ACADEMICS | Vince Coletta, professor of physics in the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering, became director of the Center for Teaching Excellence in June 2017. He served as chair of the Physics Department for 11 years, and created the Interactive Physics Classroom, a technology-rich classroom that facilitates research-based interactive pedagogy. During the past 20 years he has focused primarily on physics education research, with work published in Physical Review, American Journal of Physics, European Journal of Physics and The Physics Teacher. He talked with LMU This Week about the Center for Teaching Excellence.
LMU This Week: How long has the Center for Teaching Excellence been a part of LMU?
Vince Coletta: It began in 1998, so going on 20 years. Maybe we can have some celebratory thing in 2018.
LTW: How does the CTE serve LMU’s faculty?
VC: We worked carefully on the wording on the website, so: Provides resources and inspiration to create an excellent learning experience for LMU students. Resources and inspiration are the key words here.
LTW: Are there resources beyond the public presentations at the CTE?
VC: Yes, quite a few, actually. At the beginning of the school year, we have new faculty orientations. We have support for travel to educational conferences; I feel very personally committed to that because I know how that’s transformed my teaching. Also, we have a library of books to borrow, websites to refer to, and there’s specialized help. For example, if you have an instructor who is from a foreign country and has a thick accent, and perhaps has difficulty being understood, there’s a voice coach who we employ.
We also have an open classrooms program, to make use of the expertise of the faculty. That’s one of the things I’ve tried to work on as a new director. That program has been here for some time, but it’s usually just a week or two. Now, we’re expanding it, starting this semester, making it a year-round program. What I’m encouraging people to do is to open up their classrooms to others. The purpose is to disseminate ideas, not to evaluate somebody else’s teaching – but to be inspired by their teaching. Just now we have eight or nine teachers who have volunteered, but I’m hoping for many, many more. I already had my first visitor the other day, the first time I’ve had a visitor through a program like this, from someone outside Seaver College. It was a lecture on mirrors, with a side about the magic of mirrors and he liked that. But it was also the pedagogy; the way of getting students involved using the technology of clickers. The idea is very simple: the person who wants to open their classroom sets the rules and the description.
LTW: Do you seek out suggestions for presentation topics from faculty members?
VC: Absolutely, but I don’t have to look. They are just coming nonstop. They’re constantly coming in with ideas.
LTW: Is making more teachers aware of disciplinary-based educational research a goal?
VC: Certainly. If there’s research being done about how students learn, it’s malpractice not to be aware of the research in their field. Even more than that, I would hope to inspire people to get involved in doing research, that’s been one of the most enriching things for me. It’s one thing to use other people’s research, but to find your own stuff with your own students, then share it with others, that’s a very useful and inspiring thing to do.
LTW: In a perfect world, how would the CTE best serve LMU faculty?
VC: Everyone, every single faculty member, would get something out of the CTE, of some sort. And, just about everybody would contribute to it in some way. The open classroom is an obvious way to do that, so hopefully many, many people will be involved in doing that. And that many more people will go to educational conferences, borrow books and just find ways of using our resources. One of the first things I did when I took this job in June was to walk around University Hall with Katie, our admin, stopping in on old friends and mentioning dropping by the CTE. Mostly the response was, “Well, now I really ought to do that.” There’s an awareness, but I really would like to see the participation grow.
Also, to inspire the faculty to always be striving for improvement, for further excellence in teaching. I’m inspired. For example, I watch a lot of sports, like the NBA, and I see someone like Steph Curry. He’s the greatest, but he’s always trying to get better. If those athletes can do that, why shouldn’t we have the same attitude.