“How do we teach? How well do we teach? How can we teach better?” asked Professor of management and Co-Chair of the Excellence in Teaching Initiative Michele Zak. These questions were the basis for the Excellence in Teaching Initiative, a program that brings faculty together to discuss specific issues within their craft, and pushes teachers from diverse backgrounds to share what they know and explore what they don’t.

“There are lots of places for teachers to discuss a paper or a topic in their specific discipline,” said Zak. “This is different. This is a forum to discuss how we teach and how we can do it better.”

The Excellence in Teaching Initiative started three years ago when Zak and Linda Herkenhoff, now director of the Trans-Global Executive MBA Program, wanted to create a place for business professors to discuss pedagogy.

Zak explained how easy it for professors to fall into routine and get isolated in their own departments. Part of the goal of this initiative is to foster more communication between departments, as well as improve teaching ability.

“Saint Mary’s is, first and foremost, a teaching institution,” said Zak. “A lot of graduate programs focus on research more than teaching and we wanted to make sure we didn’t to lose sight of teaching.”

The first symposium of the 2013-2014 academic year, focusing on the question “How do we teach critical thinking?”, took place in October and was well represented by faculty from across the disciplines. The program’s sphere of influence has grown each year since being founded in 2010. The first Excellence in Teaching initiative only involved graduate business, before branching out to undergraduate business the following year, to the current, campus-wide involvement. The most recent event featured faculty from graduate education, politics, chemistry, the performing arts, mission and ministry, modern languages, and the library.

Professor Andras Margitay-Becht from the School of Economics and Business Administration and Aaron Sachs from the School of Liberal Arts spoke for a brief time to introduce the topic and kick-start the discussion. From that point forward the conversation was free flowing and lively.

“The session went for an hour and half, but it was clear that we could have continued for another hour,” said Professor Judith White, who has stepped in for Herkenhoff as co-chair alongside Zak.

November 15 marked the second symposia of the year, this one focusing on the best practices for incorporating teams and groups into educational methods. Faculty from across the College discussed the differences between groups and teams, how to grade group work, what to do with social loafers and overbearing leaders, and the advantages and disadvantages of participation grades. 

The next symposia will take place on February 21 and will address the role of presentations in educational. 

“We are absolutely open to including new topics and conversations,” said Zak. “Our hope is that this program continues to grow.”

For additional information on the upcoming symposium, contact Michele Zak or Judith White

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