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Pursuing scholarship in teaching

Denise Noble
Institute Communications and Public Affairs

As a research institution, Georgia Tech has the challenge of excelling at both research and teaching. Tech already has broken ground in this area, having received the Hesburgh Award for innovation and excellence in undergraduate teaching. It is a challenge that is recognized throughout the campus community, with not only faculty and the administration making efforts toward that end, but students as well.

A new student committee was formed in January to promote “scholarship in teaching.” The committee’s mission is two-fold: 1) to foster a collegial environment in which undergraduate students and faculty are comfortable and enjoy sharing in the learning experience; and 2) to promote a teaching environment in which faculty perceive the teaching experience as a scholarly activity. The committee, under the rubric of the Student Government Association, is comprised of six students and mentor Billiee Pendleton-Parker, assistant director, Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL).

“We want to get students more involved in research and to encourage more creative, innovative methods in teaching,” said committee member Scott Jackson, an industrial engineering major. “The [students’] stereotype of researchers is that they equal bad teachers.”

The committee hopes to change student and faculty perceptions and break down stereotypes, ultimately resulting in a more open environment with greater interaction between students and professors. Their plans include separate student and faculty surveys to gather both student and faculty perceptions and opinions. The student survey, for example, will ask students what they consider to be the most important quality in a professor and what teaching methods they consider to be effective. Plans also include improvements to online student course evaluations and articles in the Technique, featuring “Awesome Profs” and publicizing efforts by the administration to emphasize the quality of teaching.

Another part of the committee’s strategy is sharing examples of faculty members who pursue scholarship in teaching; are innovative in their teaching methods; combine teaching and research effectively; and include students in educational endeavors. Kavita Philip, assistant professor, School of Literature, Communication and Culture, is one example. Philip joined Tech in 1995 and teaches in four different programs: Science, Technology and Culture; Information Design and Technology; Women in Science and Technology; and the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

Philip participated in the Teaching Fellows Program in the winter quarter of 1997. The program, offered by CETL, gives faculty basic knowledge about teaching; points out both their good qualities and shortcomings as teachers; and instills in them the desire to become great teachers in a short time.

As part of the program, each fellow implements a teaching improvement project such as developing a new course or new laboratory experiments. Out of Philip’s fellowship, a “star” was born. She initiated a class, and subsequently co-founded an annual conference, called Science, Technology and Race (STAR) with Hope Jahren, assistant professor, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. The goal of the conference is to draw attention to issues of equity, ethics and social responsibility within the practice of science and technology.

Philip doesn’t think research means taking time away from students. “Giving time to students doesn’t mean taking time away from your research. Undergrads learn a lot by going out into the field for research.

“I learn from students as well. When they learn something, they gain, and you gain. That sort of ‘Eureka!’ experience they get when they learn something that makes connections for them can be exciting for both the student and teacher.”

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Approved by the Office of External Affairs on 09/24/97
Last Modified: July 2, 1999