V. Supporting the Open Curriculum

5.4 Pedagogy

We cannot meet the needs of our students simply by increasing the number of faculty and courses. Our recommendations call upon the faculty to teach new material in different ways, to build bridges between disciplines and explore the ground between disciplines, and to find innovative ways to make their subjects accessible to all Amherst students. Evaluations by students are extremely useful in providing instructors with the feedback they need to determine what is working in the classroom and what is not. It seems especially appropriate to learn from such evaluations as we make major pedagogical changes. All untenured faculty benefit from a regular process of student evaluation, and many tenured faculty employ similar methods less formally. All faculty at Amherst would undoubtedly benefit from their students’ assessment. Regularizing this process would also send an important signal of our commitment to excellence in teaching both to students and untenured faculty. At present, Amherst is almost alone in not requiring teaching evaluations of all its faculty, a subject of concern in our last reaccreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

20. We recommend that the faculty adopt a policy that requires the soliciting of teaching evaluations from all students in all classes.

In light of our increased college-wide expectations for teaching in composition and other areas of pedagogy that are not the expertise of all the faculty who are so engaged, the faculty would also benefit from additional support, advice, and mentoring in pedagogy.

Over the last three years the Teaching and Learning Project has demonstrated the faculty’s interest in discussing problems and innovations in pedagogy. Where some campuses have programs to “teach teaching” to new faculty, our academic culture has a strong preference for collaborating across ranks and disciplines and for taking full advantage of the experience and technological skills that new colleagues bring from elsewhere. Nevertheless, these discussions have also reflected a desire for more sustained follow-through in programs to support teaching and for more support for course development.

21. We recommend that the administration devote more resources and staff time to supporting programs in pedagogy, including programs to help teachers at all ranks.

It may in time prove advantageous to consolidate these functions into a teaching and learning center or, with additional services to support research, a center for faculty professional development. In small colleges, such centers are typically run by a faculty member, with some staff assistance, and thrive if the right director is found. We urge both sustained attention and caution in considering this option in order to ensure that an organized program complements departments’ mentoring of their assistant professors. We also urge that the administration consider adding another Associate Dean of the Faculty position, in part to help coordinate these expanded areas of support for pedagogy, as well as many of our other recommendations.

To support the development of innovative courses that demand resources unavailable at the College, the CAP recommends that the model of the Faculty Research Award Program be adapted to create a separate fund to support teaching innovation by faculty at all ranks, including lecturers. Awards would be based on competitive application and would be directed toward the support of pedagogical projects requiring modest subventions, such as participation in summer workshops, the development of software for teaching purposes, and the incorporation of experiential learning in a course. We also recommend broadening the objectives of the Senior Sabbatical Fellowship program to include projects that make substantial contributions to pedagogy of use beyond the College.

22. We recommend that a faculty innovation fund be created to support pedagogical projects of faculty at all ranks and that eligibility for Senior Sabbatical Fellowships be expanded to include proposals for contributions to pedagogy in the broadest sense.