History of the Center for Teaching and Learning

The Teaching Center: Early Years

The Center for Teaching and Learning, then the Teaching Center, was established at Washington University in St. Louis in 1990 under director Robert McDowell, a professor of Mathematics. The Center’s initial focus on supporting in-class faculty instruction expanded through the late 1990s under the leadership of Jim Davis, professor of History, with a growing emphasis on classroom technology. In 2000, the Center initiated the Teaching Citation program for graduate students and postdocs, beginning a long commitment to supporting the development of future faculty teachers.

The Center Grows: 2002-2017

During 2002-2017, led by director Regina Frey (professor of Chemistry), the Center embarked upon an expanded mission that include collaboration with faculty on pedagogical innovation and teaching as a community endeavor through consultations, workshops, and scholarship of teaching and learning that became organized as the division of Academic Services. During this time the Center also took on a more comprehensive role in classroom design, renovation, and support, with the development of design standards informed by pedagogical objectives in collaboration with facilities management. These efforts  became the division of Classroom Services.

During this period, Academic Services became heavily involved in a variety of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teaching initiatives that included a workshop series for faculty, a STEM pedagogies workshop series for graduate students, and the promotion of classroom response devices (iClickers) for large courses. The Center led the effort at WashU to become part of the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) Network, which is committed to advancing the teaching of STEM disciplines in higher education. In 2011, the Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning, and Education (CIRCLE) was funded by the Office of the Provost, and CIRCLE and the Center worked as close partners and collaborators on a number of projects. The Center increased the number and variety of programs it offered, including those centered on celebrating classroom diversity and promoting inclusive teaching practices. The Center provided technical support for Blackboard when it became the university’s learning management system for courses.

Expanding the Mission: 2018 – present

Under the directorship of  Michael Wysession (professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences), starting in 2018, Under Professor Wysession’s leadership, the center broadened the reach of its programing beyond STEM to provide support to all schools and instructors at all levels. Workshops and programming now became available to  instructors of all ranks and all academic disciplines, including a course design institute run at the start of each semester.  Many workshops were targeted to meet the specific needs of discipline-specific groups such as the College Writing Program, the Brown School, ROTC program instructors, and the Center initiated several new programs now run annually such as the new faculty seminar series, a faculty reading community, and the Language Teaching Fair.

In 2018, Classroom Services debuted the newly refurbished and redesigned high-tech active learning classroom in January 110 and began the annual process of transitioning, each year, a few traditional classroom spaces into more flexible active learning classrooms as part of their mission to equip WashU faculty and learners with the most pedagogically-informed teaching and learning spaces. Classroom Services also began to become more involved with digital classroom space, particularly through the recording of lectures into Kaltura, which would end up being very important with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, the Teaching Joined with the Learning Center to form the new Center for Teaching and Learning when the Cornerstone program was dissolved. The Learning Center first had its origins in the 1970s as part of Student Educational Services before joining with Disability Resources and the U.S. Dept. of Education TRIO program to form Cornerstone in 1990. The Learning Center  provides mentoring to undergraduate students through programs such as Peer Led Team Learning (PLTL), Residential Peer Mentoring, and Academic Peer Mentoring, and provides much-needed student-centered perspective to CTL operations. The new Learning Center moved from the South 40 to the Mallinckrodt Center, working alongside other student-facing divisions such as the Writing Center and the First-Year College Writing Program.

The Academic Services division was renamed Educational Development at this time to better reflect the scope of its work, and significantly reorganized it training and citation programs for graduate students and post-docs. During this time the CTL also created a more intentional approach to communications and outreach, establishing a larger social media response, creating a regular and more-established dialog with instructors, and entirely revising and restructuring its web pages.

2020: Responding to COVID-19 and Systemic Racism Protests

In 2020, the academic world was upended with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the CTL rose to the occasion by playing a significant role in the university’s pivot to various modes of online teaching and learning. At the same time, worldwide protests over systemic racism and police brutality prompted academia to alter many institutional practices, and the CTL was at the forefront of responses in support of justice, equality, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI).

The CTL’s response to COVID-19 was rapid and immense at all levels. The CTL leadership team occupied positions of leadership on multiple University committees that acted swiftly to establish policies and then carry out the implementation of changes to WashU’s teaching and learning practices to allow the university to continue through the pandemic in remote, hyflex, and hybrid formats. Foremost of these was the appropriation of the IT Teaching & Learning committee to bring together key people from all of the schools and many other divisions to build the tools and training needed for the pivot to online, including an extensive set of informational web pages.

All pooled classrooms were given A/V upgrades, with the installation of high-resolution cameras and high-quality ceiling array microphones in most rooms, and Classroom Services provided a large number of online and in-person training programs helping instructors learn how to use them. CS also turned a large number of classrooms into recording studios and helped large numbers of instructors pre-record asynchronous course lecture materials. A small army of undergraduate students were hired and trained to be camera people in large classroom spaces such as auditoria.

University-wide enterprise licenses were obtained for a large number of educational technology programs (Kaltura, Poll Everywhere, Piazza, Hypothesis, Padlet, Apporto, etc.), and the CTL carried out a vast number of training sessions for instructors on how to teach in a virtual classroom. As online teaching was largely non-existent for most of the WashU campus pre-COVID, there was a steep learning curve for instructors as well as the CTL, but the transition to remote, hyflex, and hybrid modes of teaching went remarkably smoothly according to faculty surveys carried out in fall of 2020 and spring of 2021.

The newly reconstructed Educational Development group at the CTL created a high-quality online two-week Course Design Institute that was presented repeatedly in 2020 and 2021, providing instructors with pedagogical training as well as the practical tools for teaching in various remote modalities. The Educational Development group also introduced a new program format called “Virtual Conversations,” which were taken by thousands of faculty. These 30-minute virtual conversations covered a wide variety of topics and helped WashU faculty efficiently and effectively adapt to the changing demands of the initial COVID-19 outbreak and the following Delta Variant.

The Learning Center revised its entire structure to move all of its mentoring programs into virtual formats. Undergraduate mentors used a variety of digital tools such as personal document cameras and tablets to move mentoring sessions online.

The CTL increased its programming in JEDI topics for instructors during 2020-2021, and worked with the Gephardt Center to create a program for helping faculty to adapt their courses to effectively address issues of systemic racism and colonialism.