Penn State Intercom......February 6, 2003

University is part of research team to help
develop teaching skills of American faculty

Penn State will be collaborating with other universities on a five-year, $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation on developing a working laboratory to help graduate students and faculty develop teaching skills that match their skills in the lab.

The mission of the new center, based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is to develop "a national science, engineering and mathematics faculty with teaching skills that will enable all college students to be scientifically literate, and which will promote a public better prepared to live in a high-tech world," said Robert Mathieu, a professor of astronomy at Wisconsin and the principal investigator of the new initiative known as the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning.

Penn State and Michigan State University, the third partner, will help to test combinations of training programs and strategies to implement them. Penn State will use a "bottom-up" approach in which it will identify a team of key faculty and administrators who will make a commitment to the new programs and strategies. The team at Penn State includes Richard Cyr, professor of biology; Peter Jurs, professor of chemistry; and Akhlesh Lakhtakia, professor of engineering science and mechanics, who will implement the programs, and Carol Colbeck, director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education and professor of higher education, who will be responsible for assisting with the implementation and will evaluate the programs' success.

While the University's team already involves faculty in science, engineering and education, it plans to expand to include faculty from agricultural sciences, earth and mineral sciences and the School of Information Sciences and Technology.

According to Colbeck, the initiative will employ several key strategies. The first strategy will be to treat the improvement of teaching as a research problem. A second strategy will be to create faculty and graduate student learning communities that support the development of teaching skills through collaboration and shared learning. The goal will be to create a network of such communities nationwide.

A third key strategy is to help ensure that math and science are taught well not only to the select few undergraduates who go on to advanced degrees and careers in the sciences, but also to those students who will encounter only a minimum of science and math coursework.