Center offers new ways to enhance the classroom experience
The Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning continues to offer new tools and technology for the classroom.
September 8, 2016
As technology becomes a larger part of college students’ day-to-day lives, educators are integrating these tools into the classroom.
The Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, which has called the second floor of the Armory home since the fall of 2013, was originally conceptualized to support teaching and learning by helping instructors get more familiar with the latest technologies and methods that can be used in the classroom.
“We want to know more and more how students learn and what the latest learner mindsets are so we can help steer the instructors in the right direction and be as effective as possible,” said Michel Bellini, director of CITL.
Bellini said that CITL aims to help staff learn how to be effective teachers and graduate students how to be good TAs. They analyze and test out strategies and tools to use in the classroom to engage students by offering a rich and creative learning environment.
In CITL’s efforts to become more student-centered, they’ve thought of ways they could help make students’ daily lives easier. For example, CITL brought eText to campus last year. eText is a web-based platform where instructors can develop textbooks, multimedia, notes and assignments for their classes. Bellini estimates that this change helped students save more than $2,000 in textbook costs.
A big part of CITL’s contribution to campus is its workshops and consultation services.
“It’s not uncommon for faculty and instructors to contact us and say, ‘Can you come observe me in the classroom? I have a feeling that I’m not engaging my students as much as I could. Can you help? Do you have any suggestions?’” Bellini said. “So it’s very much a role of consultation at that level.”
The center also launched an online portal last year called online.illinois.edu. It’s the aggregate website for all online programs, certificates and courses at Illinois, including the summer and winter terms online — which CITL started two years ago.
“We pushed for (the winter term online). There was a demand from students to be able to do something during the winter,” Bellini said. “And there has been, so far a great success when it comes to enrollment and revenue for the colleges.”
CITL has also developed a way for undergrads to get involved by offering internships where students can do work related to their field of expertise alongside professionals in CITL and in conjunction with academic units. The program was started this past spring semester and CITL received over 100 applications, with at least a dozen currently working as interns.
For graduate students, CITL offers training for all incoming TAs. The TAs get trained in smart and effective classroom teaching methods while also being exposed to some of the latest classroom technologies. For TAs interested in doing more than basic training, CITL offers teaching certificates that enable them to become more cognizant of all the different training techniques that can be used in the classroom.
Kristin Seemuth-Whaley, a sixth-year Ph.D student in philosophy, has attended many CITL workshops and has earned both the Graduate Teacher Certificate and the Teacher Scholar Certificate. She’s been a TA for three semesters and an independent instructor for four.
“As a new TA, the workshops equipped me to incorporate new activities and teaching strategies in discussion sections, and I gained more confidence as an instructor,” Seemuth-Whaley said in an email.
She said that the instructors at the CITL workshops taught her how to thoughtfully construct a course; everything from syllabus design to final assessments.
“I recommend participating in CITL workshops to anyone who teaches at UIUC. CITL combines pedagogical theory with practical advice to equip us to provide high-quality instruction,” Seemuth-Whaley said. “We should take our teaching seriously and work to provide positive educational experiences for our students.”
CITL is also building the Illinois Innovation Studio in the northeast corner on the first floor of the Armory. The studio is going to be a place where the CITL staff is going to work on peer teaching, directed learning and the idea to provide a certain level of technology to students, including a video wall to add a hands-on element to the classroom for students.
“The Illinois Innovation Studio will be a hub for creative exploration and innovative problem-solving. It will be a student-centered, high-tech learning space that will also function as a 24-person classroom for select courses each term,” said Jim Wentworth, eLearning professional at CITL, in an email. “We also hope to collaborate with student organizations to offer evening programming including student-led talks, workshops and Maker-type events.”
Bellini said that CITL is a unit that looks directly at the latest trends in higher education.
Their goal is not to tell the campus what to do, but to let the different academic units know why it’s important to think about all those new trends and ideas.
“CITL is to show the campus that people know a lot of fun stuff and a lot of really good things are happening on our campus,” Bellini said. “A lot of really good students and really good instructors are working together to really make Illinois the place that it is, which is excellence for education.”