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In this issue


Upcoming Events


January 21, 2012

GradSTEP: Graduate Student Teaching Event for Professional Development


Check out these recent posts to our blog.

Everyone’s a Visual Learner – A Conference Report

Fostering Student Engagement- NSSE Annual Results 2011

Four Are Honored as U.S. Professors of the Year


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December 2011

Derek Bruff Named Director of the
Center for Teaching

Tim McNamara, Vice Provost for Faculty and International Affairs, announced that Derek Bruff has agreed to be the Director of the Center for Teaching. From the announcement:

"This appointment is the culmination of several weeks of consultation with faculty, staff, and academic leaders throughout the university, and has the enthusiastic support of the Provost.

All of those who have worked closely with Derek praise his effectiveness as a teacher of pedagogy, and since August, he has been exceptionally effective leading the Center as Acting Director. It is a testament to former Director Allison Pingree's outstanding leadership of the Center that we have someone as talented and as skilled as Derek at Vanderbilt."

Derek received his PhD in Mathematics at Vanderbilt. He taught mathematics at Harvard University for two years before returning to Vanderbilt as an Assistant Director at the CFT and Senior Lecturer in Mathematics. At the Center, Derek has consulted with faculty members, graduate students, departments, and programs across the university and helped develop two of the Center's flagship programs, the Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows program and the Teaching Certificate program. Derek served as Assistant Director from 2005-2011, and as Acting Director since August 1st. Derek is nationally recognized for his work on the use of technology in education, having authored an influential and well-received book on the use of classroom response systems ("clickers").

Derek is looking forward to leading the CFT's continuing work in support of the teaching mission of Vanderbilt University, building on the CFT's successes and strengths and helping the Vanderbilt teaching community respond to the changing teaching and learning landscape in higher education.

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Junior Faculty Teaching Fellow Spotlight:
Emily Nacol

Each month, the CFT Newsletter highlights the work of our Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows. This month, Emily Nacol, Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department, talks about her teaching philosophy and interests:

I have developed my undergraduate teaching philosophy in the context of my interest in canonical texts in the history of political thought.  My own research focuses mostly on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century social and political thought, but I teach across a range of historical periods. The initial challenge for undergraduate teachers of classic texts like the ones on my syllabi is finding a way to ease students’ trepidation about their ability to understand, much less criticize, daunting works like Plato’s Republic or Marx’s Capital.  One way I try to help them get started is to encourage them to bring sets of questions to each class.  I write these contributions on the chalkboard for the class and organize them in clusters as appropriate, such that we have a visual map to guide our ensuing discussion.  This lets the students to visualize directly something about textual interpretation that is difficult for me to show them otherwise. 

" The initial challenge for undergraduate teachers of classic texts like the ones on my syllabi is finding a way to ease students’ trepidation about their ability to understand, much less criticize, daunting works like Plato’s Republic or Marx’s Capital. "


A class of many students generates a diverse set of comments and questions, but as I write these on the chalkboard for the class to review, usually two or three major themes or lines of inquiry emerge.  Inevitably, there are also a few students who find something in the reading that everyone else, including me, misses.  So, students are able to see both the wide range of ideas and questions the texts we read provoke, as well as areas of great depth and focus.  This visual aid helps them develop an appreciation not only for the authors’ depth and scope, but also for the plurality of possible interpretations of any given text.

My teaching goals are to spark undergraduate interest in the political values and persistent questions of the long tradition of political and to help them develop the critical skills to think more deeply about political institutions, practices and values.  But, political theory is also a great resource for students who want to be critically engaged citizens, regardless of their particular academic interests.

This year at the CFT, I am really looking forward to working on developing my practice of graduate teaching and training, in conversation with the other fellows, senior faculty who assist with the program, and the staff at the CFT.

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GradSTEP: Graduate Student Teaching Event for Professional Development

Held in January each year, GradSTEP provides several workshops and discussions on teaching, learning, and professional development issues across the disciplines. All Vanderbilt graduate and professional students, as well as post-doctoral fellows, are invited to attend.

The 2012 GradSTEP event will be held Saturday, January 21, 2012, in Wilson Hall and will feature two sessions in which attendees will have 10 workshops to choose among, followed by two plenary sessions. The Plenary sessions will each be geared toward specific disciplines: one for those in the humanities and social sciences and the other for those in the natural sciences, engineering and math. The sessions will feature a variety of recent PhDs who are now working as faculty in diverse institutional contexts. Register for GradSTEP 2012.

Plenary sessions:

“Making the Transition from Graduate Student to Faculty Member”
Interested in a faculty career?  These virtual panels will feature recent PhDs now working as faculty in diverse institutional contexts.  Panelists will share their perspectives on making the transition from graduate student to faculty member and their experiences teaching at institutions that are, in some ways, unlike Vanderbilt.

Workshops Include:

        • PowerPoint Makeover
        • Course & Syllabus Design
        • Leading Effective Discussions
        • Tools & Tips for Grading
        • “Life GPA”: Teaching Beyond the Grade
        • College Writing: Teaching Students How to Write
        • Private Universes & Mental Models: The Science of Teaching Science
        • Teaching with Texts
        • Teaching Portfolios:  From the Classroom to the Job Market
        • Interactive Lecturing

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Interpreting and Making Sense of Course Evaluations

As the semester draws to a close, our students are given the opportunity to provide us with a potentially valuable source of feedback on our teaching and its effects on their learning.  You may find it challenging, however, to interpret what your end-of-semester course evaluations mean and decide how to act on them. 

The CFT can help.  A CFT consultant will be glad to meet with you in a one-on-one, confidential consultation to assist you with interpretation and response.  Questions considered include:

  • How do the evaluations indicate what we did well, and what we can change to improve student learning? 
  • What best practices may help us revise and refine our courses? 
  • What is the best way to reflect on our evaluations as we ready ourselves for professional review? 

To make an appointment, use our contact form or call (615) 322-7290.  And for more information see our online Teaching Guide on Student Evaluations.

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From the Stacks...


Teaching Unprepared Students: Strategies for Promoting Success & Retention in Higher Ed
by Kathleen F. Gabriel


From the publisher...
As societal expectations about attending college have grown, professors report increasing numbers of students who are unprepared for the rigors of postsecondary education—not just more students with learning disabilities (whose numbers have more than tripled), but students (with and without special admission status) who are academically at-risk because of inadequate reading, writing and study skills. 

This book provides professors and their graduate teaching assistants—those at the front line of interactions with students—with techniques and approaches they can use in class to help at-risk students raise their skills so that they can successfully complete their studies.

The author shares proven practices that will not only engage all students in a class, but also create the conditions—while maintaining high standards and high expectations—to enable at-risk and under-prepared students to develop academically and graduate with good grades. The author also explains how to work effectively with academic support units on campus.

Available in the Center for Teaching library.

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