Award will support student learning assessment by future faculty

Graduate students Whitney Mauer and Adem Birson, foreground, attend the Center for Teaching Excellence's Summer Institute for High-Impact Teaching and Learning Practices, held in August. Cornell will develop enhanced student learning assessment practices in training graduate students as future faculty, in a new project supported by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Sloan and Teagle foundations.

Theresa Pettit
Astronomy and space sciences Ph.D. student Shoshanna Cole, right, a 2011-12 Center for Teaching Excellence Graduate Research and Teaching Fellow, explains her research to graduate students Trusha Jayant Parekh, left, and Ashima Krishna in August. Cole's Scholarship of Teaching and Learning research project featured peer-learning workshops designed to improve undergraduates' critical thinking skills.

Cornell has been chosen as a demonstration school for developing programs to train future faculty in assessing student learning, with an award from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS).

The Graduate School partnered with the Cornell Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) to submit a proposal to the Preparing Future Faculty to Assess Student Learning competition. Cornell's proposal was one of seven selected for funding from the CGS on behalf of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Teagle Foundation.

The awards, announced Oct. 31, are intended to enhance assessment practices at universities with proven leadership in preparing future faculty.

"We are very pleased to be part of a group of universities involved in developing transformative strategies for training future faculty in learning assessment," said Vice Provost and Graduate School Dean Barbara Knuth, principal investigator on the project. "This project supports two of the university's strategic initiatives: to create a culture of teaching in every department across campus and to develop stronger connections between colleges."

The CTE, under the direction of Theresa Pettit, and the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CU-CIRTL) will assist in implementing the proposal and contribute staff time to the project, in collaboration with the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, and the Departments of Biology and Physics.

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Laura Brown is coordinating universitywide assessment efforts.

"This opportunity is part of an array of new initiatives at Cornell that support student learning -- now and for the future -- through data, research and the thoughtful use of assessment tools," Brown said. "We are very pleased that this grant enables us to support substantial progress on this front."

The project will identify effective institutional models for improving the preparation of future faculty across all fields, while also examining issues specific to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, the social sciences and the humanities.

The Sloan Foundation has invested in the enhancement of introductory and gateway courses in STEM fields vital to student persistence in science majors and the cultivation of domestic STEM talent, while the Teagle Foundation has supported programs preparing future faculty in the humanities and social sciences.

Objectives outlined in Cornell's proposal include:

"The ability to assess what students are learning and use this evidence to improve teaching practice is a key skill that our graduate students require for their future careers in academia," Provost Kent Fuchs said.

Programs and best practices developed at Cornell will be shared with the CGS and the 25 institutions of the national CIRTL Network.

All seven project partners -- Cornell, Harvard University, Indiana University, Michigan State University, University of California-Merced, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University -- will contribute to a Web-based clearinghouse of resources on learning assessment and present their outcomes at national meetings. An additional 19 universities will participate in the project as affiliate partners.


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Claudia Wheatley