Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching Offers Resources, Space to Share Ideas

A woman smiles while leaning on a classroom desk Image by Ed Brennen
Asst. Prof. of Biology Teresa Lee, who joined UMass Lowell last year during the pandemic, has used resources from the new Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching to prepare for a return to in-person learning this fall.

By Ed Brennen

Asst. Prof. of Biology Teresa Lee is about to begin her second year as a faculty member in the Kennedy College of Sciences — but her first in an actual classroom with UML students.

“In some ways, it will be really weird,” says Lee, who taught virtually last year after joining UMass Lowell from Emory University in Atlanta, where she did her postdoctoral research in cell biology. “For many students, it will be their first in-person interaction in a year and a half. I’m hoping to capitalize on that eagerness of being in person to get a jump start on the semester.”

To help prepare for a return to campus after months of remote learning due to the pandemic, Lee has joined scores of other UML faculty members from all five colleges this summer for online workshops sponsored by the university’s new Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT).

Run by the Office of the Provost, CELT is where faculty can discover and share resources, tips and tools to improve their teaching and provide the best possible learning experience for students.

“As awful as the last year and a half have been in so many ways, it has highlighted our faculty's commitment to student success and continuous improvement of learning,” says Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Julie Nash. “At the end of the day, we are educators and we all have a lot to learn from each other.”

While the center’s resources — which include classroom policies for the fall and an application for teaching mini-grants — currently live online, Nash says the university is working on identifying a physical space on campus for the center.

“I like the idea of a physical library of resources where people can come in and read and talk to each other,” Nash says. “It’s the cross-college collaborations and conversations that faculty really want.”

A man talks from his office on Zoom
Assoc. Prof. of World Languages and Culture Daniel Arroyo-Rodriguez shares what he has learned from teaching virtually during a CELT-sponsored workshop on Zoom.

Applications will be accepted this fall for the center’s faculty director, who will work with a steering committee of faculty and support staff and serve “a couple of years,” according to Nash.

“It’s faculty-driven, which is important,” she says. “What the faculty director brings will be unique to their tenure.”

The center will collaborate with several offices across campus, including Information Technology and the UML Library, which has a new director this fall, Allison Estell.

“We will continue to work with the library on textbook affordability options, and we have a great relationship with our Instructional Technology team, which has been so proactive in helping faculty use technology to make their teaching better,” Nash says.

The summer workshops, which were faculty-led and recorded on Zoom for those who couldn’t attend live, covered topics such as student assessments, using principles of universal design to enhance learning, and diversity and equity in the classroom. The series kicked off with a discussion on what faculty have learned about teaching during the pandemic and what they can expect this fall.

“I’ve always taught in the classroom in person, but I learned how to embrace technology like Zoom, with its polls and whiteboard,” says Asst. Prof. of Public Health Serena Rajabiun, who led the panel discussion along with Assoc. Prof. Daniel Arroyo-Rodriguez (World Languages and Culture) and Asst. Teaching Prof. Cecil Joseph (Physics and Applied Physics).

In a session on how to get the semester off to a great start, Asst. Teaching Prof. of Mathematical Sciences Erica Yankowskas suggested that faculty use their first class meeting to talk about the effects of the pandemic rather than diving right into the syllabus.

A woman talks from her office on Zoom
Asst. Teaching Prof. of Mathematical Sciences Erica Yankowskas discusses ways that faculty can help students readjust to in-person learning during a CELT workshop.

“We need to be mindful that we’re not returning to the same world that we left back in March 2020. There’s a high probability that many of our students are going to have difficulty focusing for extended periods of time, at least at the very beginning,” says Yankowskas, who led the session with Assoc. Prof. of Psychology Stephanie Block. “It’s up to us, the instructors, to be flexible and willing to adapt to this new world and help get our students back into school-ready mode.”

That message resonated with Paul Jermain, a senior adjunct professor of marketing, entrepreneurship and innovation in the Manning School of Business since 2013.

“I have a lot of experience teaching, so I’m used to going into a variety of situations,” he says. “But the workshop increased my sensitivity to the situation from a student’s perspective. The situation has changed, and I need to keep that in mind to be as effective as I can be with students.”

For Lee, the workshops not only gave her ideas for her Advanced Genetic Analysis course this fall, they also provided an opportunity to meet colleagues from across campus.

“It helped me feel like part of the community, even though I was a total stranger,” says Lee, who looks forward to meeting those colleagues in person.

“During my interview process, I got the sense that there were a ton of resources here to help faculty achieve their goals, which is not always the case,” she says. “I’m excited to meet colleagues in other disciplines and talk about how students learn. It’s more evidence of how UMass Lowell really does care about supporting us.”