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Great Professors Don’t Grow on Trees

At Binghamton, good teaching is a team effort.

What is it that makes one professor an engaging, inspiring educator and another a total dud?

That’s the question Wayne Jones, one of the founding directors of the Binghamton University Center for Learning and Teaching (http://hmchemdemo.clt.binghamton.edu/), has been exploring for the past 15 years. And judging by the wealth of great teaching at Binghamton, we think he’s onto something.

Jones established the Center for Learning and Teaching (CLT) to help faculty approach the subject of teaching as they would any other research project: collaboratively.

“What we’ve created is a community of educators learning together,” says Jones, a professor of inorganic and materials chemistry, “so that faculty don’t see themselves as isolated or separated from one another in teaching, but as a community of folks sharing their challenges and successes in the classroom.”

One of the CLT’s first projects was to tackle the question, “How can we put students more at the center of the learning process?” With a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the CLT helped create the Institute for Student-Centered Learning (ISCL) (http://www2.binghamton.edu/clt/ISCL.html), a two-day seminar in which Binghamton’s faculty gather to share their best teaching ideas and reflect on what’s working and what isn’t. That initial weekend seminar has grown into a series of workshops and brown bag brainstorming sessions throughout the academic year.

The Center for Learning and Teaching has helped faculty from across the campus to create and advance some of the University’s most innovative educational initiatives, including Languages Across the Curriculum, Learning Communities, the Discovery program and the capstone honors project.  One of the latest projects promotes the teaching of nanotechnology to all students — from freshmen to graduate students — capitalizing on teaching technologies and promoting “just-in-time learning” for students and faculty alike.

“Just-in-time learning involves creating modules so that no matter at what level the students might be, they can get training on how to use or do something specific,” explains Jones. These “learning modules” aren’t full classes, but smaller seminars that teach a particular nanotechnology skill independent of a student’s familiarity with the subject.

Looking forward, Jones and the Center will be focusing on creating even more experiential learning opportunities for upper-classmen. “We’re asking, ‘How can you get students to reflect on the body of work that they’ve already produced in their first two or three years?’” says Jones, who’s also Director of Graduate Studies in Chemistry at the University.

For even more information on a groundbreaking Binghamton education, check out the Center for Learning and Teaching website.

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Last Updated: 3/5/10