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July 7, 2016

Center for Teaching & Learning to replace CIDDE


With the start of the fall term, the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education (CIDDE) will cease to exist, giving way to a new University Center for Teaching and Learning.

Faculty needn’t fear, assured CIDDE director Cynthia Golden. The teaching support services they count on — answers to questions about CourseWeb, help with technology applications and one-on-one problem solving — all will still be there.

The University Center for Teaching and Learning (UCTL) will incorporate the existing CIDDE and expand its reach, with an even greater focus on innovative teaching practices, she said.

Laurie Kirsch, vice provost for faculty affairs, development and diversity, told the University Times:

“Building on the vision of Provost (Patricia E.) Beeson, and with her support, it is a transformation of CIDDE, refocusing the center on activities that align with the University-wide strategic plan (the Plan for Pitt). The University community will see new programs, structures and initiatives that support the University’s efforts to advance educational excellence.

“This effort to transform CIDDE incorporates many of the suggestions made by the strategic planning working group for advancing educational excellence, as well as task forces appointed by the provost in recent years on strengthening undergraduate education and on using educational technologies in the curriculum.

“One of the goals of the Plan for Pitt is to advance educational excellence by enhancing the curriculum through innovative, discipline-based approaches to teaching and learning, and through appropriate uses of technology to enrich the learning environment. The transformation of CIDDE to the University Center for Teaching and Learning, including the new centers and programs, will help us achieve this goal by focusing resources and efforts on initiatives and activities that directly support innovations in teaching, discipline-based research on pedagogy, use of educational technologies and flexible classroom designs, and student learning.”

Said Golden: “The strategic plan is really driving this change.

“There’s work for us in every one of the strategic plan goals” — primarily through advancing educational excellence, but also in the areas of diversity as well as in engaging in research of impact, strengthening communities and building foundational strength.

Plans continue to evolve, but “it’s more than a name change,” said Golden, who will direct the UCTL.

The transformation of CIDDE into the UCTL not only aligns with the strategic plan, but also aims to enable greater agility and responsiveness to changes in the environment, she said. In addition, the plan is “to leverage the experience and wisdom of faculty to promote excellence and innovation in teaching and to foster a culture of research and experimentation in the design of teaching and learning strategies, using the University as a laboratory and widely sharing what we learn,” she said.

“The whole idea is to engage,” Golden said.

“Everything this center does, we have to do in partnership,” she said.

“Faculty are our audience and they are our partners.”

Faculty collaboration will be crucial, Kirsch argued.

“To be successful in our efforts to advance educational excellence as envisioned in the Plan for Pitt, will require not only the launch of the University Center for Teaching and Learning and its new initiatives, but also the excitement and enthusiasm of faculty from across the University to collaborate with the UCTL.

“This includes facilitating and supporting faculty efforts to conduct research on pedagogy, to design and implement teaching innovations, to experiment with cutting-edge educational technologies and flexible classroom spaces, and to share experiences and best practices across the University.  It also may include faculty serving in leadership roles of various initiatives housed in the UCTL.”


The resources and programs that are envisioned were defined over the course of the strategic planning process. “They’re a direct result of the very broad input the strategic planning process obtained,” Golden said. “That’s where the needs and the initiatives that move the plan got identified. That’s how these priorities were defined for this new center,” she said.

“The provost has a strong vision for excellent teaching and a commitment to continuously developing faculty and creating an environment where faculty can be successful in their teaching,” Golden said.

“It’s clear the support is there,” she said, adding that CIDDE is starting from a strong position with good foundational skills, and people who are interested in innovations in pedagogy and in educational technologies.


A key component will be a Teaching and Learning Exchange that Golden said would serve as a “convener of other discipline-based teaching centers around campus, to create a network of centers that will advance teaching and learning” by sharing best practices and disseminating research.

Partners will include the Learning Research and Development Center, the Discipline Based Science Education Research Center, Engineering Education Research Center and the Peter M. Winter Institute for Simulation Education and Research.

In addition, a Course Incubator will foster innovation in teaching using the latest research. “We want faculty to be aware of new approaches and new technologies and how to apply those to their current teaching,” Golden said.

The course incubator will pull together a team of experts to assist faculty members in trying a new strategy or technology.

Teams will work with individual faculty members but also may be called upon by a department or school — perhaps to review an entire program, or multiple sections of a specific course, Golden said.


The UCTL will feature a trio of resource centers:

• A Center for Diversity in the Curriculum, which aims to reach more faculty with its activities. CIDDE’s existing diversity endeavors have included seminars, workshops and interactive theatre for social change.

Goals include helping more faculty develop course materials that reflect the increasing diversity in society and teaching them how to foster inclusive learning environments, Golden said.

• A Mentoring Center, which will serve as a central resource for starting faculty mentoring programs in areas that have none, as well as for refining existing resources.
“Mentoring faculty is important to their professional growth and development,” Golden said, adding that learning to be an effective mentor helps faculty strengthen their relationships with students as well.

A Communication Center, which is intended to help faculty learn to communicate the work they do to their many audiences. Faculty often are called upon to communicate with general audiences; this center would provide them with strategies, techniques and tools to do so more effectively, Golden said.


CIDDE’s TA Services area has been piloting a microcredentialing program for teaching assistants that will be expanded to enable faculty to pursue credentials that demonstrate competency in various areas.

Under TA Services’ “Achievement in Pedagogy” series, TAs can earn credentials in five possible areas of focus: pedagogy, educational technology, professional development, online teaching and diversity. After attending workshops and completing assignments in the focus area, they receive a badge, or electronic indicator, to show they’ve developed skills in that area.

To expand that model to faculty, UCTL plans to offer topics to appeal to new faculty as well as experienced teachers. A portfolio of topics in pedagogy is planned, with mini-courses that could serve to meet a specific need — strategies for teaching large courses, for instance — or merely to explore a topic of interest.

Perhaps a faculty member has never taught online but wants to learn more. A mini-course would raise their awareness of what’s involved, allow them to explore the opportunities and prepare them for teaching an online course, she said.

“We’re looking at a hybrid or online model so it’s easier for faculty to spend some time to do this skill development,” she said.

UCTL would continue and broaden the means for assessment of teaching and student learning.

The student opinion of teaching surveys offered by CIDDE’s Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching are just one measure by which to assess teaching, Golden said. Adding such tools as peer assessment, teaching inventories and classroom observation “gives a more effective assessment and bigger picture,” she said.


Where all this learning is taking place also will fall under UCTL’s purview. CIDDE’s classroom management team continually looks at renovating classrooms and learning spaces using the latest in design, Golden said. Agile learning spaces will be a continuing focus moving forward.

Among the questions asked prior to a classroom renovation is: How is teaching going to happen in here?

“More and more faculty are doing less lecturing and using class time for interaction and engagement,” Golden said. Simple things  — such as moveable classroom furniture that can facilitate group work and one-on-one discussion — “make a huge difference when redesigning a space,” Golden said.

For instance, recently completed classroom renovations in Lawrence Hall include flexible furnishings and whiteboard walls and piloted wireless technology that enables students’ work to be shared from their phone or other electronic devices.


Kirsch said much of the UCTL will be housed in CIDDE’s current space in Alumni Hall, but its physical needs continue to be assessed.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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