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Jan. 14, 2000
Volume 37, No. 9


Let this be a lesson to you
Murray to give Presidential Lecture
Y2K plans provide immediate and future benefits
Raising food for thought: Professor's work claims we identify who we are with our mouths full
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Let this be a lesson to you

Tom Rocklin and Carolyn Lieberg welcome visitors to their offices on the fourth floor of the Main Library.  Photo by Meghan Nichols.

Center for Teaching offers classroom help to TAs, professors, departments

How do you teach a compressed summer class that meets for several hours at a stretch? When only three students sign up for it? And one of them isn’t much of a talker? And it’s a required course, so there’s no hope of it being cancelled?

"You can’t exactly say, ‘Let’s break up into small groups,’" said Carolyn Lieberg. "You’re a small group all the time."

This may be every teacher’s worst nightmare, but it’s a real question Lieberg has fielded. As associate director of the Center for Teaching, she regularly consults teachers from any department of the University about their classroom problems. In this case, the instructor dropped in for help when all the usual teaching solutions didn’t apply.

"We talked for a long time," Lieberg said. "It was a challenge to take the kind of things we often tell people and modify them. She did some collaborative learning projects, brought out some video clips. Things to cut up the time."

That’s the kind of problem that UI instructors bring to the Center for Teaching every day. Now in its eighth semester, the center is a university-wide resource available to all faculty and TAs who want to tone up their pedagogical muscles. The center’s services take many forms. In addition to dropping in to discuss a classroom problem, teachers can get feedback on an individual assignment or simply have another pair of eyes look over a syllabus before distributing it to students. The scope of guidance ranges from one-on-one consultations to large-scale efforts like TALK, the center’s newsletter that goes out to every person in a teaching position at the University.

"And we do everything in between," said Tom Rocklin, the center’s director. "We do little two- or three-person teaching circles, just bringing some people together to talk about teaching. We do departments. We’ll do whole colleges. We did 18 departmental visits in the fall semester."

Some of the center’s services take the form of scheduled events. There are workshops, "Films at noon," and a series of "Talking about teaching" brown-bag discussions led by Rocklin on the third Tuesday of every month. (See box for workshop schedule.)

The center’s location on the 4th floor of the Main Library encourages drop-in visitors, but sometimes it takes a leap of faith to walk through those glass doors. It can be difficult for any instructor to admit that there’s a problem in their classroom. Teaching problems can feel very personal, and more than one instructor has come to the center in tears or on the verge of tears. Rocklin and Lieberg try to create an encouraging, supportive atmosphere.

Spring workshops at the Center for Teaching

Jan. 19 ~ "Tips for new teachers," 3-5pm, 259 IMU

Jan. 21 ~ "Helping students write research papers," 10am-noon, 3083 ML

Jan. 27 ~ "How to use discussion and other teaching strategies creatively," 3-5pm, 259 IMU

Feb. 1 ~ "Teaching with film and TV," 3-5pm, 259 IMU

April 6 ~ "Documenting your teaching," 1-3pm, 259 IMU

All workshops require registration in advance. To register, call (33)5-6048 or register online at the Center for Teaching web site,

While you’re there, check out the complete calendar of spring events offered by the Center for Teaching.


"Everything we do is voluntary on the part of the people who receive the service," Rocklin said. "And we wouldn’t have it any other way."

"It’s also confidential," Lieberg said. "If someone comes in or asks us to come into their classroom and observe, or if they’ve got a problem in the classroom, then that name is private information."

The most common teaching problems revolve around student behavior. Perhaps class discussion isn’t happening. The center can offer tips on how to rouse the troops. Or there may be a problem student who consistently interrupts. A consultation may offer some ideas on how to defuse the situation by giving that student at least some of the attention they’re demanding without taking up a lot of class time.

Not all visitors come with problems. "We have people coming to teaching circles and workshops who’ve already won teaching awards," Lieberg said. "These are people who are interested in improving their teaching."

"Our regulars," Rocklin added. "Teaching Center junkies."

And then there’s technology. The center can help instructors choose intelligent ways to incorporate computers into their courses. Through the summer nTITLE program, Rocklin shows teachers how a bulletin board can be used to promote student interaction, how resource materials can be distributed over the web, and how quizzes can be administered on-line, among other options.

But Rocklin is no believer in technology for its own sake. He encourages teachers to know the bells and whistles but to use them only when they add efficiency to the class, allowing more time for teaching.

"One of the outcomes that I think is really legitimate is that someone might spend four days learning all kinds of technology and decide not to use any of it. I think that would be fine, as long as they’ve made a considered decision."

For more information on the Center for Teaching, contact Rocklin or Lieberg by e-mail at, by phone at (33)5-6048, or by visiting center’s web site at The site includes a calendar of events, a catalog of materials in the center’s library, an archive of past issues of TALK, on-line registration forms for nTITLE and the workshops, and lots of teaching tips.

Or just drop by. There’s nothing Rocklin and Lieberg like better than someone wandering in to talk about teaching. As Rocklin put it, "I don’t think we’ve ever told anybody how to teach. What we hope to be are good conversation partners about teaching."

Article by Sam Samuels


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