Welcome to the New Year

The new academic year has arrived, and your friendly Assumption College Center for Teaching Excellence looks forward to working with our faculty throughout the year to support the learning of our students both on campus and in our online courses.  We are continuing our most popular programs this year, such as our Food for Thoughts and Faculty Learning Communities, and have kicked off the second year of our (renamed) Course Innovation Academy, with a class of nine faculty members from six different disciplines.  We are excited to track the progress of participants in last year’s academy, and seeing how their courses unfold throughout this academic year.

We will welcome two special guests to our programming this year.  Robin Morgan, the Director of the Faculty Academy on Excellence in Teaching for the Indiana University system, will join the Course Innovation Academy for a special session in October, presenting an overview of alternative models for higher education course design.  In the spring we will be featuring Jay Howard’s book Discussion in the College Classroom in our Spring Faculty Learning Community, and then welcoming him to campus for our annual Innovations in Higher Education Lecture.  Jay will also join the Course Innovation Academy for dinner and discussion before his lecture.

As the Center for Teaching Excellence continues to grow and evolve, we will put increasing emphasis on working with our faculty to produce new work in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) in higher education.  (You can visit our newly created SOTL page for a quick look at what our faculty have accomplished already.)  Sarah Cavanagh, Associate Professor of Psychology, newly appointed Associate Director for Grants and Research in the Center for Teaching Excellence, and author of the outstanding new book The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion, will be available to help faculty who wish to pursue new research in measuring the effectiveness of their teaching or the learning of their students, and both Sarah and Jim are always available to discuss ideas, provide feedback on projects and plans, and read drafts of new work in this area.

Of course we remain available for consultations with individuals, departments, programs, and committees on teaching and learning at Assumption.  We can observe classes and provide feedback, discuss challenges you might be facing with your teaching, or meet with departments and committees to help provide resources and perspectives from the research on teaching and learning in higher education.  E-mail Jim or Sarah at any time with such requests.

It’s worth noting here again, as we do in all of our communications, that we welcome all Assumption faculty–full-time, part-time, adjunct, graduate and continuing education–to our events and resources.  If you teach at Assumption, we are happy to support and promote your work.  So many conversations between faculty in higher education require us to butt heads with one another or fight over resources.  The Center for Teaching Excellence provides space and time for us to come together with one another in a collegial environment and help each other support our most essential mission: educating our students.  Join us for an event this year and you will find a supportive community ready to listen, learn, share, and help.

Finally, we are especially excited at the prospect of moving into our new home in the fall of 2017. We’ll be in the new academic building under construction right now, with offices for Sarah and Jim and access to lounge space and conference rooms.  The new space will enable us to launch some exciting new initiatives for the 2017-2018 academic year: stay tuned!

Have a great semester.

Public History, Scholarship, Teaching, and . . . Twitter?


On Monday, April 25th, the Center for Teaching Excellence held its final event for the 2015-2016 academic year: a Food for Thought luncheon hosted by Carl Robert Keyes, associate professor of history here at Assumption College.  Carl spoke to us about the research project in public history which forms the basis both for a current book project and for a course in public history at Assumption.

As Carl explained to us in his presentation, his current scholarly project explores the history of advertising in colonial America. In service to that project, he created The Adverts 250 Project, a web site that enables him to share his work-in-progress with the scholarly community.  The website “features a daily image of an advertisement published in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago that week.  Brief commentary accompanies each advertisement.  Daily updates are supplemented with longer posts that analyze individual advertisements in greater detail, highlight other marketing items from the period, or examine issues related to research and accessibility of historical sources.”

Carl had this website in place prior to the start of the class, and decided to involve students in two aspects of the work: creating content for the site during the semester, and then connecting it to the wider scholarly community through Twitter.  Students in Carl’s spring 2016 public history course first became guest curators for the daily advertisements posted to the site. They were responsible for searching colonial newspapers for the advertisements they wished to feature and writing a brief analytic essay for each ad.  Once the ads were posted, they had the additional responsibility to Tweet about the advertisement for each day, through Twitter accounts they created for the course.

