experiences in the classroom.
"No matter how well you know your material, teaching keeps you right on the edge of your comfort zone -- students are constantly challenging you for the answers," Steve Chamberlin says while recalling his 15 years as an adjunct professor in the Real Estate Group. "By supporting the Center for Teaching Excellence, we are committed to providing teachers with the resources they need to succeed at this difficult mission."
Lucas Davis is one of those embarking upon this mission, as a new assistant professor with the Economic Analysis and Policy group. Davis says July's orientation "provided a broad collection of tools" that made him much better prepared to step into the classroom.
"The best teachers use a wide range of teaching styles to deliver their message and to engage their students in a dialogue," says MBA 09 alum Oliver Strutynski. "They challenge students to advance their thinking, to leave their comfort zone and to come out of the classroom prepared to apply new concepts in the real-world."
While good teaching makes an impression on students, it is rarely taught. "PhDs have proven skill in research, but most of the time nobody has taught them to teach," says Berman, "Fortunately teaching is a craft and there is a well-established set of best practices from which to draw, as well as a wealth of expertise at Haas."
Back in Berman's Course Management Session, it's clear that in addition to appreciating great teaching, these participants aspire to bring their best to the classroom, as they share thoughts on what skills they'd like to learn from this session, including how to: incorporate experiential learning into a course; structure a two-hour session that keeps students engaged; bring new technologies into the classroom; and incorporate current events, even same-day, into a lesson.
By drawing upon the talents of CTE staff, external coaches, and some of Berkeley-Haas' most successful instructors, the center aims to address just such challenges through its four-pronged approach. An added benefit, says Professor Jim Lincoln, is the opportunity to interact with one's peers. Lincoln attended the July sessions and says, "One of the most valuable aspects of the program was the exposure to other Haas instructors' experiences, concerns, and ideas." Fellow attendee and Senior Lecturer David Robinson agrees. "It was gratifying to learn that I face challenges everyone faces. It really broadened the approaches I can bring to the classroom."
Professor David Levine gleaned recent insights on helpful technologies by participating in CTE's Coaching Connections service. In spring 2009 Levine was challenged to adapt his highly interactive teaching style to two lecture classes with 140 students in each. Levine says coaches "provided useful suggestions on my course syllabus, trained my teaching assistants, and worked with me to understand the potential for new technology to build more student engagement." A coach also observed Levine's class several times and provided valuable feedback. Says Levine, "Each interaction was valuable to me and to my hundreds of students."