Understanding the University Context

THE CERTIFICATION IN COLLEGE TEACHING OFFERED AT MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY, seeks to build teaching competency in five areas. personal reflections follow.

At every type of institution, an academic career involves much more than teaching – one must be familiar with the values of a university or college and be proficient in navigating its structures effectively. Faculty, students, and administrators have different priorities and responsibilities to fulfill. This workshop provided a useful introduction to different types of institutions, ranging from community colleges to research universities, and their respective values and foci.


Summer 2017 Certification in College Teaching Institute

Artifacts and Rationales

My notes and materials from the Workshop on Understanding the University Context at the 2017 Certification in College Teaching Institute

  • Types of Institutions and Missions as described by The Carnegie Foundation Classification System
    • Research universities, like Michigan State University,  train students at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels, and prioritize externally-funded research programs.
    • Most comprehensive universities train students at the bachelor’s and master’s levels, and also have strong research programs.
    • Liberal arts colleges and universities focus mainly on bachelor’s degree training and emphasize the importance of education. Liberal arts institutions vary in their commitment to research.
    • Community colleges grant associate’s degrees and professional certifications, and serve as a stepping-stone to bachelor’s degrees for many students. Career development is central to the mission of community colleges.
    • Minority serving institutions, including Tribal Colleges and Historically Black or Hispanic institutions were founded to educate members of groups historically underrepresented in higher education, and continue to serve as important communities for those same populations.
    • For-profit institutions offer both brick-and-mortar and online opportunities for students to earn degrees and professional certifications.
  • Developing Instructional Identity
    • Student demographics, prior knowledge, and content all must be taken into consideration when planning instructional activities. While an instructor’s teaching philosophy is based on an individual’s perspective, I find it pertinent to also integrate best practices found in the educational literature and continually modify and improve instructional techniques.
  • The teaching inventory/self-assessment provides a helpful framework by which to examine experiences and thoughts on teaching in order to construct a teaching philosophy statement.

Aligning the goals and values of different types of institutions with personal career values is an important component in informed career decision making. Having earned my bachelor’s degree at a liberal arts university, I value the student-centered learning community that that type of institution provides, and I came to graduate school with this career path in mind. I never felt engaged “enough” with the chemical research I have conducted to pursue a career at a research institution. Throughout the course of this certification program, however, my opinions have changed. I’ve become engrossed in research on teaching and learning, and furthermore, the teaching, learning, and professional development of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. This shift in perspectives has led me to consider pursuing a research-focused career at a larger institution.

Both my experience as a student at a liberal arts university and as a graduate student at a research institution have taught me what it means to be an effective educator. First and foremost, I think that creating a learning community where students can feel challenged but not threatened is key to preparing them for learning new content. Additionally, I plan to use evidence-based educational techniques as well as teaching as research projects to help my students get the most out of my courses. I’m looking forward to more experience developing curricula and courses, as well as effective evaluations. An evidence-based researcher is consistently assessing not only students’ learning, but her effectiveness as well.

In order to grow in these areas, I plan to enhance student engagement with peers and course material through small group activities and by prioritizing students needs and goals. I also hope to create an environment where students feel comfortable failing, discussing, and receiving feedback, as these offer significant learning opportunities both in classrooms and in life.

Whatever path my career may take, whether it be at a research institution, liberal arts university, both, or something completely different, I think that the lesson of understanding the institutional context as a way of framing values is transferrable. Furthermore, whichever roles I play in my career, I will seek to do so in an evidence-based, values-focused manner.

OMC Fall 2018