Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
July 18, 1997

Teaching climate warming on campus

by Anne Dolan

In the last four years and four months, Steve Richardson would wager, he has learned more about teaching than anyone else at Iowa State. As the first director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, perhaps that's to be expected. Whether it was observing faculty members in the classroom at their requests, working one-on-one with faculty on specific issues, or suggesting pairings among faculty who could learn from each other, Richardson, the teacher, remained a vigilant student.

"I learn something from everyone who comes through the door," he said, "which helps me do a better job with my own students and with the next one who comes in."

Richardson, who splits his time between the center and the department of geological and atmospheric sciences, will depart Iowa State at the end of this month to become vice provost for undergraduate affairs and dean of undergraduate education at Bowling Green State University, Ohio.

ISU's Center for Teaching Excellence is associated with popular programs such as Project Aware, the monthly Faculty Forum series, Project LEA/RN, Wakonse Fellows and Miller Fellowships for faculty, but Richardson said most of his time is spent talking with individuals. The talk covers topics such as strategies to try in the classroom and summoning the nerve to try them, concerns about career development, ideas for documenting teaching for evaluation purposes, and using new technologies effectively in the classroom.

Talking is important to Richardson, in part, he said, because he views a university as relationships and people; not as structures and reporting units. He hopes that is one change the center has created on campus.

"I think the center has been a catalyst in engaging the campus in a dialogue about teaching and making it safer to talk about teaching, as well as creating some venues that allow faculty to talk," he said.

Faculty forums, he noted, are a place where departmental lines fade and faculty from across campus share ideas about higher education. A chemist and a philosopher might find they can learn from each other.

When faculty don't find each other, Richardson helps them along. "I can tell them something myself, but it may be better to say to someone, 'Go observe X. She's doing just that in her classes.'"

At the same time, faculty members' privacy is something he guards religiously. There are no records of anyone's visits to the teaching center. Who comes in and what's discussed is shared with no one, he said.

Over more than four years of promoting teaching on campus, Richardson said one thing is clear. "Iowa State has lots of excellent teachers. There's not one of us, though, who can't do our jobs better," he said.

The search is on

A search for a new director of the Center for Teaching Excellence is under way. The center's advisory board is serving as the search committee. Candidates should have a tenured faculty position at ISU with demonstrated interest and background in diverse teaching and learning processes in higher education. The B-base, half-time position (full-time in two summer months) is a three-year, renewable appointment. Applicants should send a resume; name, address and phone of three references; and documentation of teaching excellence to: Charles Glatz, chair, search committee, Center for Teaching Excellence, 204 Lab of Mechanics. The deadline to submit nominations or applications is Sept. 15. The new director will begin in the post by Jan. 1, 1998.

The same committee expects to name an interim director soon. (See Today's News on ISU's World Wide Web homepage for updates.)

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Revised 7/17/97