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University pilots teaching program for incoming professors

"Ignite" program currently includes over 30 faculty, expected to grow next year

<p>The group discussions give participants an understanding of issues faced by faculty in a variety of disciplines and departments.</p>

The group discussions give participants an understanding of issues faced by faculty in a variety of disciplines and departments.

The Center for Teaching Excellence is piloting a comprehensive, year-long program called “Ignite” to train new University faculty this year.

The program, funded by the Jefferson Trust, was established in response to the high generational turnover in faculty at the University and a lack of training and resources provided for new instructors, said Dorothe Bach, associate director of the Center for Teaching Excellence.

“Very few faculty receive formal preparation for teaching during their years of PhD training,” Bach said. “This is a poor match with U.Va. undergraduates, who are eager to be challenged and expect high quality learning environments.”

The impact of the program will be far-reaching, Bach said. Currently, the program consists of over 30 new faculty members, which Bach said will likely expand to around 50 next year.

“Using conservative estimates, each Ignite faculty member will on average impact 150 students each year,” Bach said. “Assuming a typical 30-year faculty career, the Ignite training of 320 faculty over the next five years would translate into better learning experiences for over a million students.”

Over the summer participants complete an intense week-long session at the center’s Course Design Institute. The faculty then meet monthly throughout the academic year in small, interdisciplinary groups of between six and 10 individuals with the guidance of facilitators from the Center for Teaching Excellence or the University Academy of Teaching.

The group discussions give participants an understanding of issues faced by faculty in a variety of disciplines and departments, said Natasha Heny, an assistant professor in the Curry School.

“I’ve learned quite a bit about the different perspectives that different faculty members all across the University have on teaching,” Heny said. “It’s really neat to see the commonalities that we have and also to talk about the unique aspects of students who, for example, are studying engineering compared to education students.”

The peer network provides new faculty with a sense of belonging at the University, Heny said.

“It is a neat way to experience the University culture as a whole rather than being so isolated within your single department,” Heny said. “It makes you more quickly become part of the University community.”

Bach said she is pleased with the drive participants have demonstrated in the program’s pilot year.

“So far, we have been very impressed by the participant’s enthusiasm and passion for teaching,” Bach said. “They are really committed to offering students a high quality academic experience here at U.Va.”

Upon completing the Ignite program, faculty will have the opportunity to work with a mentor from the University’s Academy of Teaching to further improve their teaching abilities.

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