Steven Mintz’s provocatively titled recent piece, Is Yale in Decline? discusses a litany of perceived shortcomings of the 321-year-old institution. One area of Yale’s strength that Mintz does not discuss is the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. The Poorvu Center has carved out a leadership role in the world of Centers for Teaching and Learning (CTLs) and is at least one institutional example that should temper (or balance) any critique of the University.
Why is the Poorvu Center important to the broader ecosystem of higher education, beyond its impact on the New Haven campus?
First, the Poorvu Center is an example of what we have termed an integrated CTL. Founded in 2014, the Yale CTL brought together teaching and learning-focused resources that had previously been distributed across the institution. These resources include traditional CTL-focused activities in faculty and future faculty development, with robust capabilities in areas such as technology-enabled learning, assessment, instructional design, and tutoring.
While Yale was not the first institution to bring previously disconnected teaching and learning resources into a single organization — Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) at which Eddie is the executive director helped establish this model in 2000 – Yale’s creation of and investment in an integrated CTL has proven to be a highly influential model across the University’s peers.
At Yale, the centralization of teaching and learning resources serves to emphasize a top goal of Yale’s President Peter Salovey, “to be the research institution most committed to teaching and learning.”
Poorvu Center staff have taken leadership roles in the CTL and online learning professional communities, including the POD Network, EDUCAUSE, NERCOMP, and Ivy Plus groups. The educators who work at the Center are highly sought after as advisors, consultants, and mentors by peer institutions — and have worked directly with many on projects relating to organizational development and program initiation.
A second area where the Poorvu Center demonstrates leadership across the broader teaching and learning community is the Center’s integration of the institution’s online learning activities into the core work of the Center. Most commonly across higher education, online education activities are a) segregated from the core campus structures that support residential teaching, and b) developed primarily for revenue-generating purposes, in contrast to a prime focus on advancing all learning at the institution.
By integrating Yale’s (growing) online portfolio of degree and non-degree programs within its CTL, Yale has worked to translate knowledge and capabilities gained in online education back into the residential teaching and learning experience. This decision to integrate online education within the core activities of the CTL seems to have paid off during the pandemic, as the capabilities and relationships that the Poorvu Center built pre-March 2020 proved invaluable in enabling the rapid transition to remote learning.
During this period, the Poorvu Center also partnered with the School of Public Health to launch an online Executive Masters of Public Health degree. This program’s benefits already extend beyond the initial cohort of students who began the program in July 2021. Instructors are using portions of recorded lectures and interviews from the blended program as part of their residential teaching to create more time for in-class interaction. The School is also reviewing the robust evaluation and assessment framework established for the Executive MPH with an eye toward implementing components for their residential programs.
A third area of Poorvu Center leadership, one that is not easily captured in the Center’s annual report yet is crucial to understanding Yale’s essential place across our higher education community, is the role that the Center is playing in convening a conversation on the post-Covid future of teaching and learning. Executive Director Jennifer Frederick and Executive Director of Digital Education Lucas Swineford have been able to successfully leverage the Poorvu Center’s indispensable contributions to instructional resilience during the pandemic to catalyze a wide-ranging set of campus discussions on the educational mission of the University.
While modest to a fault about their contributions and quick to credit their colleagues for their Center’s success, Jenny and Lucas have succeeded in positioning their CTL as a key player in determining Yale’s long-term strategic priorities. For example, they engaged their Faculty Advisory Board to endorse policies permitting more flexible course structures so faculty could use their enhanced set of teaching skills. Drawing on the Poorvu Center’s role as a neutral convening body, they are organizing campus-wide conversations about how teaching effectiveness is evaluated.
Assessment expertise, a relatively new component of integrated CTLs and a strength of the Poorvu Center, is the foundation for collaboration with schools and departments to assess progress on Belonging at Yale action plans. Looking ahead, they are gathering campus-wide input to develop Yale’s online education strategy. This example of a CTL at the center of strategic conversations is another way that the Poorvu Center’s example has been highly influential across its peer institutions, and an example of the continued importance of Yale in helping to lead the conversation about the future of higher education.
In all of these three areas, the leadership of Yale’s Poorvu Center have been active in sharing their experience and knowledge with other universities.
We realize having the Poorvu Center does not address all of Steven Mintz’s (a Yale PhD) frustrations with Yale (or with higher ed in general). But, many of the goals of rethinking higher education that Steve identifies are made more possible by structures like the Poorvu Center.