Get to Know Your Campus: The Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning

Hira Humayun '17Features Editor

The Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning is perhaps the most useful tool for Smith professors when it comes to developing strategies to teach their classes. Founded in 2009, the center aims to bring professors from different departments together to share ideas and information about the best teaching strategies they know.

Professor Floyd Cheung, the director of the Sherrerd Center said, “We believe that there are many different ways to teach well and that all teaching is improvable … We help promote the conversation among professors about how to constantly reflect on our teaching.” One of the primary ways the Center encourages collaboration among faculty members is through weekly Friday luncheons where one professor leads a conversation about some aspect of teaching and learning.

“For instance, last week, Katherine Rowe, our provost, led a teaching arts luncheon on how to do what she called ‘legitimate peripheral participation,’” said Cheung, “which is a way to involve students as scholars in the production of usable academic resources.” She talked about how to partner with students so that they can create knowledge that could be used by the wider world. “She had students produce Wikipedia pages, so I’ve tried something like that too.”

“We also do programming throughout the year about teaching reflection and improvement, but teaching arts luncheons are the most visible things we do,” he added.

Apart from the luncheons, the Sherrerd Center holds teaching circles where faculty members can discuss topics such as foreign languages or teaching a large class.

The Center also provides funds for professors to travel to conferences about teaching and learning, after which they write a report about what they learned. Some key takeaways for professors are how to mark papers and teach large classes in a way that makes them feel smaller. These reports can be found on the Sherrerd Center’s website.

“I’m not sure I would’ve gotten tenure if I didn’t learn many years ago about something called active learning,” he said. “I learned that at a Smith teaching arts luncheon years ago.”

Currently, the Sherrerd Center is working on including more student involvement and input. Last year, the Center started a more serious conversation with the SGA Curriculum Committee, and now it has a representative from the Curriculum Committee who is going to start coming to the Sherrerd Center’s meetings.

“There’s an advisory board for the Sherrerd Center and [the student representative] is invited to that to give student input,” Cheung said. “I also had conversations with her last year about engaging students as partners in teaching and learning. This is an idea that came out of a book discussion from last year.”

Recently the Center received a grant to pilot the idea of engaging students as partners in teaching and learning. For the next four years, the Sherrerd Center will experiment with that idea. It is also taking part in a review of the student course evaluation system to assess how it is helping professors improve their teaching.

“I’ve benefitted from it so much and have been participating in conversations about teaching and learning for a long time,” Cheung said regarding his initial interest in the Sherrerd Center. “I devote myself to becoming a better teacher.”

He explained that professors have three jobs: teaching, researching and servicing the college. “A much as I love my research -- I’m still doing that – I wanted to double down on teaching. The Sherrerd Center has helped me do that.”

He also explained that most professors are not trained as teachers, but as researchers, and often pick up the teaching along the way. The acquisition of this skill is primarily what a teaching and learning center is good for, according to Professor Cheung. “It recognizes that we’re all capable, but maybe need to reflect more and learn more and improve as teachers.”