Priming the next generation of teachers and researchers: LEARN@Dal

- August 13, 2020

File photo: CIRTL.
File photo: CIRTL.

Dalhousie is poised to make a major commitment to its current and future faculty in support of inclusive teaching this fall when it joins an academic network of top-tier research universities dedicated to developing and expanding proven high-impact teaching practices.

Dal is one of six new members joining the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL), a network that counts Columbia, Cornell, Yale, UBC, other major research universities across North America as current members.

Members of the network share resources and support one another. Dalhousie’s “node” of the network, which will be known as LEARN@Dal (Learning Equity and Access Research Network), will take advantage of the university’s expertise in adult learning and its commitment to equity, diversity and inclusiveness (EDI). Its focus will be on building capacity for reaching and teaching diverse learners.

“We are excited about developing our CIRTL learning community within which graduate students can learn and advance proven STEM teaching practices that meet the needs of a diverse undergraduate student population,” says Vivian Howard, associate vice president academic at Dal.

The five other new CIRTL members this fall include University of Arizona, University of Florida, University of Houston, University of Idaho, and University of Illinois─Chicago.

“Our newest member universities will bring an even greater diversity in the expertise that the network is giving our future faculty,” says Robert Mathieu, CIRTL’s director and a University of Wisconsin‒Madison astronomy professor. “Several of our new partner institutions emphasize teaching Indigenous students, while others contribute valuable experience serving students in urban multicultural environments.”

Staying ahead of the curve

Each member university develops its own local learning community around CIRTL’s core ideas of teaching-as-research, learning communities and learning-through-diversity. The network shares multiple resources, including ongoing professional development, program evaluation guides, research briefs and ― highly relevant to this new COVID-19 era ― online, cross-network courses, workshops and drop-in events.

Launched in 2003, CIRTL has always been ahead of the curve in remote learning, says Dr. Mathieu. “Because our member institutions are based across North America, CIRTL was shovel-ready to help faculty and graduate students develop their online teaching skills at each university through our cross-network learning community."

“Now, during this pandemic, having a strong virtual learning community of peers and an established program of online offerings across the CIRTL network provides members with a way to collaborate and leverage shared resources to better serve our graduate students and postdocs,” says Kitch Barnicle, CIRTL’s associate director.

Dalhousie’s CIRTL learning community will complement existing initiatives and programs to support faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students through the Centre for Learning and Teaching (CLT) and the College of Continuing Education. (CCE).

Committed co-leads

Professor Teri Balser, one of LEARN@Dal's two academic co-leads, brings an experienced eye to Dal's involvement with CIRTL having worked with the network from its earliest days.

“I’m truly excited for this possibility at Dal. I’ve been involved with CIRTL since my time at University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW Madison) as an assistant professor 18 years ago," she says.

Dr. Balser knows first-hand just how powerful an impact the group can make.

"It is largely because of Bob Mathieu and his vision that I chose the path I did. CIRTL helped me to become a truly 'teaching-focused research faculty member' and opened a whole world to me," she says. "I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today if not for the Delta Program, which is the the name of the original CIRTL node at UW Madison. I look forward to seeing where this can take us, too!”

Instructor Angela Siegel, Dal's other CIRTL co-lead and a co-lead of Future of Teaching and Learning self-study team that submitted high-level recommendations to the university this year for its next strategic plan, says she has been consistently impressed by the teaching initiatives already taking place across Dalhousie and sees great possibilities in this new partnership.

"I look forward to this network connecting the Dalhousie teaching community, while inspiring and gaining motivation from the next generation of teaching faculty," she says. 

"The focus on greater equity and inclusion within our teaching practices is one to which I feel strongly connected. We will all benefit from the exploration and creation of different pathways and opportunities for access to university. Our connection to the greater CIRTL network will not only be of value to the current and future teaching community, but it will also benefit our students as we learn and grow together.”

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