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Faculty Senate Selects Teaching Initiatives

By Anne Bromley

Thirty-nine faculty projects will improve course materials and create websites

If anyone wonders how much attention is being paid to teaching undergraduates at U.Va., the Faculty Senate's "Initiative to Promote Excellent Teaching" should put any doubts to rest.

A senate committee recently chose 39 teaching initiatives to receive the first round of grants in the program, which was designed by the Faculty Senate's Academic Affairs Committee and funded by the Provost's office.

From preparing websites for interdisciplinary courses to setting up electronic archives to planning workshops for graduate teaching assistants, the group represents "a range of interesting projects all across the University," said Religious Studies Professor Benjamin C. Ray, who chairs the committee. Some cover basic equipment shortages while others focus on overhauling sequences of core courses in areas such as chemistry and commerce. Many are collaborative efforts.

The Office of the Provost approved $100,000 annually to fund the project for three years, in grants of up to $5,000. Individuals, departments and schools were encouraged to propose innovative methods for improving the evaluation of teaching and the development of teaching skills among faculty and graduate teaching assistants. Other important criteria included whether the project would have a long-lasting effect on teaching; whether there would be departmental support and cost-sharing; and how many students would be affected.

The seeds of the project were sown by the Faculty Senate in response to the University's Self-Study, conducted from 1994 to '96, according to Faculty Senate leaders.

"When we saw the diversity of those evaluations [of teaching in the report] and the many ideas within them, we came up with the 'University-wide conversation on teaching,' using senators to launch conversations within their units and then to convey the gist of those conversations to others," said Edward L. Ayers, the Hugh P. Kelly Professor of History, who chaired the Academic Affairs Committee last year. "From those conversations, we began to see the need for support to implement the many exciting ideas on improving teaching. The Provost stepped forward to make that possible.

"The response to the awards demonstrates once again how devoted U.Va. professors are to teaching," Ayers said. "Second, the initiative signals a new level of efficacy by the Senate. These awards would not have happened without the efforts of the Senate."

"With financial help from the administration, we, the elected leadership of the faculty have taken the lead in crafting and administering a program that will enhance the quality of teaching for years to come, especially among our undergraduates," said Jahan Ramazani, English professor and Faculty Senate chair. "As a result of this program, we will see our strong teaching faculty develop exciting new ways to improve, evaluate and reward excellence in teaching."

Commerce School Professor Richard DeMong, who led the subcommittee that reviewed the proposals and chose the winning group from 58 submissions, echoed Ramazani. "The generous funding of the Teaching Initiatives by the Provost indicates how seriously the University views teaching. We recognize the importance of teaching and the importance staying on the cutting-edge of effective teaching."
Much of the work, supported by the grants, will be done in the summer in preparation for the coming academic year, Ray added. The senate also plans to post the projects on its website, and the Teaching Resource Center will sponsor a forum in early fall to feature a few examples of successful programs, he added.

"The website and fall forum will promote intellectual community as colleagues from different departments and schools share their ideas and successes," said French professor Marva Barnett, director of the Teaching Resource Center. " As we've seen with the University Teaching Fellows Program and the Teaching + Technology Initiative, ideas develop when faculty from different disciplines get together to talk about their projects," she said.

Source:  Inside UVa May 1, 1995

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