When the Office of Teaching, Learning, and Assessment imagined a center for faculty support, the result took an interesting form: Teaching Commons, a virtual “place” where faculty can identify teaching resources, explore new ideas, find practical information, and share effective practices.
"A single, online site made perfect sense for DePaul,” says Caryn Chaden, associate vice president for Academic Affairs. “Because of our organization structure, many different departments support faculty — each offering guidelines, practical tips, and best practices in teaching theory and techniques. And because of our multiple campuses, a physical site didn’t make sense. What’s the best way to give faculty lots of content with minimal duplication or confusion? That was the question we answered with Teaching Commons.”
Katherine Cermak, interim director of the Office of Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, agrees: “Teaching Commons is DePaul’s unique way to get the word out about available resources and models, to share best practices, and to help faculty find ways to improve their teaching strategies and techniques. Now, faculty have one place to go to. Just as important, support staff can be sure we’re connected in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
Something for everyone
Some of the content on the site is procedural. How do I write a syllabus? How do I order textbooks? Other content is substantive. How do I know my students are learning? What does the latest research say about reflective learning? Some of the users are first-time teachers; others are putting into practice the principle of lifelong learning.
"When a teacher wants to know how to make writing assignments more effective, some of the steps he or she can take are fundamental, others are complex. The place to start looking for answers is Teaching Commons,” says Matthew Pearson, assistant director for faculty services, University Center for Writing–based Learning.
“Even when I meet with faculty face-to-face or host a workshop, I’ll point to the resources on the site,” he continues. “We’ve put all our faculty resources on the Teaching Commons because we believe in the model; the site forces us to represent materials in their most useful form and to be explicit in defining how we help faculty teach.”
Jean Bryan, consultant, Instructional Design and Development, agrees:
“We’re bringing the right content to our faculty members, wherever they are, at their own convenience. An instructor might want to know how to encourage undergrads to talk to class, then how to move the students from talking about personal experiences to talking about expert content, and finally to get them to make an argument for an idea yet still respect other opinions in the room. At Teaching Commons our faculty members find links to the research, as well as tools and methods, to achieve desired outcomes. The site works for adjunct faculty and for those who’ve been teaching 20 years.”
A whole greater than the parts
The secret to the site’s success is collaboration among the content providers.
“To make the site work in our environment, the core contributors work collaboratively — technology experts and pedagogical experts, face-to-face — to create the optimal convergence of substance and style, of content and presentation,” says Todd Diemer, web editor and site manager.
The next step is to engage faculty.
“We want constant feedback from users, who should find the site both informative and easy to use,” say Diemer. “To make the site uniquely ours, it can’t be static; our goal is to have original DePaul content on every page. One way we’re planning to achieve that is a video series of faculty members talking about their teaching strategies.”
“This is where faculty members can start — and continue — a conversation,” says Chaden. In 2010, that conversation is expanding, including not just DePaul faculty but teachers all over the world. So far this calendar year, the site has received more than 14,700 page views from educators in 113 countries.
“This shows the potential power of the site — and the reach of DePaul — in promoting best practices in teaching and learning,” says Diemer. “That’s a wonderful thing.”