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March 22, 2018

Programs Developed to Improve Faculty Instruction, Research Resources

The Office of the Provost and the University Center for Teaching and Learning have developed new online resources, faculty communities and workshops for faculty to enhance teaching techniques, increase the diversity of classroom lessons and gain new credentials in several teaching areas.

Although most of the new opportunities are available for all faculty, the effort follows the report published one year ago by the University Senate ad-hoc committee on part-time non-tenure stream faculty. It called for many improvements to conditions for part-time faculty, including full orientation, better supervision and “access to opportunities to improve their research, administrative, or pedagogical skills.”

Noted Laurie Kirsch, vice provost for faculty affairs, development, and diversity: “There’s been a real effort to be more transparent — to share more information, to communicate more broadly.”

Central among the changes has been a faculty website revamp by the provost’s office to provide principal access to such key resources as the faculty handbook. It also links to a compendium developed in the past year, the Teaching Resource Guide for Full-Time and Part-Time Faculty, which supplements faculty orientation and provides ready information about posting grades, for instance, or whom to call with classroom issues. It contains links specific to every Pitt campus.

The new website also shows the results of a Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey undertaken by Pitt full-time faculty in 2016, administered by Harvard University’s Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) program, which works with universities on faculty development and the progress of academic careers. Kirsch has met with all deans to examine its results, which demonstrated high satisfaction with Pitt departments as workplaces but less satisfaction, compared to other schools, on the clarity of tenure and promotion practices, for instance. A March 1 workshop on the tenure and promotion process had about 50 Pitt faculty in attendance and was part of the provost’s office response to faculty dissatisfaction with the topic.

The full slate of Faculty Development Workshop Series offerings, now held on the first Thursday of each month, is also on the new website. Although these workshops have recently focused on performing administrative roles as faculty chairs and assistant deans, Kirsch plans to broaden their scope in the coming months.

Each academic unit now has a diversity committee for faculty recruitment and retention, and a new guide, Recruiting an Excellent and Diverse Faculty: Resources for Faculty Search Committees, was developed to advise faculty search committees. It details how to conduct a fair hiring process and how to minimize implicit bias during the search and interview processes. One recruitment tool, Kirsch said, is a new Family Friendly Programs for Pitt Faculty brochure developed by the Provost’s Advisory Committee for Women’s Concerns, which points faculty toward mentoring, work/life balance, wellness and other programs.

Kirsch said her office has been working with multiple Senate committees, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the University Center for Teaching and Learning to develop these materials.

“The reaction has been pretty positive” from faculty members, she said. “We have been mindful about trying to reach more broadly across the University. We want each faculty member to be successful, in whatever their role. We want to make sure faculty have the tools and resources they need for development.”

Teaching and Learning Center: From Pedagogy to Technology

Since the University Center for Teaching and Learning gained its new name and focus a year and a half ago, said director Cynthia Golden, it also has aimed to broaden its reach and create more faculty resources.

The new Pathways for Faculty program, for instance, offers faculty learning communities focused on specific aspects of classroom practice. Faculty members in each group team with a center consultant and meet regularly for one or two semesters to share knowledge and best practices. One such community is focused on large-enrollment courses; another, “Learning Essentials” for new faculty, is an introduction to Pitt’s teaching resources. Five of the communities offer participants a digital badge credential: “The Highly Engaged, Highly Interactive Instructor,” “Hybrid and Online Teaching and Learning,” “Diversity and the Inclusive Classroom,” “The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning” and “Classroom Assessment.”

Another new program, Teaching Partners, brings faculty together periodically, both online and in-person, to learn about new resources available through the center. Thus far, Golden says, 125 faculty have joined the group from more than 40 University disciplines. They hear from center experts and trade experiences to discover how the new center services are being applied across campus.

Of course, Golden added, the Open Lab in Alumni Hall, launched at the center’s opening, is always available for faculty to experiment with new technology. Staff members with expertise in virtual reality, 360-degree video, 3D printing and other devices and software are available for consultations. Faculty have even used the lab as a classroom, Golden said.

The Graduate Student Teaching Initiative, which offers a practicum and workshops for teaching assistants and teaching fellows, has also added a pedagogy badge. “It’s all part of expanding our reach and our services,” said Golden. “It helps the course at Pitt that they are currently involved in and gives them another credential that they can carry forward with them for the future, when they go to look for a job.”

The easiest way to connect to all of these resources, she added, is through the center’s biweekly electronic newsletter, which now has nearly 4,000 subscribers.

“Launching the University Center for Teaching and Learning came at a pivotal time for Pitt,” Golden concluded, since it followed closely on the new “Plan for Pitt.” These latest center programs have “really allowed us to broaden our reach and to further excellence in teaching at Pitt — because that’s what we’re all about.”


Marty Levine,, 412-758-4859


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