Tufts launches university-wide center to enhance learning and teaching

Will focus on teaching those with different learning styles and developing leadership skills

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. – Tufts University has launched the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT), a university-wide program designed to strengthen the teaching and assessment of all students. University officials said that the center will break new ground by directly applying the most current research on learning and cognitive psychology, better equipping faculty to instill leadership skills in students, and scientifically measuring the impact of its programs.

"CELT grows out of Tufts University's long-standing commitment to teaching. Tufts is distinctive among research universities in that our faculty are passionate about teaching even while pursuing research at the highest levels. Scholarship and teaching enrich each other, and as a university we must offer our faculty the resources they need to pursue both goals successfully," said Tufts Provost and Senior Vice President Jamshed Bharucha. "We expect CELT to help us enhance the educational and teaching experience for all students and faculty and to support our mission of preparing students to be leaders in whatever sphere they enter after completing their education."

CELT is funded by a two-year grant of $250,000 from the Davis Educational Foundation -- established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis's retirement as chairman of Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc. -- and Tufts University.

Applying Current Scholarship About Learning

CELT, reporting to the University-wide Committee on Teaching and Faculty Development, will serve the entire university and will be housed in the School of Arts & Sciences, whose dean, Robert Sternberg, will direct the center. Sternberg is a cognitive psychologist widely recognized for his theories of intelligence, creativity and leadership.

"We have superb teachers at Tufts, yet there is always room for new ideas and new skills," said Sternberg. "Teaching, like other disciplines, must evolve as scholarship provides new insight into how human beings learn, as student demographics change, and as new technologies emerge. In addition, as Tufts introduces new admissions measures to identify potential leaders with diverse learning styles, it is particularly important that we focus more attention on how we can enable all students to maximize their potential."

"People think and learn in different ways," he explained. "Those who are memory-oriented and analytically oriented tend to do well on conventional tests and learn through traditional approaches. But more creative and more practical learners often have a hard time. Although they may have the ability to succeed in life, they may not excel in a classroom with traditional instruction and assessment. CELT will help us address that gap."

CELT will help faculty apply the most current scholarship about learning -- including active versus passive learning, how teaching and research can best be integrated, long-term retention of knowledge, diverse learning styles, development of critical thinking and creative, social and practical reasoning, and written and oral communication -- to challenges in the classroom.

Teaching For Leadership Across a University

Instilling leadership skills will be another focus of CELT. "One is not born a successful leader," said Sternberg. "Poor leadership depends not on failed genetic potential but rather on poor decision-making or poor ability to implement decisions and persuade others of their value.

"Successful leadership requires creative, intellectual and practical skills as well as an ability to see beyond one's own interests to the common good," he continued. "As teachers, we can help students become successful leaders by modeling good decisions, illustrating them concretely, and rewarding them."

Teaching for these leadership skills will be a focus of CELT's first major initiative for 2006-2007: a faculty fellows seminar. A dozen faculty fellows selected from a university-wide pool will participate in an intensive, weekly professional development seminar beginning in January 2007. Here they will thoughtfully examine new ways to approach the challenges they face. For example, one faculty member is seeking assistance in making a fact-based, introductory course more interesting; another is planning to team teach and wants help in establishing the course.

First-year CELT fellows come from the School of Arts & Sciences, the School of Engineering, the Fletcher School, the School of Medicine, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Faculty range from department chairs to assistant professors in fields such as biology, chemistry, civil and environmental engineering, economics, English, environmental and population health, history, international politics, pathology, and physical activity and nutrition.

CELT will also integrate and promote a number of existing teaching initiatives at Tufts, bring to campus lectures by prominent experts on higher education, and serve as a clearinghouse for incorporation of new evidence-based methods of college teaching. CELT will draw upon the resources of the Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies and Expertise (PACE), which Sternberg brought to Tufts from Yale University. PACE focuses on the notion of intelligence as modifiable and examines how education can maximize the potential of promising students who lack backgrounds that traditionally promote success.

"CELT will not only offer Tufts' faculty opportunities for broadening their teaching and assessment repertoire, but also facilitate dissemination and sharing of ideas across schools and campuses," noted CELT Deputy Director Linda Jarvin, associate research professor in the Department of Education at Tufts. Jarvin was formerly a research scientist in the Department of Psychology at Yale and the associate director of PACE at Yale. She will co-teach the CELT seminar with Molly Mead, Lincoln Filene Professor of Service at Tufts' Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.

Research by Sternberg and his team -- conducted at Yale and funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation -- shows that students taught in ways that enable them to capitalize on their strengths and compensate for or correct their weaknesses, academically outperform students who are taught in more traditional ways. In particular, teaching for memory, and for analytical, creative, and practical thinking, enhances student learning and performance.

Tufts will formally evaluate results of CELT through professional classroom observation, analysis of teaching evaluation by students, and participants' satisfaction with the programs as means of enhancing their teaching and assessment.

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Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's eight schools is widely encouraged.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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