No End to Learning

A Duke initiative encourages faculty members to gather teaching tips from each other

Lori Bennear of Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment talks with students Soli Shin and Jason Lee. Photo courtesy Nicholas School of the Environment.
Lori Bennear of Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment talks with students Soli Shin and Jason Lee. Photo courtesy Nicholas School of the Environment.

The change was slight but important.

For many years, Duke professor Ross Wagner has asked each of his students to choose discussion materials for class and lead those discussions. But while sitting in on a class with a Duke colleague early last year, he saw a different way to do it.

The professor, Mary Boatwright of classical studies, grouped her students into pairs. Each class period, one pair led a discussion on a topic they had chosen together. Wagner, who traditionally had students do this on their own, saw extra value in the teamwork the student team employed to craft the day’s discussion.

This fall, he’ll adopt that model for a course he’s co-teaching in the Duke Divinity School, where he teaches on the New Testament.

“There aren’t that many forums for sharing best practices,” Wagner said recently. “Most of us try new things, but it’s helpful to see its flesh and blood and be immersed in it.”

That was the idea behind TeachX, a Duke initiative that debuted last year connecting faculty from across disciplines. The idea was simple: scholars visited classes hosted by colleagues from across the university to facilitate sharing the best ideas and techniques developed and honed in the classroom.

TeachX will return this fall during the week of Nov. 6-10. Faculty interested in hosting their colleagues can sign up on the TeachX website through September 26th, enrollment for faculty interested in sitting in on other classes begins Wednesday, Sept. 27.

The program has few restrictions, says organizer Carolyn Mackman, who works in the provost’s office. A faculty member can be a visitor, host or both.

 “It’s a great opportunity to see how faculty organize their classes, how they engage students in discussion, and more broadly, promote learning and innovation,” said Jennifer Francis, vice provost for academic affairs.

The program debuted last year with 73 participants choosing from over 100 courses. Wagner chose Boatwright’s course out of a personal interest in her topic – Roman history and politics. Other connections seemed more far-flung: A professor of surgery visited an engineering class, while a dermatology professor visited classes in public policy, history and romance studies.

“We particularly encourage faculty to visit classes in other schools and disciplines,” said Ed Balleisen, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies. “Those forays are most likely to expose faculty to radically different teaching methods, and generate fruitful conversations about teaching or spark pedagogical experimentation.”