Enhanced Center for Learning and Teaching to launchTweet
A teacher who loves working with young, bright people and faculty who thrive on face time with students will step into the lead role for Binghamton University’s Center for Learning and Teaching on June 1. James Pitarresi, distinguished teaching professor of mechanical engineering, has been appointed by Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Nieman as assistant provost and executive director of what will be a revitalized and enhanced center focused on student learning and providing faculty support for instruction.
Pitarresi, who will continue to teach, will step down as chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering to assume the new position.
“I love teaching for all the reasons we talk about, seeing the ‘I get it’ moment in their eyes,” he said. “This will be a way for me to extend beyond that and support others who are new or in mid-career who want to change the way they teach.”
The CLT emerges in a wonderful combination of visions from the provost and the Road Map’s Advancing Learning Team, said Donald Loewen, vice provost for undergraduate education. “Don (Nieman) has an incredible commitment to this. In the past, CLT has not had the resources to provide the robust support to faculty that we really need. We haven’t been able to do that comprehensively as a campus. The faculty support has largely been functioning through the good will, energy and vision of faculty volunteers through the Institute for Student-Centered Learning (ISCL) and the like.”
Recognizing that the lack of support is not ideal, Loewen said the objective in “beefing up” the CLT is to make it a faculty-centric institution again, with central support.
“The Road Map process was good for us in that it got us talking about what could happen with a reinvigorated CLT,” Loewen said.” Almost all of the things we were talking about in our Advancing Learning team flowed through the CLT.
“By hiring James, we have a wonderful opportunity to bring those things together and have the CLT be a meeting point for all of those challenge and opportunities,” said Loewen.
Pitarresi envisions the CLT as a place with a holistic view of teaching that will encompass all of the skills and technologies that enable faculty to help students learn, whether they are interested in distance education methods or the Socratic method. “We will help faculty understand how to combine these methods in ways that engage students effectively,” he said. “Some with the use of a piece of chalk, notes and conversation; others may embrace other approaches to technology. We’ll take a new and what we hope is a broad approach to supporting faculty in doing what they currently do better and more effectively, with more institutional support.”
Pitarresi teaches “flipped” courses, which reverse typical lecture and homework elements. “The key, in my view, and the real advantage of being at a residential institution is the faculty and the ability to interact with them,” he said. “Face time with your students is an incredible opportunity, and anything that doesn’t require face time – flip it. Face time is the essence and value of what we do and the passion that’s driving this whole thing.
“It’s about student learning, not my teaching, and hopefully, we will make a difference,” Pitarresi said. “This is incentive to try new things and experiences. Right now we’re flipping courses, but in 10 years it will be something else and maybe we’ll be the ones who invent it.”
People learn and teach differently, so this will not be a one-size-fits-all center, said Pitarresi. “It will be, however, a one-stop-shop where faculty can come − no matter what their teaching style − to learn about what resources and opportunities are out there. For example, ‘Are webinars archived? How can we get the information to them?’”
The CLT will coordinate with Ed Comm and the University Center for Training and Development for such needs.
“That’s the goal, so faculty can get on with the business they do and we’ll help them tweak how they do it,” Pitarresi said.
Another positive aspect of the “one-stop-shop” said Pitarresi, is that there will now be a clear organization that can focus on teaching and helping all faculty across all schools at Binghamton. “The biggest and most important change is that the CLT will be where we can gather and discuss these things instead of in silos where everybody is doing their own thing. We haven’t been sharing best practices and we need to.
“Plus, there are tremendous research opportunities here for me and others. As a researcher myself, I hope to extend my research to include academic teaching issues,” Pitarresi said. “I do have NSF STEM support right now and this has got me in the center of ‘how do we do a better job at this?’ That’s what the CLT is about.”
Loewen echoed the need to share best practices across schools.” I’ve heard from people that everybody is doing something, but they don’t know what others are doing or what is working. We’re hoping the CLT will provide a centralized locus for conversation and resources for people to develop best practices and to explore what they can offer and what they can do with support. We’ll now have professionals who understand and can help them with real resources and an identifiable place to go.”
PItarresi said a project in collaboration with the Department of Mathematics that involved brainstorming with Harpur College and the Watson School is already kicking off. “It’s an innovative, small-scale flipped course for Calc 1, and I’m tremendously excited about working on it with Anton Schick and Laura Anderson (from mathematics).”
“What we are doing is signaling that this is a place where teaching really matters,” said Loewen. “We care and we’re here because we want to help you become better teachers.
“This is a big deal, a big chance,” he added. “The big focus is on learning through faculty support, and it also tells our alumni that teaching is still incredibly important to this campus. It’s not disappearing. We’re very deliberately signaling that it’s still at the heart of the Harpur and Binghamton tradition.”
“If I were a young faculty member coming on board here, I would be tremendously excited,” Pitarresi said. “Over the last decade we beefed up the research credentials of the campus, and to see this support of strong teaching shows that we are a great place to come and grow and develop as a professional.”
Next up for Pitarresi: putting together an advisory board.”This is huge and I don’t have the expertise to cover all these areas. There is not a single person who can adequately address all the needs, so I will pull together the best minds on campus to guide, advise and fill in the gaps of what I don’t know.”