Tompkins Cortland Community College


History of the College Teaching Center: The First Twenty Years

by Victoria Zeppelin

"The mission of the College Teaching Center is to help educators share resources and experiences to enhance teaching and learning."

We all know that the College is celebrating its 40th Anniversary, but did you know that the College Teaching Center has reached its own milestone? The College Teaching Center (CTC) was established 20 years ago, on August 23, 1988, to share academic knowledge and experience among the College faculty and other educators from throughout the region. And for the past two decades, the CTC has fulfilled this mission to enhance learning experiences for students through promoting excellence in instruction, serving as the primary vehicle for the sharing of instructional strategies and materials within the College.

The CTC was an outgrowth of the Teaching Center Task Force, a group of 11 faculty and staff members who met with Carl Haynes, who was the Academic Dean at the time, to investigate staff development needs in the Academic Division. Then President Eduardo Martí accepted their proposal to establish a Teaching Center and provided a room, furniture, $8000, a 0.5 release for a faculty member, and an office for a full-time Instructional Support Specialist. To reinforce the staff-centered philosophy of the Center, an Advisory Board was established that operates independently of the administration and controls the CTC budget.

Pat Wagner served as the Center’s first Coordinator, a role now filled by Robin Hinchcliff. Bob Yavits has served as the Instructional Software Specialist throughout the CTC’s existence. Between them, there was always someone available in the CTC for consultations. In fact, in the CTC’s first ten months, 74 different faculty members and one-third of adjuncts consulted with Pat or Bob around a multitude of topics such as strategies for classroom discipline; teaching thinking skills, process writing, grammar, and bibliographic format; motivating students; avoiding sexism; as well as providing information on electronic grading programs, learning styles software, and resources for workshops. There were 25 workshops or discussion groups that year with about 280 people from the college and over 150 community members participating.

The Center itself functions as a centralized location for instructional materials and technology, including journals, computers, printers, and a scanner, as well as host for weekly roundtables. Interestingly, when the CTC began, there were no roundtables as we know them today. Instead, staff would gather at noon on Wednesdays to talk about anything; there was no agenda. Then on one or two Mondays per month, a workshop was held at 3:30 pm. These workshops were open to the college and outside community. Later, the Wednesday lunchtime discussions grew into Monday and Wednesday noon roundtables with presenters focusing on topics they chose in advance. There are clearly areas of interest that surfaced repeatedly in roundtable and discussion groups: instructional strategies, classroom management, student engagement, teaching thinking skills, and diversity. In the early days, diversity discussions seemed to focus on gender issues and learning styles, but the understanding of diversity expanded as our college population changed. Integration of technology and visual aids was always a hot topic, though of course the technologies have changed and multiplied. More recently, the late afternoon Monday workshops were revived as “Conversation & Cuisine”, a series of extended conversations over dinner on topics such as the effects of poverty on learning, StrengthsQuest, college success strategies, and first year student advisement.

Working with other colleges in the region, the CTC has co-sponsored the annual “Successful Teaching” conference, which has seen our College faculty and adjuncts participate both as attendees and presenters. In the past, the CTC partnered with SUNY Cortland to offer a week-long “Liberty Partnership Teacher Institute” which taught techniques for reaching high risk students. In recent years, the CTC began co-sponsoring the annual “Dialogue on Learning” conference that takes place on our campus each spring. Now, the CTC has a new partnership with the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) to offer webinars free to all College staff; the first in the series focused on “High Expectations for Student Engagement” and future webinars promise to be just as worthwhile.

When the Center began, it received a three-year grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) to provide programs specifically designed for adjunct faculty. Providing support for adjuncts, as well as new faculty, grew into one of the main roles of the CTC. In 1990 and 1991, the CTC received grants from FIPSE to conduct a professional development program for adjunct faculty. It was at this time that the highly successful peer mentorship program was established with 37 mentoring pairs. As part of this program, a faculty member mentors an adjunct or new faculty member focusing on an area of interest they select, and the mentee conducts a literature review focused that topic. The FIPSE grant also led to the institution of an Adjunct Teaching Excellence Award through the College’s Board of Trustees. The CTC also serves adjuncts by publishing a handbook for adjuncts covering not only rules and policies of the College, but also various instructional and classroom management strategies.

Throughout its existence, the CTC played a role in building community in the college. In the early years, the CTC had regular coffee and tea service that lured staff into the Center all day. Faculty knew that Pat or Bob would be there for a chat, and every Wednesday at noon, there was sure to be discussion over lunch. Over time, encouraging social engagement became more formalized as the CTC began to sponsor social events. Many of you may recall the campouts of years past. Now, we hold a picnic each fall for College faculty, adjuncts, staff, and their families. Each semester, the CTC hosts an Open House, featuring a delicious meal, as well as other events, such as ice cream socials and a luncheon for new faculty and adjuncts. These activities help colleagues get to know each other, building a sense of community that serves our general mission to share experiences to enhance teaching and learning.