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“CETLA Celebrates Its 5th Anniversary”
by Jonathan Pourzal
November 15, 2008

On October 6, Howard University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Assessment (CETLA) celebrated its 5th anniversary.  Founded in 2003, as a part of President Patrick Swygert’s “Strategic Framework for Action,” it has enjoyed five years of remarkable innovation and steady growth.

CETLA’s Mission

In the words of its founding director and long-time Howard faculty member, Dr. Teresa Redd, CETLA’s mission addresses “the very heart of the academic enterprise.”  Its mission is “to develop a cadre of faculty who will produce distinguished and compassionate leaders to serve the nation and the global community.”  By improving the teaching of Howard’s faculty, CETLA seeks to improve students’ learning as well.  Other goals include fostering a “culture of assessment” and becoming a resource of teaching, learning and assessment materials for educators nationwide.

CETLA’s Services

To fulfill its mission, CETLA advises Howard faculty about instructional design and classroom assessment, conducts training workshops, develops online tutorials, offers a summer institute, organizes user group meetings, hosts guest lectures, co-sponsors conferences, promotes interdisciplinary collaboration, and maintains a resource-rich website and more. 

Hands-on technology workshops cover a wide range of tools in Howard’s Blackboard course management system, tools such as the discussion board, chatroom, self-scoring tests, and online grade book.  Other technology workshops focus on using multimedia, student response systems (“clickers”), smart rooms, online surveys, and statistical packages to improve teaching, learning, and assessment.  Since faculty members come with varying levels of technological competency, CETLA’s staff attempts to accommodate them all.  Those needing one-on-one assistance may solicit help from a student assistant during a workshop, request an appointment with a staff member, or attend CETLA’s weekly “open lab.”  Hence, CETLA’s motto: “No professor shall be left behind!”

Because of its technology support, many observers harbor the misconception that CETLA strives only to expand the effective use of technology in the classroom.  However, according to Dr. Redd, “tech support” is only one of many ways that CETLA seeks to carry out its mission.

For example, CETLA directs Howard’s Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program.  WAC seeks to improve students’ writing and learning across all disciplines by training faculty to design and respond to writing assignments more effectively.  At the same time, CETLA also introduces faculty to some classroom assessment techniques and instructional design principles that may be old-fashioned but are “tried and true.”
CETLA’s Achievements

Since 2003, CETLA’s services have attracted more and more faculty.   According to CETLA’s most recent annual report, during Fiscal Year 2008, almost half of Howard’s 1,641 faculty members from all twelve schools and colleges participated in its activities—on site or online.  Since many faculty enrolled in multiple activities, enrollment exceeded two thousand.

Such participation has led to significant changes.  For, example, as a result of CETLA’s training, the School of Divinity developed a rubric for evaluating student writing, the College of Medicine added the Turning Point student response system to the software package for freshmen, and Howard’s Graduate School started checking all theses and dissertations for plagiarism with the aid of the Turnitin plagiarism detector.  Also, since CETLA’s opening, the number of Blackboard-supported courses has more than doubled.  This increase is encouraging since two thirds of the students who responded to CETLA’s Spring 2008 survey reported that using Blackboard had improved their learning.
 
Over the last five years, CETLA has also earned a reputation for innovation.  For instance, in October 2007, CETLA was recognized by the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network as a national finalist for POD’s Innovation Award because CETLA had designed a unique online syllabus database.   CETLA developed the database to facilitate the exchange of teaching strategies, student selection of courses, and administrative review of the curriculum. Since the database’s roll-out in 2005, faculty have voluntarily posted more than 2,000 syllabi. 

In the spirit of its own “culture of assessment,” CETLA constantly monitors its impact.  One way is by asking its patrons to fill out anonymous surveys immediately after using its services and then a year later.  CETLA also surveys all faculty every year.  On the surveys, faculty consistently give CETLA high ratings.  For instance, on the most recent Annual Faculty Survey, faculty wrote, “CETLA is among the best run programs at Howard University.  They are exemplars of excellence in service and innovation,”  “CETLA is a real treasure at Howard University.  I have found the staff knowledgeable, pleasant and ALWAYS willing to assist!” and “ I can’t imagine what we would do without CETLA.  Thank you for helping us become world class professors.”

CETLA’s Assets

What is the secret of CETLA’s success? 

According to CETLA’s Information Systems Manager, Frederick Appiah, “CETLA’s strongest asset is its dedicated staff.”  In addition to Mr. Appiah and Dr. Redd, the full-time staff includes three other employees:  Mr. Carl Brown (Assistant Director), Mr. Brion Long (Programmer Analyst), and Ms. Gloria Bethea (Administrative Assistant). 

CETLA’s student employees also play a critical role in CETLA’s success, said Dr. Redd, by serving as webmasters, video editors, instructional technology assistants, clerical assistants, and research assistants.  Since the students acquire professional experience as well as financial aid, Dr. Redd observed, this is “a win-win situation.”  Video Editor Patrick Thomas agreed:  “CETLA has given me the opportunity to obtain tremendous hands-on experience in video production.”  Clerical Assistant Afua Ofosu has also benefited.  “It’s been good to get office experience and also for networking,” she explained.  While working at CETLA during the summer, she met many Howard faculty members, some of whom are now her professors.  

Another important asset is the faculty volunteers who conduct CETLA’s guest lectures on everything from learning styles and advising to distance-learning and interdisciplinary teaching.   Who else is better to learn from than one’s own peers who happen to be experts in different areas of pedagogy?  No wonder the Guest Lecture Series, which is video-streamed on demand from CETLA’s website, has become one of CETLA’s most popular offerings.

CETLA’s Challenges

Despite its success, CETLA still faces challenges.  For example, it operates with only two full-time instructors, Dr. Redd and Mr. Brown, while the number of faculty using CETLA’s services continues to increase.  That means CETLA must work harder to serve more faculty.  At the same time, its assessment data indicate that it must work harder to engage more faculty in its instructional design and classroom assessment activities.

Nevertheless, CETLA’s staff  members are optimistic about the future.  According to Assistant Director Carl Brown, CETLA’s importance will increase “as online learning increases – we will enhance this arena at Howard and continue to make a positive impact.”

To learn more about CETLA, visit http://www.cetla.howard.edu .

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