Published: Wed 16 Oct 2013.

Towards world class education at Chalmers

Three excellent speakers stressed the importance of bringing teaching and research closer together at an inspirational seminar on learning a few weeks ago. The seminar also discussed the issue on creating long lasting organizational structures to get education that matters.

It was president Karin Markides and vice president for undergraduate and master’s education, Maria Knutson Wedel, that invited Chalmers employees to the seminar.
The headline of the day was "Towards world class education - what can Chalmers do to promote excellence in teaching?". More than 90 people, from both faculty and administration, participated in the seminar, aiming at identifying new ways to develop teaching and learning. In her introduction Maria Knutson Wedel talked about getting inspired from the speaker’s perspectives and experiences in the morning, and bringing that inspiration to our reality at Chalmers in the afternoon.

Examples from Stanford
Invited speakers were Michele Marincovich, Senior Advisor to the Vice-Provost for Undergraduate Education, after recent position as Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford University, USA, Kristina Edström, Associate Professor in Engineering Education Development at KTH and Torgny Roxå, Academic developer at the Faculty of Engineering at Lund University. The topics included how to combine teaching, research and learning to become a globally significant university, how to create long lasting support systems for excellence in education and how that benefits the institutions. In the afternoon the audience was divided into groups for deeper elaboration on ideas on how to move forward within Chalmers.

Three decades
Michele Marincovich has spent three decades at Stanford, a university that she describes as one that is always challenging itself and is looking for fun, because they love what they do. She speaks from experience, from her years as Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, when she describes success by helping faculty to focus both on education and learning.
Michele Marincovich has a firm belief in creating educational experiences that will benefit students lifelong, because that will be beneficial for all, creating a better society. Today, research on teaching is not only acceptable, but desirable at Stanford.
From your perspective, and insight from your visit, what can Chalmers learn from the Stanford model for teaching and learning?
- I hope that what can be learned is that faculty at a research-intensive university can be encouraged and supported to take teaching very seriously, to combine it successfully with their research responsibilities, and to get energy and inspiration from their interactions with students. The teaching and research can productively cross-ferment, she says.

"Tsunami of change"
Michele Marincovich also described how universities are going through an important time, with “a tsunami of change”. Doing top education, top research as well as equipping student for a changing and competitive world is a great challenge, or “opportunity for change” as they say at Stanford. The key, according to Michele Marincovich, is to continue to be robust in this, through knowledge, sharing and interaction.

Her advice is for faculty to take what typifies their best research, and make teaching and learning more like that. Some examples of tools and incentives from the infrastructure for support of teaching at Stanford are teaching grants, faculty scholars program on bringing research and teaching together with tenure staff, introduction courses across disciplines, support for MOOCS and flipped classes. They also work with learning analytics on how student learn, and encouragement for team work within faculty.

The professional practice of engineering
Kristina Edström, Associate Professor in Engineering Education Development at KTH, has analyzed the usual approach to educational development, using metaphors from physics. She argues that we often apply a "power strategy," which requires constant supply of new projects and resources. We’d be better off applying a "system approach", by integrating the development of teaching into the development of our organization, according to Edström. Her recommendations for Chalmers teaching development were to coordinate the internal service and the management’s role in this field, with the purpose of the faculty development and program development. And also, highlighting the professional practice of engineering for implementation in education.

Appreciated presentation
Torgny Roxå’s presentation on how to promote excellence in academic teaching for the benefit of the organization was also greatly appreciated by the audience. Torgny Roxå described the model used in Lund, where professional knowledge of teaching and a reward system as encouragement form the infrastructure. He also raised the issue of evaluations, that student evaluations do not give all the answers and that the education also should evaluated from within from the academic and pedagogical point of view.

Group sessions
The inspirational morning was followed by group sessions after lunch, focusing on how to create good structures for Chalmers development of teaching. Vice president for undergraduate and master’s education Maria Knutson Wedel was very pleased with the seminar as a whole and summarizes that the discussions identified many things that can be done within the different roles at Chalmers. One direct result was to assign to Chalmers Learning Center and director Magdalena Svanström to make use of the input from the group discussions to identify the next step to form support structures for the education at Chalmers. A crucial step towards world class education.

Text: Carolina Eek Jaworski
Photo: Bruno Rudström

Published: Wed 16 Oct 2013.