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Wildman CEUT director

By Sandy Broughton

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 03 - September 7, 1995

In the book-lined office of Terry Wildman, the titles on the shelves reveal the nature of his professional interest: The Mind's New Science, Advanced Educational Psychology; Cognition, Teaching, and Assessment; Teaching Tips; Moral Dimensions of Teaching; the Systematic Design of Instruction.

As a professor of education and educational psychology in the College of Education at Virginia Tech, Wildman is, in effect, a teacher of teaching, learning, and teacher learning. This fall, he takes his academic expertise to the university level, as the newly appointed director of the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (CEUT).

CEUT and the University Writing Program will kick off the academic year and welcome their new directors with an ice cream social Tuesday, Sep. 12, at 5 p.m. in the programs' offices at 129 Hillcrest Hall. Carol Bailey, associate professor of sociology, is the newly appointed director of the University Writing Program. Provost Peggy Meszaros has invited all faculty members to attend the celebration.

Wildman says he would like to focus CEUT efforts on activities and discussion that promote teaching as a professional activity at the university level--an activity that is vital to the success of a land-grant institution.

"There are very clear ways to measure competency in research--publications, presentations, grants, research portfolios," Wildman says. "The teaching mission, however, enjoys no comparable set of institutional commitments and goals. We need to move away from the notion that teaching is something anyone can do. The past quarter century has been an exceptionally productive era for research on educational practice, and these resources, along with inclusion of systematic assessment of teaching, are badly needed. With administrative support for teaching, such as the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, we can ensure that faculty members and graduate students have access to current theory and research on teaching. This shared knowledge about best practices will give them the tools and opportunities they need to approach teaching from an informed perspective."

A member of the Virginia Tech faculty since 1976, Wildman and several of his colleagues in the College of Education spent most of the 1980s working with public schools, studying the learning-to-teach process. With research-and-development contracts from the State Department of Education totaling close to $1 million, Wildman and his colleagues developed mentoring programs state wide for beginning teachers, and participated in establishing the Beginning Teacher Assistance Program (BTAP), a regional assistance center for professional educators that was replicated in other locations.

For Tech's education graduates, the group also established the Early Career Support Program, which offered direct assistance for Tech graduates hired as first year teachers in public schools state wide. Wildman also founded and chaired a faculty discussion group focused on teacher preparation and professional development.

In the 1990s, Wildman turned his attention to the improvement of teaching at the university level, conducting a variety of seminars and workshops for faculty members and graduate teaching assistants on teaching, learning, and course design, under the sponsorship of Tech's Graduate School, CEUT, and individual colleges such as Engineering and Architecture. This spring he presented a paper on "Learning to teach in higher education: New opportunities in doctoral education" at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. This summer, under CEUT's Summer Faculty Fellow Program, he began a project to provide campus-wide electronic access to the key knowledge bases for effective teaching.

Wildman is also one of three 1995 recipients of the Diggs Teaching Scholar Awards, which was initiated in 1992 to recognize outstanding contributions to the teaching program of the university. Recipients are selected not only for excellence in the classroom, but also for their significant and lasting contributions to the teaching philosophy or the curriculum of their department, program, or college.

"Teaching is such a complex human endeavor, and it is often done in very private ways," says Wildman. "It is difficult to open that process to inspection, and assess how well a faculty member is doing in the classroom. It takes three to five years in public schools to develop a good teacher, and there is no reason to think it is any different at the university level. CEUT can serve as a broker of knowledge in the field of teaching, so that faculty and departments can tap into the current literature and expertise, extend dialogue on the subject across departments, and we can develop a university-wide teaching culture which is supportive of real scholarship in teaching."

Tech's Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching was opened in August 1993 to advocate the importance of teaching excellence in a land-grant university. James W. Knight, a professor of animal and poultry sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, served a two-year term as founding director. Under his leadership, the center established monthly brown-bag lunches featuring speakers on teaching, learning, and related topics; an electronic listserv for ongoing dialogue on pedagogical issues; and The Pedagogical Challenge, the CEUT newsletter, which is published twice a year and contains articles on teaching, curriculum content, evaluation, and assessment. The Pedagogical Challenge also features a regular column, "What Works for Me, " in which Tech faculty members discuss their teaching approaches.

Wildman says CEUT will continue these activities and add to them by providing better access to the knowledge base on the teaching profession, and encouraging faculty inquiry into facilitation of the learning process through various means, including technology. CEUT grants are available to faculty members who would like to work in the area of improving teaching.

The center benefits from an eight-member steering committee that draws from an array of faculty members and administrators with related interests and talents. Current members are Siegfried Holzer, professor of civil engineering and alumni distinguished professor; Larry Harris, associate dean of the College of Education; Barbara Carlisle, associate professor of theater arts; Carol Bailey, associate professor of sociology and director of the Virginia Tech Writing Program; Tom Head, director of media services; Terry Rakes, professor of management science and president of the University Academy of Teaching Excellence; Monte Boisen, professor of mathematics; and Susan Brooker-Gross, associate provost for undergraduate programs.

The CEUT offices are located in Hillcrest Hall along with the Academic Enrichment Program, the Honors Program, and Academic Assessment, three programs with which the center regularly interacts. The center also works closely with other related university programs, groups, and projects. They include the Academy of Teaching Excellence, the University Writing Program, Educational Technologies, the University Core Curriculum Committee, the Graduate Teaching Assistant Training program, the Diggs Teaching Scholar Program, the University Libraries, and the Faculty Rewards project.