Teaching Excellence at Core of New Center

  • Dr. Paul F. Diehl, associate provost and director of teaching-learning initiatives, spoke at a reception for the Center for Teaching and Learning.

A new initiative at UT Dallas is focused on championing teaching excellence across all areas of the University.

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) officially launched last month and is led by Dr. Paul F. Diehl, who joined the UT Dallas faculty last fall and is also the Ashbel Smith Professor of Political Science in the School of Economic, Political, and Policy Sciences. 

Diehl came to UT Dallas from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was a distinguished scholar and award-winning teacher, as well as founding director of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Teaching Academy. UT Dallas acting provost Dr. Inga Musselman said Diehl’s background and experience were a natural fit to lead the new effort at the University.

“We’ve been talking over many years about starting a center for teaching and learning at UT Dallas,” Musselman said to a gathering of about 50 faculty members and instructors at a Jan. 12 campus reception announcing the new center. “The vision was for a center steeped in educational philosophy and pedagogy that also incorporates technology and practical instruction.”

This center promotes reflection as well as implementation of best practices for all instructors, from tenure-track faculty to instructional staff to graduate students.

Dr. Paul F. Diehl,
Ashbel Smith Professor
of Political Science in the School of Economic, Political, and Policy Sciences.

Since joining the University, Diehl has been meeting with and seeking input from faculty members, instructors and other stakeholders to determine priorities for the CTL.

“Paul’s inclusive style has resulted in a center that will enjoy broad institutional support, and it’s very exciting to me that this idea has finally come to fruition,” Musselman said.   

The center staff also includes associate director Dr. Karen Huxtable-Jester, senior lecturer in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and chair of the University’s Committee on Effective Teaching. Huxtable-Jester is a past recipient of the UT Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.

Diehl said the mission of the Center for Teaching and Learning is to champion excellence in teaching, and to channel faculty enthusiasm and expertise that is so pervasive across campus.

“This center promotes reflection as well as implementation of best practices for all instructors, from tenure-track faculty to instructional staff to graduate students,” he said.

In the near term, the center will focus on programs for instructors with the least teaching experience, including new junior faculty, lecturers and graduate teaching assistants. Among the first initiatives are graduate and advanced graduate teaching certificate programs, as well as instructional improvement grants and a seminar on teaching for junior faculty members. In addition, several guest speakers and teaching workshops have been lined up for this semester.

Diehl said that in the long run, the center also will provide opportunities for established educators.

“Even the best of the best — those instructors who have been recognized by the University and the UT System as outstanding teachers — will have opportunities to talk about teaching, to learn, and become even better,” he said. “That’s one of the center’s aspirations, to strive for teaching improvement for all instructors.”

Schools' Teaching Leaders to Shape Center's Efforts

One of the key aspects of the newly established Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) at UT Dallas is the leadership’s recognition that teaching is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

Dr. Rebekah Nix

“The teaching done across disciplines — the courses, the needs, the problems and the opportunities — differ whether you’re teaching music versus engineering, or history versus criminology,” said Dr. Paul Diehl, associate provost and director of the CTL.

To address those differences, the center includes eight outstanding Teaching Leaders, one from each academic school, chosen by their respective deans to help incorporate best practices and organize school-specific programs, workshops and events.

Dr. Rebekah Nix BS’86, MAT’98 is a senior lecturer in the Teacher Development Center and the CTL’s liaison for the School of Interdisciplinary Studies. Nix’s teaching and research focus on enhancing the learning environment, including the integration of technology in the classroom and online instruction. Among her professional honors, she received the 2010 Innovations in Online Learning Teaching Award, given by The University of Texas System.

“One of the aspects I like about the new Center for Teaching and Learning is the focus on individual schools, and what we each need,” Nix said. “Our program’s faculty are predominantly part-time, and rarely teach on campus, for example. Through the new center, we can design something that works best for us and our students.”

Teaching Leaders from each school are:

Dr. Sabrina Starnaman, School of Arts & Humanities

Dr. Kristen Drogos, School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication

Dr. Shayla Holub, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Dr. Paul Battaglio, School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences

Dr. Randall Lehmann, Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science

Dr. Rebekah Nix, School of Interdisciplinary Studies

Dr. McClain Watson, Naveen Jindal School of Management

Dr. John Sibert, School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].