Giving to Yale

Center for Teaching and Learning Expands Educational Innovation

Juliana Ramos-Ruano (seated front row, left) observes as Henry Cowles teaches his class in Levinson Auditorium.

In October 2015, Juliana Ramos-Ruano sat among students in the class Minds and Brains in America. But while undergraduates took notes on the history of medicine, she focused on Professor Henry Cowles’ teaching style.

A senior lector in Spanish and Portuguese, Ramos-Ruano attended the course through Faculty Bulldog Days, a program where professors observe colleagues to learn about new teaching techniques and best practices. “I strongly believe that Faculty Bulldog Days is a great opportunity for all of us to grow,” Ramos-Ruano said. “We can appreciate different teaching approaches that can help us improve our performance in class.”

The program is one of many ideas to emerge from Yale’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), established in 2014 to support students and faculty. With a mission of teaching, curriculum development, and faculty training, the center integrates tutoring, writing, and technology-enabled learning programs formerly distributed across the university.

During its start-up phase, the CTL is merging the best of Yale’s historic efforts and looking for new opportunities to serve the community. Next year, the center will relocate its growing staff to the York Street wing of Sterling Memorial Library.

A Culture of Teaching Excellence

President Salovey describes Yale both as the research institution most focused on its students and as a school at the forefront of innovation. Jennifer Frederick ’99 Ph.D., executive director of the CTL, takes this as an affirmation of her own mission: sustaining a culture where teaching excellence is prized as highly as research.

“The quality of teaching at Yale is of paramount importance,” she said. “We are committed to supporting all faculty in their teaching endeavors, by providing the resources and training they need to maintain a world-class curriculum.”

The mission resonates with current Yale parents: One anonymous family has provided several years of funding for Frederick’s directorship of the CTL. Two others are supporting teaching in mathematics and computer science, with an emphasis on evidence-based instruction.

Building a Solid House

Assembling a unified teaching center at Yale is a challenge that Frederick likens to building a house—one solid and roomy enough for everyone. “This is still a work in progress, but already I can see a definite structure with three main pillars, a foundation, and a roof,” she explained.

The first pillar is learning. A student who comes to the center for assistance will find subject-specific tutoring and instructors who are trained in the latest teaching methods. This includes extensive support for undergraduate writing and language learning. The second pillar, she said, is “mentored teaching,” with a focus on training graduate and professional students who have teaching responsibilities at Yale.

The third pillar, faculty teaching, represents something of a sea change. “In the past, Yale’s learning centers focused on the activities and experiences of students,” Frederick said. “Today, the CTL is positioned to actively help the faculty, too, with programs supporting curriculum development and emphasizing work with new faculty. We want to address this in a big way.”

For her roof, Frederick points to technology: “In recent years, many Yale professors have embraced digital tools to communicate their ideas, solicit feedback, and measure student learning,” she said. The CTL supports initiatives in Yale’s technology-enabled active learning classrooms as well as online learning. In addition, the CTL will expand training opportunities for graduate students seeking experience in online or blended education. 

Grounding the entire structure is a solid foundation of assessment. The CTL advocates for evidence-based teaching: instructional methods should be backed by empirical research, and they should incorporate feedback from students as they learn. In addition, Yale regularly evaluates its own efforts with an eye toward continuing improvement.

“We are grateful for the generosity and forward thinking of our donors,” Frederick said. “Especially during this beginning phase, they have given us the momentum we need to grow. Already, their support is enhancing the experiences of students and faculty throughout the university.”

(March 9, 2016)