CAT: Facilitating Connections Across Faculty For Continued Learning and Reflection

Author: 
Abha Belorkar and Laurie Friedman
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As the fall semester begins, we wanted to share how Temple’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT) has impacted our teaching and learning, creating a space that fosters relationships among faculty across campus in our common goal of Temple’s mission: to educate a vibrant student body and create new knowledge through innovative teaching, research and other creative endeavors. Despite coming from different disciplines (math and social work) and having different levels of experience teaching (1 year and 1 decade), CAT’s diversity of programs affords us the opportunity to pick and choose how, and how often, we want to engage. 

Abha: Coming from a family composed mostly of teachers, I was fascinated from an early age by the positive impact of good teaching. Later, the opportunities to informally tutor my colleagues during undergraduate and graduate studies strengthened my desire to pursue a career in teaching. However, the guiding force in shaping my motivation for teaching came from the relationships I fortuitously formed with some teachers who have completely dedicated themselves to the art and science of teaching. I still did not have any formal teaching experience before I joined Temple, so there was (and is!) a lot of learning to be done.

Laurie: I had thought of pursuing a PhD since a professor had mentioned it to me my first year in graduate school, but wasn’t sure what I would focus on. Seven years later, I was supervising staff and facilitating trainings at a nonprofit and found I really enjoyed staff development and the relationships I formed with others. One of my employees encouraged me to guest speak in her class and afterwards, the professor encouraged me to think about teaching. At the same time, I was increasingly interested in studying our foster care system. Thus began my journey as an adjunct at Temple, coupled with doctoral education, to my current role as an associate professor of instruction. 

An Overview of CAT

Wright, Lohe and Little (2018) describe the different models of Centers for Teaching and Learning (CTL) that assist them in meeting their common goals of providing programs and services related to pedagogy. Temple’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT) falls within what is termed as the pedagogical/technological or distance education model. In this model, CAT is staffed by instructional designers, faculty consultants and educational specialists who jointly work towards their mission of fostering “evidence-based teaching so students learn, develop, and succeed.” 

On January 1, 2016,  the Instructional Support Center and the Teaching and Learning Center merged to form the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, formalizing the intricate connection between teaching and technology. Temple’s CAT also functions as a  hub “of pedagogical innovation, influenced by but not dependent on flashy digital technology,” as described by Lieberman (2018) who notes a national trend towards teaching centers serving to strengthen the relationships across university units. Temple’s CAT does just this, collaborating across the University’s 17 Schools and Colleges, the Digital Education Department, Wellness Resource Center, Disability Resources and Services Center, Tuttleman Counseling Services and the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership.

 The 2018-2019 annual report notes that CAT reached faculty across Temple’s seven campuses with 940 faculty consultations. Faculty consultations offer personalized support, feedback, and encouragement to the faculty members. During the consultations, advisors collaborate with individual instructors to achieve their specific goals -- they provide a fresh and independent perspective by drawing on their vast interdisciplinary knowledge and experience of pedagogical best practices, and by acting as active partners in brainstorming ideas for refinement of course objectives, assessments, as well as teaching and learning activities. The consultations also provide a highly effective means to interpret and discuss student feedback with a view to induce higher student engagement and performance as well as increased instructor satisfaction (Cook & Kaplan, 2011). It is especially noteworthy that all CAT consultations are strictly confidential conversations between the faculty and the advisors.

In the same academic year (2018-2019), 90 Teaching in Higher Education Certificates were issued by CAT and over 55 programs offered across a variety of subjects. 1,284 individuals visited exactly once and 1,446 individuals visited more than once, exemplifying the flexibility in choosing how often to engage in CAT’s program. An additional 350 individuals attended the Center’s regional two day conference on teaching excellence. 

Figure: Whatever be the level and type of interaction of faculty with CAT, there are opportunities to experience substantial growth and development.

How we engaged with CAT

Abha: It was during my interview process at CIS Temple that I first got to know of the Center for Advancement of Teaching and the programs and facilities it offers. The presence of these resources on campus has been an encouraging factor in my teaching journey.

The first resource I made use of was the teaching consultations. They have been a great platform to think aloud about my teaching. What I especially like about the idea of a consultation is how little of the instructor’s time it takes. The idea that one can get such personalized and meaningful feedback by simply investing an hour out of one’s schedule is exciting. It has also been really interesting to get insights and suggestions from more experienced faculty members who have very different approaches to teaching and advising and are helpful in their own unique ways.

This summer I completed the Teaching in Higher Education Certificate offered by CAT. It has been quite an instructive experience being introduced to the wide array of tools and techniques that teachers across the globe have been using for designing strong course objectives, interactive lectures, summative and formative assessments, feedback mechanisms, community-building activities, active and blended learning approaches, and so much more. An equally valuable factor in the program is the rich conversations that take place between an interdisciplinary community of teachers all of whom are committed to improving their teaching and creating more substantial and welcoming classroom experiences for their students.

Laurie: As an adjunct, I first engaged with CAT when I met with a faculty fellow who reviewed my SFFs and conducted a teaching observation to help me fulfill Bryn Mawr’s Teaching in Higher Ed Certificate requirements. I subsequently attended workshops, participated in faculty learning communities (i.e. Teaching Online) and book groups, and the Provost’s Teaching Academy. Last year, I had the privilege to join Temple as a faculty fellow, which led me to more opportunities to collaborate with CAT’s staff. In this role, I facilitated a book group related to online teaching, met with faculty for consultations and collated additional resources for their website. I also taught two sections of the Innovation, Technology, and Teaching in Higher Education, as part of their Teaching in Higher Education certificate. In fact, this is how Abha and I reunited this summer from our initial meeting in the fall semester during a consultation! Our subsequent conversations revealed the shared meaning CAT held for us in our roles at Temple.

 

Abha Belorkar is Assistant Professor at the College of Science and Technology: Computer and Information Sciences. Laurie Friedman is Associate Professor as well as Coordinator of Continuing Education and Professional Development for Temple's School of Social Work. She also serves as Faculty Fellow at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching. 

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