The power of this assignment as a learning experience for Carl’s students was impressive.  They participated in an original research project in American colonial history, helping curate and analyze advertisements that influenced colonial America’s political and economic culture.  They learned how to shape and present their work not merely for an “audience of one,” as Carl put it, but for the wider scholarly community and even the public at large.

Other scholars and even historical institutions responded to and promoted the work they were doing, giving them an authentic taste of participation in the practice of writing and analyzing history.

And Carl learned from it as well: in several cases, as he explained, the work of his students gave him new perspectives on colonial advertising or on the scope of the project.

Carl wrote two blog posts of his own about his experiences teaching the course and working with his students as guest curators: one midway through the course, and one at the end of the semester.  Carl has also co-authored essays on pedagogy for the American Antiquarian Society’s blog Past Is Present, which offer equally fascinating accounts of his teaching work: one on “Combining History, Graphic Art, and Modern America in the Classroom” and another on  “Transcribing the War of 1812: AAS Collections in the Classroom.

Carl was one of the members of the CTE’s 2015-2016 Core Academy, seeking to explore innovations in course design with a small group of fellow faculty members throughout the year.  His presentation reminded us of the incredibly high quality of work created by this year’s Academy members, as well as of Carl’s commitment to creating the deepest possible learning experiences for his students.

You can continue to follow the work of this inspiring teacher and his students by connecting with Carl Keyes on Twitter at @TradeCardCarl.

Innovating, Together

A Team Approach to Teaching Innovations

“Participating in the Academy this year has been the highlight of my time at Assumption College. My entire time at Assumption,” Professor Cinzia Pica-Smith said, right before launching into a presentation on how she overhauled one of the major courses in her department.

DSC_0363She was describing her experience in the 2015-2016 Teaching Core Courses Academy sponsored by the Assumption College Center for Teaching Excellence. On Monday, April 11th, we held our concluding session with a public presentation of our work to the campus community. The presenters described students constructing Maypoles to learn the beauty of doing mathematics, considering the theme of the refugee crisis to situate human services in a broader consideration of systems as well as service learning, and creating digital video footage to delve deeper into history, among other innovations (see below for full descriptions of each project).

Throughout the 2015-2016 academic year, a group of eight faculty members representing six disciplines on campus joined me to answer a challenge: how could we design or re-design innovative new courses and course projects for our students in ways that would engage them and maximize their maypole_treelearning?

The Academy opened in August of 2015.  In advance of our first session, we read Ken Bain’s book What the Best College Teachers Do, which still represents for me the top book on teaching in higher education.  Our first meeting was a half-day session in which we described the courses we wanted to invent or revise and discussed the implications of Bain’s work for our plans.  Thereafter we met throughout the fall semester on a monthly basis over dinner, each session lasting ninety minutes.  We shared readings, videos, and discussion board posts on our virtual learning platform in order to help inform our conversations, which grew increasingly lively and impassioned as we began testing out ideas on each other, sharing progress, and growing together as a team.

We shared readings, videos, and discussion board posts on our virtual learning platform in order to help inform our conversations, which grew increasingly lively and impassioned as we began testing out ideas on each other, sharing progress, and growing together as a team.

In January we read our second text, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, and began to really dig into the details of what our courses would look like.  We met for two additional sessions, and then as a group we attended the CTE’s annual Innovations in Higher Education lecture with Sarah Cavanagh, author of the forthcoming book The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion.

