The Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology is getting an expanded mission, which will bring new opportunities for instructors, staff, and graduate students at Illinois State University. CTLT also has a new name—the Center for Integrated Professional Development. The Center, which will include two distinct branches for scholarly teaching and online education, and expanded partnerships with other campus departments, is designed to better support faculty success, and ultimately, student success.
“When we talk a lot about how to help a faculty improve, I want to be absolutely crystal clear: We pride ourselves on having individualized, focused attention on our students at this institution. That is well known in the state. We have great teachers,” explains Dr. Aondover Tarhule, vice president and provost.
“Everything you hear about what we’re trying to do with the Center is in response to what our faculty is telling us they’d like to see. We’re trying to meet that. The effort we’re putting in teaching simply reflects our emphasis and the pride we take in being excellent teachers… and in making sure that we continue to be excellent teachers. We want to make that process of effective and excellent teaching as easy and as rewarding for our faculty as possible.”
Tarhule sat down to discuss the unit’s transformation and his vision for its future in a recent episode of Let’s Talk Teaching, the Center’s podcast for faculty and staff at Illinois State. He was joined by Dr. Yojanna Cuenca-Carlino, assistant vice president for faculty development, diversity, and learning, who led the planning for this important change.
Listen: Ep. 078 – New Name, New Opportunities
Years in the making
Two main factors led to the decision to reorganize CTLT into a new unit: a comprehensive examination of instructors’ needs and the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For years, people had been piecing together a picture of faculty and staff needs, through surveys, workshop feedback, and attendance. Then, in February of 2021, Academic Affairs held a major retreat, itself the culmination of six months of planning. From these meetings came 10 different working groups, each addressing different aspects of professional life on campus. About 125 unique individuals contributed to these workgroups and discussions.
“Overall, this was a two-year process in terms of looking at data, faculty surveys, focus groups, but also looking at what other institutions have been doing in better supporting faculty in a more holistic way,” says Cuenca-Carlino. “And that’s the piece about the integration. When we think about faculty or instructors in their careers, they are all not only focusing on the teaching aspects of it, but they also have scholarship, they also have service, and also their well-being and balance, right? So, integration with all of those.”
In addition, feedback from instructors shows a strong desire for more support at different stages of their careers. In other words, not just as new teachers or pre-tenured faculty members, but also in mid- or later-career, when they’re likely to receive less attention.
“We don’t do nearly as much after they get tenure,” observes Tarhule. “And that’s a very risky point because we find that some faculty stagnate or they stall at that point. What we’re doing with this new center is to support faculty throughout the trajectory of their professional career.”
At the same time, the global pandemic thrust Illinois State into fully online teaching in ways few could have imagined. But it also illuminated potential new paths forward.
“We learned a lot about online learning during the pandemic,” recalls Cuenca-Carlino. “It became very clear that as an institution, we needed to also think about reaching other students through online learning and teaching online. It also has to be of quality teaching. There are specific ways and evidence-based practices on how to teach online. It’s thinking about student success and developing new programs to grow our enrollments and so forth.
A New Approach
To achieve this, it was decided to restructure CTLT with two directors, with one who could concentrate on supporting online teaching and learning directly, while the other could concentrate on evidence-based, or scholarly teaching initiatives, with impact regardless of modality.
After a national search in the spring of 2022, Dr. Anthony Piña was tapped for the job of director of online education and chief learning officer. He began working with his new colleagues in Williams Hall in June.
“Our footprint is simply almost nonexistent,” said Tarhule. “We don’t have nearly enough of a presence online as we should in terms of the number of programming that we should have. And so, Tony is going to be leading us in that direction.”
Provost Tarhule sees two major goals for the new position. “Number one is to have the lead contact person who will be the face of online education, who will be the direct contact, who will be that individual that everyone at ISU knows. If I have a need in online education, this is the person I go to.”
Tarhule says, secondly, it’s important to start building and connecting entire online degree programs.
“One of the first things I expect him to do is to create a vision and a strategy for how we expand that footprint. So, that’s the first challenge. That’s the first gap. And the second is even amongst the programs that we already have online, there’s very little coordination, there’s very little synergy. And there is very little help and support for faculty who wants to do this. So, these are the things that I expect the new director of online education to focus on.”
As a companion to the online education group within the Center, many of CTLT’s traditional support functions in terms of pedagogy and faculty professional development will continue through the leadership of Dr. Jennifer Friberg in the role of director of scholarly teaching. Friberg was hired after a national search this spring. She will also continue as the Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, a position she has held since 2016.
“Scholarly teaching is teaching with purpose, making decisions about how to teach based on evidence,” Cuenca-Carlino explained in a recent article announcing Friberg’s new position. “It’s about recognizing the context of our instruction, recognizing that contexts change and that we, as teachers, must adapt. And we should be able to study our teaching, if we wish, to see it is working for our students. That’s why the duties of director of scholarly teaching and the Cross Chair are such a good fit, and why Dr. Friberg is the ideal teacher-scholar to make them one.”
Both directors will also partner with other units on campus to create a holistic slate of professional development options for faculty, staff, and graduate students, touching on aspects beyond teaching.
“We have had conversations with Dr. Craig McLaughlin in terms of how we can partner with the Office of Research,” notes Cuenca-Carlino. “So, we started talking about perhaps doing a session on how to use specific research tools. We have heard from faculty that they want more, for example, training on Qualtrics.”
Other new or continuing partnerships could include the Center for Civic Engagement, Milner Library, the Office of Technology Solutions, Human Resources, and coordination with other existing department- or college-level initiatives.
Staff at the Center for Integrated Professional Development will work through the summer to prepare for fall instructional support, while reorganizing resources on the Center’s website, ProDev.IllinoisState.edu. Discussions will also continue with partner units, and some Center staff are working with the Office of Technology Solutions to develop a new event registration system.
Dr. Deneca Winfrey Avant, currently interim director of the School of Social Work, will take on the oversight of the Center in July when Cuenca-Carlino becomes the chair of the Department of Special Education.
Meantime, the Office of the Provost continues to work with Facilities on finding the Center a permanent physical home. CTLT moved to temporary spaces in Williams Hall in 2019 to make room for the new campus Multicultural Center.
So, changes will continue as new partnerships are formed, new ideas tested, and new insights point in new directions.
“This is an institutional transformation,” said Tarhule. “We’re going to continue to build on the solid foundation that Yojanna has lain. We expect to continue to be responsive and supportive to our faculty. And so, I would say the best is yet to come. And I’m looking forward to what the Center can be. I think it’s a very exciting time to be at ISU.”