University Report 2016-17

A Strategic Approach to Teaching and Learning

Usha Rao, Ph.D., is partnering with the faculty to build a rich and transformative learning experience for all students at Saint Joseph’s University.

An associate professor of environmental chemistry, Rao directs the newly established Office of Teaching and Learning (OTL), which was founded with funds from Michael J. Morris ’56 and the Office of the Provost and Academic Affairs.

The OTL equips the University with a centralized and strategic approach to managing its pedagogical initiatives and resources.
“Just as we, as faculty members, expect students to be lifelong learners, we, ourselves, also want to be lifelong learners — of teaching,” Rao says.

The OTL advances the pursuit of teaching excellence by fostering reflection and campus-wide conversations about teaching, and by collaborating with the faculty in the adoption of high-impact classroom practices that enhance student learning.

Through the OTL’s robust schedule of faculty-driven programs, seminars, workshops and resources, “we want to support both new and established faculty members in delivering effective, exceptional teaching to our students,” explains Rao, who says SJU is among the few undergraduate universities with an office dedicated to the promotion of teaching and learning.

Paul Aspan, Ph.D., associate provost of academic and faculty support, says the OTL “sends a clear message to our professors that support for their primary mission — excellent classroom teaching in the Ignatian tradition — has been affirmed at the institutional level.”
In the spring 2017 semester, OTL sponsored Open Classrooms, a relatively new concept in academia according to Rao, where 56 sections of courses were available over four days for faculty to visit and observe their colleagues’ best practices.

“So many faculty members generously opened their classrooms to the entire University community,” she says. “Because faculty rarely get the chance to watch colleagues from other disciplines in the classroom, the Open Classrooms offer a unique opportunity for us to observe and learn from each other, irrespective of department or division. We are becoming more comfortable having authentic, open conversations about teaching practices — what works and what doesn’t. This sort of intentional dialogue is needed to create a vibrant campus culture around teaching and learning.”

Much of the OTL’s programming, such as Open Classrooms and the new Faculty Learning Community on evidence-based teaching, was created in response to faculty requests. “The University has made a real commitment to fostering faculty development through the establishment of this office,” Rao says.

Rao is supported by an advisory board of administrators and faculty — including winners of the Lindback Teaching Award and other teaching merit awards, as well as a Jesuit faculty member — who “provide a model of partnership and collaboration in order to draw from the real needs and interests of the faculty,” says Aspan.

— Molly Harty

Office of Teaching and Learning Events

  • Annual Teaching and
    Learning Forum
  • Classroom Observation
  • Faculty Consultations
    on Pedagogy
  • Faculty Development
    Summer Seminars
  • Fall Lecture on
    Student Learning
  • Open Classrooms Initiative
  • Workshop and Lecture Series