Our work together concluded with the presentations on April 11th, which showcased a range of new and exciting courses and projects.  Two of us decided to create a major video project for our students.  Mark Christensen, Assistant Professor of History, wanted to engage his students in understanding and improving public perceptions of history.  He asked his students this spring—and will expand the project next fall—to work in groups to interview fellow students about major historical events or people or trends, and then create videos showcasing the contrast between public understanding of those historical events and the more informed perspective of historians.  Students in my literature survey courses, meanwhile, will be launching the Assumption Survey Project, and helping to create a bank of 3-5 minute videos on historical topics that provide context for the literature taught in British and American literature courses.  These videos will be posted to a YouTube or Vimeo channel and can be shown in class or assigned as homework to students in high school and college classes around the world.

Two of our faculty members decided to flip their courses.  Associate Professor of Natural Sciences David Crowley couldn’t wait forDSC_0368 next year to make his changes, and flipped his spring genetics class.  Before class students read the texts, watch video lectures, and study animations or other course material; in class they ask questions, solve problems, and discuss their understanding of the material.  In an effort to improve their metacognition, they also assess and articulate their understanding of the course material for every class period.  Bob Caron, Assistant Professor of Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies, likewise plans to flip his introductory class next year.  In addition to the usual work of the flip, Bob will have his students learning about the work of a local non-profit agency and then creating for them a PSA (public service announcement)-style video that they can use in their promotional campaigns.

Cinzia Pica-Smith, also an Assistant Professor of Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies, wanted students in her upper-level course in principles of case management to gain real-world experience that would help them connect the work of the course to its global contexts.  Her students began working this spring with refugees who have been resettled in our city of Worcester, and came up with a host of innovative ways to educate themselves, the public, and political leaders about the plight of local refugees.Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 1.27.02 PM

Lynn Simmons, Visiting Assistant Professor of Art, worked on a re-design of her introductory course in graphic design.  Grappling with the fact that students in the course brought into it many different majors and interests, she created a model in which students will be able to draw upon their major course work or interests to contribute to a course textbook which will also feature student-created art and designs.  The final version of their work will be produced as both a printed book and an e-book.

Associate Professor of History Carl Keyes wanted students in his history courses to move beyond writing for an “audience of one” (i.e., the professor) and engage in the process of creating public history.  His students will be drawing throughout the semester on the power of Wikipedia both as a teaching tool and as a site of public history.  He will use the Wikipedia Education Program to work with his students on creating and revising DSC_0369Wikipedia pages stemming from his course content.

Finally, two faculty spent the year designing entirely new courses. Brooke Andersen, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, put together a course called Discovering the Art of Mathematics, in an effort to help non-majors appreciate the beauty of mathematics, and see its relevance to the world around them.  They will be working with problems and projects designed to illustrate mathematical patterns and structures, such as maypole dancing or Rubik’s cubes or string art.  Esteban Loustaunau, Associate Professor of Spanish, created The World is Calling: Vocation Across Cultures, for students in our sophomore-level SOPHIA program.  They will be asking and discussing questions about their vocations and life purpose, and launching an ongoing blog that will continue beyond their college years, with each new class of students benefiting from the wisdom and insights of those who have gone before them.

Working with this group of faculty, engaging in these monthly discussions about teaching and learning and our students, has been one of the highlights of my academic career.  Next year the CTE’s Sarah Cavanagh will be joining me in our work as we look forward to welcoming eight new participants to the (re-named) 2016-2017 Course Innovation Academy.  Check back here for updates on the courses we created, and on next year’s incoming Academy classes.

For readers outside of Assumption, feel free to drop me a line with questions about the logistics of our program, such as behind-the-scenes work or course materials.  We’ll be happy to share ideas and experiences.

And best wishes to all for a great finish to the spring semester.

Hello world!

Welcome to the home page of the Assumption College Center for Teaching Excellence. Whether you are an Assumption College faculty member or a colleague in faculty development, we hope in the coming months you’ll find this page a trove of useful information about our programs, efforts, and our faculty’s research on the science of teaching and learning.

In the meantime, we encourage you to read about our center in this wonderful profile put together by Assumption Magazine. You can find that here.