In the coming weeks, the university is preparing for the rush of students to return for the fall semester. 

For faculty, this means putting the final details on their course syllabi and getting ready to teach their scheduled courses.

“I have been teaching at the university level since my graduate days at the University of Georgia, “ said Kelly Harrison, instructor of psychology in the College of Science. “Like most college professors, you are thrown into a classroom with varying numbers of undergraduates staring at you and no official training in how to teach. I have always loved teaching and am constantly searching for ways to improve my teaching, so when I saw the course advertised, I signed up immediately."

Harrison took advantage of the New Faculty/Early Career Teaching Certificate program offered by the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research at Virginia Tech. She cited multiple benefits from the program such as learning new teaching techniques and skills as well as ways to assess if the techniques are working to enhance learning.

“Some of us had used similar techniques in our classes already, but weren’t sure why they worked or under what conditions they worked the best,” Harrison said. “Formalizing this knowledge gave us better skills for planning and assessing our own efficacy in the classroom.”

Leigh-Ann Krometis, assistant professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Engineering, has taught for four years. Last year, her department asked her to rethink her department’s introductory-level course. The certificate program offered her an opportunity to learn the best teaching practices while redesigning the course.

“My biggest takeaway is that students need to learn through doing,” Krometis said.

She implemented that idea into the introductory course as well as her other courses using methods like peer teaching – allowing the students to present content and lead discussions – and concept mapping.

“Concept mapping is where you take a bunch of different things you are learning about in class and you try to visually represent the connections between those ideas, where they come from, and their implications so students can get the bigger picture of why what they are learning is important instead of just memorizing facts,” Krometis said.

Krometis will teach the new version of the class this fall. “The certificate program is a time investment, but it’s invaluable. I’m not going to be up the night before worrying about planning the class. I’ll also be much more reactive to students in the class and responsive to their needs.”

Harrison was able to implement many of the techniques to her classes already, including “flipping” her classroom. “Flipping involves having the students read or prepare what the traditional lecture would cover the night before the class and then come into the class ready to apply the knowledge to very concrete problems,” Harrison said. “I found this generated higher-level problem solving in my classes and greater class participation because I was asking my students to be active rather than passive learners.”

Last year, Harrison won the College of Science Certificate of Teaching Excellence, and she credits the program with helping her build off her strengths in her current courses to receive this recognition.

For both Harrison and Krometis, another program benefit was interacting with faculty from across campus in various disciplines.

“I met so many other faculty members in the program and had the opportunity to observe their classes. I’ve learned more about what’s going on in a broader sense outside of engineering,” Krometis said.

The certificate program is free for full-time faculty members at Virginia Tech who are in their first six years of teaching. The Center for Instructional Design and Educational Research lists other program requirements and information on their website. 

Faculty members may apply to the program for the 2014-15 academic year by Aug. 15.

The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research also offers two additional certificate programs for continuing faculty including the Instructional Scholar Teaching Certificate and Large Class Teaching Certificate.