CET&L’s Student and Faculty Learning Community: Bridging the Gap
Written by Erin Michel, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate School
Many students want to better connect with faculty, but don’t know where to begin. Even if you’ve managed to develop a positive mentoring relationship with a professor, it can be difficult to be truly candid about your struggles or honest opinions if you worry that your grade is on the line. There may be a lot that you wish your professors knew about what it’s like to be a graduate student in today’s world, and it seems likely that faculty in turn have some stories to share about the challenges of teaching during a pandemic. Fortunately, the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning (CET&L) recognizes this need for increased dialogue between faculty and students and has developed an innovative program designed to foster and nurture these necessary conversations. Kimber Andrews, Associate Director of CET&L, and Melissa Kessel, CET&L Executive Staff Assistant, discuss the Center’s exciting upcoming program, Bridging the Gap Student and Faculty Learning Community (BTG-FLC). Interested students are encouraged to apply online by Friday, September 9 (the workshop series will begin on September 20).
Bridging the Gap is a three-session series where interested students and faculty convene for community conversations geared towards improving the classroom environment and better understanding the faculty/student relationship. Students who attend all three meetings will receive a $75 gift card to the UC Bookstore, but the benefits certainly do not end there. “If graduate students are thinking about education more broadly or thinking about going into education, this is a really interesting group to think about the dynamics of education and challenges between hierarchy and teaching, how we create these relationships,” says Kimber. “Even students who are interested in nonprofit or advocacy work, this is a really important way to have those kinds of conversations.” Melissa agrees, sharing “It’s a great opportunity to get experience speaking to other professionals, maybe even at times hearing differing opinions, but still being able to accept those and use respectful dialogue.”
The program was initially piloted last spring, and according to Kimber and Melissa, was a very eye-opening experience for all participants as well as CET&L staff members. CET&L is a hub for all things learning and teaching across the university, and Bridging the Gap gave CET&L staff a direct pulse to classroom trends and concerns surrounding teaching and learning, in turn allowing CET&L to tailor its workshops and programming accordingly to address these needs. This kind of sensitivity to learning challenges is important especially now given that education has changed drastically since COVID-19 and continues to do so. “We are looking at big scale changes whether we wanted them or not, and we’re all kind of trying to figure it out as we go along. In order to do that successfully, we have to be listening to one another because the research doesn’t exist. We’re making the research every day as we try things out,” says Kimber.
Kimber and Melissa, as current UC students themselves as well as experts in the field of teaching and learning, can speak personally to this changing and uncertain educational landscape. “What I noticed when I started going back to school [virtually] […] was that students were struggling with learning and essentially sometimes self-teaching. They also really struggled with building friendships and relationships not only with their professors but also their classmates,” explains Melissa. Fortunately, the learning community is well suited to address these dual needs, because it includes student and faculty affinity group space as well as whole-group dialogue. “We get time to kind of vent personally [as students and as faculty],” says Kimber, “and we give a little space to each group. And then we think of a productive way to bring that together. It’s a space that I feel like we just don’t have at the university.”
Bridging the Gap is just one program out of a range of valuable resources that CET&L has to offer our GradCat community. The center offers a continuous array of workshops for instructors/TAs, covering topics ranging from Canvas mechanics to student engagement to creating community in online learning environments. CET&L also operates a Graduate Student Canvas page as well as CET&L’s Bearcats Landing site which contains a variety of additional teaching resources. Melissa and Kimber explain that overall, CET&L is embracing a renewed interest and emphasis on the student experience and student voice, of which Bridging the Gap particularly is representative. They are excited to have recently hired a Graduate Assistant who will focus on graduate student engagement and expanding CET&L’s graduate-specific programming. “We are a hub for trying to make those connections to help people […] not only develop skills to become better teachers, but to find joy in teaching and to provide continued mentorship and conversation about this really important role,” says Kimber. “Teaching is a hugely impactful profession.”