Building a stronger classroom

Ask Catherine Ross, director of the Teaching and Learning Center, what fires her imagination and she’ll tell you it’s all about teaching — but not just the day-to-day classroom experience.

“It’s the big picture in educating young adults that’s critical,” says Ross, who is the first full-time director of the Teaching and Learning Center. “Students and the way they learn, are changing. They need more opportunities for collaborative rather than competitive work. Collaborative work is, after all, a better preparation for life after the university. It provides for deeper learning where everyone benefits from a sharing of diverse life experiences and perspectives.”

With blogs, wikis and websites, opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and team projects have grown exponentially. “We need to bring all the disciplines to bear in order to find solutions to the complex problems facing the world today,” she says.

For Ross, the emphasis on teaching and innovation at Wake Forest — especially in undergraduate education — is exciting. “The culture that already exists at Wake Forest is one of teacher-student interaction, so there are things we can try here that would be much harder to introduce at other institutions. Faculty here already believe in the importance of engaging students using interdisciplinary, interactive learning. My job is to work with them to explore and facilitate creative ways to accomplish their goals.”

Ross offers one way to improve teaching that only takes a moment. She encourages faculty to try the “one-minute feedback” technique to gauge how learning is progressing in the classroom. “This is the perfect time in the semester to check in with students to see how things are going,” Ross says. “Leave about a minute at the end of class and ask students to write a response to this question: What could we do to improve your learning in this class? The wording is very important as the professor needs students to develop comments by reflecting on their own learning. ” This exercise, Ross explains, encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning and offers instructors a chance to talk with their students about the class and about the pedagogical reasons for doing certain things a certain way.

The Teaching and Learning Center also offers “Teaching-to-Go” workshops to address issues of interest to specific academic departments. The center provides resources for new professors such as peer mentoring, curriculum development and advising. Ross is sensitive to the learning curve new professors face and the Center is a time-saving way to learn much in a short time — without having to “reinvent the wheel.”

Ross will be working closely with Associate Professor of History Susan Rupp to develop workshops and programs to assist faculty in the College, as well as the graduate schools and the Schools of Business, Divinity, Law and Medicine.

Ross was the associate director of the Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Connecticut before joining Wake Forest this summer.

Categories: Faculty, Graduate School, Staff, Student, Teacher-Scholar, Top Stories, Wake Forest College, Working Together