Friday, March 11, 2016

 The University of Iowa has joined the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL), established in 2003 with support from the National Science Foundation to improve teaching skills and increase the diversity of future university faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The UI is among 25 new members joining CIRTL during a recent expansion that more than doubles the network’s membership. All of CIRTL’s members commit to developing local learning communities that promote proven teaching and mentoring techniques for STEM graduate students.

Sarah Larsen

“It is an honor to welcome such a distinguished institution as the University of Iowa to our network,” says Robert Mathieu, director of CIRTL. “We are excited the University of Iowa is joining with other top research universities dedicated to strengthening the teaching skills of our nation’s future STEM faculty.”

Sarah Larsen, associate dean for academic and administrative affairs at the UI Graduate College and professor of chemistry, says signing on with this one-of-a-kind national learning community provides each member institution great value.

The University of Iowa Graduate College and the Center for Teaching will collaborate to develop a local CIRTL community for STEM graduate students,” Larsen says. “Local and cross-network CIRTL programming will provide rich opportunities for graduate students to develop their teaching skills.”

According to Kitch Barnicle, executive director of the CIRTL Network, “Historically, STEM graduate coursework and effort have been focused on creating researchers in specific academic fields. As a matter of fact, new professors often face their first classes of students with little preparation in teaching. Our goal is to develop great researchers who also are great teachers, not one or the other.”

CIRTL stresses the use of successful, evidence-based strategies proven to promote active learning and to help STEM students from all backgrounds succeed and complete their degrees. Teaching strategies include: connecting classroom topics to real-world situations, promoting inclusive learning, encouraging teamwork through shared projects and study groups, continually assessing student progress and using research skills to advance effective teaching practices.

In addition to building local learning communities at the University of Iowa and other member universities, CIRTL emphasizes the importance of developing national connections through network exchanges and virtual courses.

“We are connecting the university learning communities online, so graduate students have a far more diverse experience in higher education than just their own campus,” says Mathieu, director of CIRTL. “So a student at the University of Iowa can also be learning about teaching from another student or professor at Howard University, for instance.”

As a new CIRTL member, the UI will develop its own programs built on the CIRTL core ideas: Teaching-as-research, learning communities and learning-through-diversity, Larsen says. This new local learning community will offer its own robust schedule of courses, programs, events, internships and resources. In addition, it will collaborate on cross-network projects with CIRTL partners and participate in national offerings.

The project is operated within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the highly-ranked UW–Madison School of Education and supported by the National Science Foundation, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and Affiliates, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.