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Vice Provost To Coordinate New Teaching, Learning Center

Date: May 3, 2001
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos by: Dottie Stover
Archive: Campus News

At universities, most people think of laboratories as the only centers of research activity, where news ideas and techniques are developed. But for Wayne Hall, the classroom is a laboratory of sorts - a place where he continually tests and hones his teaching techniques.

Wayne Hall

Just the other day he admitted to a student in his British literature course that he was testing a new model of teaching on the class. "It's your chance to be the 'beta' student,'" he quipped, borrowing the computer software testing term.

That personal commitment to find ever-better ways to teach and reach his students has landed Hall in a new position as UC's vice provost for Faculty Development. The new job means that he will now coordinate that quest for teaching excellence across the entire university, not just in his own classroom.

He comes to the provost's office from the College of Arts and Sciences, where he had served as associate dean for undergraduate student affairs and continues as a professor of English. To his new duties, he will bring some old ones: He will remain the coordinator of UC's learning community program, called LINC Up @UC. First-year students in the program's small groups take two or three courses together throughout their freshman year. The small-group approach encourages friendships and socializing outside of class. It also is designed to keep the students in college. Building upon work begun by political science professor Howard Tolley, he is expanding the learning communities approach across the university.

Anthony Perzigian, UC's senior vice president and provost for Baccalaureate and Graduate Education, said "Provost Wayne Hall emerged from a deep and talented pool of applicants for the vice provost position. While not in the formal job description, the position calls for someone who can effectively balance and mesh the needs of faculty and students. He is the tireless advocate of both, and I know that the university's teaching/learning mission will be well served."

One of Hall's chief, new responsibilities will be to coordinate the formation of a new university teaching and learning center. For the past decade at UC, activities related to teaching improvement and excellence have been nurtured under the university's Pedagogy Initiative. A wide variety of programs have been launched. The new center will provide a central clearinghouse of information about these efforts, to better serve graduate teaching assistants, adjunct faculty and full-time faculty. "We don't want to change those activities already in place, but we need to pull information together on the rich variety of teaching-related projects that are taking place here," he said.

A priority will be to establish a web site that will link all the programs into one central spot for easy access by faculty scattered across UC's many campuses and colleges. "The idea is to do a better job of serving the faculty these programs are designed to help," he said.

While the center will primarily serve UC teachers, its real purpose focuses on UC students and their need for high-quality teaching and an environment where student learning is paramount. "If we want to do a better job of retaining and educating students, we must keep improving the educational experience they have. We do a good job, but I think there are always ways to improve, ways in which to keep up with advances in the technology that will enhance pedagogy. With pedagogy, the landscape keeps shifting on us all the time. Just when we think we have this course worked out, something new comes along."

The same can be said about Hall's own pedagogy. His teaching today bears little resemblance to what it did back in the mid-1980s when he first began to teach. The personal computer revolution had not yet even begun. Now, instead of chalk, he uses a portable computer with an electronic "whiteboard" to lead class discussions. He communicates outside of class with his students more frequently, by using the university's Blackboard online system, electronic bulletin boards and e-mail to chat with his students. Not all the changes he has made are technological, however. By carefully testing and adjusting, he has learned his students gain more when they have more control within the course.

In his current British literature course, for example, he gives them choices about assignments and deadlines. Students can do research reports by working in teams, if they wish, or by working alone if they prefer. For each day of class, he assigns student leaders who help to lead class discussion.

Students, in response, think he's a great teacher. "He doesn't put needless pressure on people. When he presents material, you know why he's doing it," said English major Mike Rigo, who helped to lead a recent class discussion on the industrial landscape of the Victorian age. Students in the class wound up seeing parallels between industrialization in mid-19th century England and the current technological transformation of society.

As students raised their hands and Hall called on them to speak up, he admitted to them that technology has had one drawback. "We have e-mail contact to keep us in touch outside of class, but it's taking me longer to get to know your names. I don't get to see your faces by e-mail." He is concerned about not letting technology dehumanize the classroom and asks his students to let him know what they think about this issue within the next couple of weeks. Is the trade-off on names worth it?

Occasional problems like this don't discourage Hall from trying new experiments or trying to improve. Striving for better teaching is a constant for him. And he wants to make it a constant for the university as a whole. "There is no point where we can say, 'O.K. now we've reached the pedagogical goal,'" he said.

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