From the Interim Director's Desk: Forming Double Expertise
The Chronicle of Higher Education’s February 7th online issue features the headline, “Harvard Conference Seeks to Jolt University Teaching,” announcing that Harvard has received a $40-million grant from Gustave and Rita Hauser to create the “Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching.” Dan Barrett’s article goes on to explore how teaching methods are sometimes ill matched to the ultimate objective of assisting students to learn. The Harvard Initiative is focused on creating competence in methods that are better suited to the goal of student’s obtaining mastery of course content. By quoting Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carl E. Wieman, Barrett conveys the point that, in order to serve well the task of teaching and learning, “[i]t really requires someone to be doubly expert” in both one’s own discipline as well as in pedagogy. Wieman goes on to say, “These doubly expert faculty members . . . can show colleagues how to apply new approaches to teaching the discipline.”
I read this article during my second week on the job in my role as interim director of service-learning, and resonated with higher education’s commitment to support faculty members as they develop a double expertise in pedagogy alongside their chosen discipline. Faculty come to the University of St. Thomas already expert in their chosen discipline (or more than one field, if they are doing interdisciplinary work), and come to our offices in service-learning and faculty development with an interest in gaining yet another specialization by plunging into pedagogy. Whereas Wieman believes that “[t]oo often, faculty members teach according to habits and hunches,” our office is dedicated to the development of expertise in our faculty through the practice of transformative pedagogies grounded in the best research and implemented using the highest standards for effective practice. Although I will be in this role for only a short time as we conduct the search for a permanent director, my goal for the semester is to position the office in such a way as to enable the incoming director to be welcomed to the University of St. Thomas both equipped and empowered to support faculty in the endeavor to acquire this double expertise.
To that end, we are publishing “The Service-Learning Companion,” a newsletter intentionally grounded in the philosophical understanding that service-learning must be mutually beneficial: in our courses, we accompany a partner in the community to serve its mission, even as our community partners accompany us to serve our educational objectives. We are companions on the road attentive to the common good, creating together our common future.
I am hopeful that this idea of companionship is a way we can think together about how best to tell the story about the great initiatives that are already underway at the University of St. Thomas, clustered as they are around various challenges confronting us all. At our very best, the University of St. Thomas could become known by our local partners and wider community as a Companion for Public Health, for Environmental Sustainability, for Educational Access, for Economic Justice, for Racial Reconciliation, for Gender Equity, and for Human Rights. Our international partners could know the University of St. Thomas as a companion for global justice.
In this inaugural issue, for example, we highlight Nekima Levy-Pounds and Camille George for the quality of their work and the caliber of their engagement as they embody St. Thomas’ mission, and educate students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely, and work skillfully to advance the common good. The courses they are offering in the school of law and the school of engineering model how the University is developing a positive reputation in the community as a companion for civil rights and global justice. These are only two of the innumerable examples of excellent work going on in the classrooms at St. Thomas. All of these stories deserve some attention, and in the semesters ahead, we will feature still more.
In addition to the ongoing search for a permanent director, we have been busy in the office planning a full program for the semester, with opportunities for faculty to gather for the purposes of publishing scholarly articles about their engagement in the community, studying together Paulo Freire’s work in critical pedagogy, providing and receiving advice, support, and encouragement at a faculty luncheon, and introducing new participants to the best practices of service-learning at an introductory workshop. The details about these opportunities are published in this edition of The Service-Learning Companion, including an “at-a-glance” calendar to help friends of the office keep track of all the activities being generated. We are also promoting the good work of the LuAnn Dummer Center and Student Diversity and Inclusion Services to encourage attendance at the excellent programs they have arranged for the spring, as the University hosts Sheryl WuDunn (co-author with Nicolas Kristoff of Half the Sky), and “Sonny” Lacks (son of Henrietta Lacks, of the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks fame).
I am always interested to receive your ideas—so please correspond as you ponder the possibilities before us, and as we accompany those in the community who have been made vulnerable, and who teach us what it means to be human. —kv