The Center for Teaching and Learning celebrates a milestone

Students studying at the Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale University.

Great faculty encourage their students to see the world through new eyes and from unexpected angles.  Great students know that working collaboratively leads to greater success than working in isolation,” said Benjamin Polak, Yale provost, the William C. Brainard Professor of Economics, and professor of management.

Every time I walk through the Center for Teaching and Learning, I see these principles in action:  professors reconfiguring their classrooms physically and metaphorically, students congregating to learn with and from each other.  The center has become such an important part of life at Yale — it is amazing to think [the space] is just one year old,” said Polak.

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) marked the anniversary of its grand opening in Sterling Memorial Library (SML) last week. The center, founded in July 2014, moved to the renovated space in January 2017. The space was designed to create a more unified and collaborative environment for students, faculty, and postdocs as they work with the center’s staff on teaching, tutoring, writing, and technology initiatives. Although the CTL didn’t cut any ribbons or cakes, last week alone it hosted more than 70 events, workshops, office hour sessions, and courses.

We were two and a half years into our existence at Yale when we moved into our space in Sterling. The move marked an important milestone in our ‘life as a CTL,’” said Jennifer Frederick, executive director for the CTL. “The space exhibits some of our center’s core values: community, transparency, flexibility, and incubation.”

Throughout the year, the CTL has invited the community to take advantage of its resources through routine offerings and experimental innovations. The CTL’s range of programming and support has included student-produced podcasts for a Yale College writing course, the Diversity and Education Series in partnership with the Office of the Provost, lunchtime discussions about teaching strategies for faculty, and numerous workshops dedicated to advanced teaching strategies for graduate and professional school students.

The CTL’s central location is convenient for students, and the concentration of services lowers the barrier to accessing help ­– even if you came in the door for something else,” said Frederick. “We are partnering with multiple departments, faculty, and graduate students to host office hours, discussion sections, and study halls, in addition to the semester-long courses that are held in the CTL.”

The location in SML has also generated natural partnerships with the University Library. Agnete Lassen, associate curator of the Babylonian Collection at SML, partnered with the CTL and Kathryn Slanski, a lecturer in Near Eastern languages and civilizations, to create a virtual reality experience for Slanski’s students.

In addition to the opportunities to learn from one another, the staff are collaborating on distinct projects,” said Susan Gibbons, university librarian and deputy provost of collections and scholarly communication. “Examples would include the transition of course reserves and library research guides into Canvas and partnering to make course reserves material more accessible to those with disabilities.”

As the Office of the Provost recently announced new accessibility guidelines, the CTL will continue to work with ITS to ensure the university moves toward a more accessible digital presence on public websites and course sites in Canvas. The two organizations will launch a series of workshops and consultations to provide site owners and instructors with best practices for creating accessible content. 

One of our guiding principles is to support learners of all backgrounds and abilities, and to help develop practices that promote inclusive teaching,” said Scott Strobel, the Henry Ford II Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and deputy provost for teaching and learning. “The CTL Advisory Board has helped shape our approach to creating a more accessible learning environment for students at Yale. We want all learners to have equal access to the amazing teaching that occurs in our classrooms and online.”

Susan Gibbons and Scott Strobel at the Center for Teaching and Learning
Susan Gibbons and Scott Strobel

The CTL has worked with other departments and schools to hatch new ideas and help others accomplish their goals for teaching excellence. It has an advisory board of members appointed to represent schools and programs across Yale, and the roster includes faculty and a graduate student.

We’ve partnered with many of the professional schools at Yale to launch new programs aimed at wide and diverse student populations,” said Lucas Swineford, executive director for digital education at the CTL. “Creating online certificate and degree programs in partnerships with our professional schools provides important opportunities to broaden the impact of Yale.”

When we opened the new CTL, our goal was to make a statement about the importance of teaching and learning at Yale,” said Strobel. “We have achieved that goal, and the international community has recognized the university’s commitment to teaching excellence. We can see the impact of the CTL in many ways including the Academic Strategies Program, the completed transition to Canvas, and the consultations we continue to have with faculty across campus.”

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Patrick C. O'Brien: [email protected] , 203-430-3897