Leader Q&A: Brad Wuetherick, Executive Director, Centre for Learning and Teaching
Brad Wuetherick joined Dalhousie this August. As the new executive director of the Centre for Learning and Teaching, he is a member of the senior management team in the Office of the Vice-President (Academic) and Provost with responsibility for supporting teaching and learning, and championing the adoption of evidence-based practices in teaching and learning, across the institution. He comes to Dal from the University of Saskatchewan, where he was Program Director of the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness.
What is it that you enjoy about working in teaching and learning support?
It goes back to my own experience as a student leader wanting to see more students have a phenomenal university experience. I believe in creating an engaging environment where students are passionate about their desire to learn. How do we inspire that regardless of the discipline students are in?
Dalhousie has a reputation for being a vibrant place, and that was one of the real attractions to coming here. You see it in the language of DalVision 2020, in the award winning teachers and academic innovations on campus, even in Dalhousie’s scores on, say, the National Survey of Student Engagement, where we out-perform many of our peers among research-intensive universities across Canada. There’s so much potential here at Dalhousie for taking it to the next level, which made it exciting to come here.
How would you explain the role of the Centre for Learning and Teaching on campus?
Our biggest role, fundamentally, is to support faculty (particularly early career faculty), grad students and academic programs to achieve their goals. Centres like ours have a lot of sub-mandates within that, but in the end, our success is defined by the success of both individual faculty and instructors as well as the different academic programs on campus.
A key component of that is to provide a conduit for the campus into the evidence base on teaching and learning in higher education. There is a lot of data on teaching and learning both inside and outside our campus. So our centre’s role is to help people understand how to maximize the use of this evidence to make better decisions about teaching and learning, whether at the level of an individual class or at the level of departments and Faculties.
What misconceptions do people have about learning and teaching centres?
I don’t want to presume this at Dal, but from my experience and talking with colleagues across the country, there’s a perception that centres like ours are remedial centres to help “bad teachers” when they get poor course evaluations. That’s not to say we can’t help people in that situation, but our role is much more dynamic than that. It’s about helping promote a vision of excellence in teaching and learning, to support individuals and programs in the development of a more dynamic learning environment.
What do you, personally, bring to the table to help support the Centre’s mission?
I have been an active researcher on teaching and learning in higher education in a number of areas, with a particular focus on how we might provide more opportunities for undergraduates to experience research. In addition to educational and curriculum development, my background also includes time in student services, directly supporting students and student academic success. I have experience advising students on navigating the path through a degree, but also advising senior administration on academic visioning documents, and everything in between.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Relationships are everything to a centre such as ours. My first several months are about conversations with people, listening to what each Faculty is trying to accomplish within their own vision, then considering how our centre can position ourselves to support that. I also believe in collaborative decision-making, and that individual faculty members have a critical voice in shaping teaching and learning on campus.
I also believe in breaking down dichotomies between research and teaching & learning, and understanding what’s possible in a research-intensive environment like this. Dal’s research intensiveness is what makes us different than other universities in Atlantic Canada and I firmly believe that if the learning environment doesn’t reflect that, then we’ve done a disservice to our students.
How do you see the centre supporting the use of technology within the classroom?
From my perspective, a centre like ours should be working with individual faculty members, with programs, to identify learning goals and outcomes, and then trying to create the appropriate environment to achieve those goals. That will often include technology, and the centre is well positioned to support the use of that technology both online and in classrooms. The first question, however, should always be: from a teaching and learning perspective, what are we trying to achieve? And that should drive the use of technology, not the other way around.
What can people expect from you and the centre in the future?
I’ll be focusing on listening to the needs of our Faculties and Departments when it comes to teaching and learning in the short term, and will increasingly position the centre to support their particular needs, but my role is shifting a bit. It’s now an executive director position with more connection into the VP Academic and Provost’s office, working with Deans, Department Heads and the other VPs and AVPs. It’s about positioning learning and teaching as part of the academic plan of the institution moving forward, and giving learning and teaching a strong voice within the senior administration team. The centre will build on its many existing strengths to focus increasingly on supporting curriculum innovation and renewal on campus. As well, the centre will continue to support the expansion of our institutional capacity to engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Finally, what’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I spent a lot of time playing rugby, and I’ve always loved it as a very social sport. I grew up playing saxophone, and I spent a lot of my life singing — my wife and I actually met in the University of Alberta Mixed Chorus.