Thursday, January 6, 2011

Introducing the Cornell University Graduate Teaching Certificate Initiative

Cornell’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE), in collaboration with the Graduate School and specific graduate fields of study, has begun to develop new teaching programs and disseminate research-based best-teaching practices to ensure that faculty and graduate teaching assistants have the support needed to advance teaching and maximize undergraduate student learning.  Based on our review of institutional models and of research on graduate student teaching programs, we seek to develop university-wide and discipline-specific graduate teaching certificate programs as potential models for enhancing the quality of graduate student teaching and undergraduate student learning. 

Within higher education, there is burgeoning evidence of the benefits of programs supporting graduate student teaching and professional development.  These findings indicate that future faculty and graduate teaching programs have had a positive impact on graduate student teaching skills, knowledge of teaching innovations, learning and technology, and career preparation as a new faculty member.  In addition, graduate teaching programs have fostered greater faculty-to-student mentorship and faculty collaboration, and have improved graduate student recruitment and retention.  Research also suggests there are a number of challenges in designing, implementing and sustaining graduate teaching programs. For example, students reported difficulty managing participation in such programs with required doctoral program coursework and research.  Faculty participation was also constrained by research and teaching priorities.

Drawing from this research and a review of program models at peer institutions, the CTE piloted during fall 2009 a university-wide future faculty graduate teaching certificate program (CTE-FFP). The CTE selected eleven graduate teaching assistants from a variety of disciplines as the first CTE-FFP cohort.  The CTE-FFP participants completed a 2 credit course, ALS 6940 Teaching in Higher Education, created an electronic portfolio, designed a syllabus, identified a faculty mentor and conducted research to examine the impact of a specific learning theory or teaching approach on undergraduate student learning.  CTE-FFP participants’ research projects covered a range of pedagogical models including service-learning, peer-based learning, problem-based learning and teaching with various forms of technology (i.e., google mapping, i-clickers, etc.) to improve undergraduate learning.

Analysis of data from CTE-FFP participants’ course evaluations and portfolios indicates that they have gained greater knowledge of teaching methods and learning theories and reflected on their initial assumptions about what it means to be a successful teacher.  It is not yet clear, however, how CTE-FFP participants’ learning translates into more effective teaching and enhanced undergraduate learning.  In addition, since the university-wide CTE-FFP lacks a specific departmental home, anecdotal evidence suggests that faculty participation is more limited and that participants have engaged in their research and teaching without faculty mentorship and guidance within their discipline. Support from the Teagle Foundation funding is timely and provides an excellent opportunity for CTE to expand on these initial efforts.  Support from the Foundation provides leverage for greater participation from faculty to assist us to develop and implement discipline-based graduate teaching certificate programs and to generate baseline data on program component efficacy.