Story posted September 15, 2005
The teaching terrain just got a little smoother at Bowdoin. A group of "seasoned" Bowdoin faculty members announced the public launch this week of Consultants for Teaching, an innovative, far-reaching program of support for faculty members, new and old.
The program allows Bowdoin faculty to draw on the expertise and experience of seven faculty members who have agreed to serve as "consultants" in helping others develop their own best teaching practices. They offer colleagues help with everything from syllabus development to course assignments to teaching methods. Their services are detailed on a new website, where, among other things, mentors have identified some of their particular interest areas.
Consultants Joe Bandy, Rachel Beane, Deb DeGraff, Ed Laine, Sarah McMahon, Bill VanDerWolk and Enrique Yepes spent a good deal of the spring developing a program that is comprehensive, confidential, and perhaps most important, practical.
"This program gives all faculty members access to the kind of support that sometimes happens informally over lunch with a colleague," notes Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Adam Levy, the program's coordinator. "It's a way of putting conscious thought to what we already do and it says that Bowdoin cares about these things to the extent that we will be organized about it, not just ad hoc.
"The fact that it has nothing to do with faculty evaluation makes it all the more accessible. The consultants don't claim to be teaching experts, they're just fellow teachers who are eager to talk with colleagues as their own teaching continues to evolve. There really isn't another model for what we're doing."
Some of the first faculty members to have benefited from the program seem to be the consultants themselves, who have spent a good deal of time discussing and prioritizing teaching issues for themselves, their departments and across the College.
"I joined this effort because I wanted to learn from the people on the committee and from people using the program," says Enrique Yepes, program director for Latin American Studies. "Our discussions have been a very useful, productive dialogue for me. One of the things of teaching we value at Bowdoin is the diversity of pedagogical styles. Our function is not necessarily to give advice, but to listen and learn from each other."
Indeed, savvy students could learn much from visiting the Consultants for Teaching web pages, where some consultants illuminate details about their personal teaching challenges and styles down to the number of papers they assign for specific course levels. Student visitors to the site also might learn more about the passion Bowdoin faculty members have for their work. In his statement on teaching, for instance, Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Joe Bandy writes:
"...I came to Bowdoin deeply aware of the empowering possibilities of a close-knit academic community that emphasizes critical thought, interdisciplinarity, and public engagement. Now, I find Bowdoin College a great context in which to realize these goals with students."
Levy says he hopes the services will be of particular help for newer members of Bowdoin's faculty, who hail from educational systems around the world. "The more varied the backgrounds of our faculty and students, the less easy it is for them to plug comfortably into the old network," observes Levy. "We need to create new opportunities and networks."
Some of the more innovative services offered by Consultants for Teaching are those that take place in the classroom. Consultants are happy to observe classes or advise pairs of faculty to trade class observation with each other. They also offer video analysis of the classroom.
A program termed Ongoing Learning Evaluation (OLÉ) brings consultants into the classroom to engage students in helping to evaluate the learning experience mid-course. Instructors leave the classroom while the facilitator talks with students about what helps and hinders their learning in the course. A consensus of the feedback is compiled and given to the instructor to review and discuss with the students.
"It's a great way for a faculty member to assess the learning environment when there's still time to make changes during the course of the semester," says Levy.
Interested faculty members may contact any of the consultants, or visit the website for an excellent compendium of online resources for teaching.