I am excited to write the first post for the new blog of the Faculty Innovation Center. As the new Director, I bring my 29 years of fulltime teaching at UT Austin to bear on working with our talented faculty to increase student success before, during, and after their undergraduate experience at UT. Educational design now has a wider range of tools – data analytics, technology-enhanced course development and delivery, and big-data collection (to name a few) – that can open transformative learning experiences to more students.
The Faculty Innovation Center has evolved over the past few years from its historical role in partnering with faculty on best pedagogical practices to researching and applying the discoveries of learning sciences. In its present form, supported by Project 2021, the FIC embraces the role of working with larger groups of faculty and whole departments to conduct research on their students’ outcomes and re-design courses and curricula accordingly. This new role does not mean that the FIC has abandoned working with faculty individually. On the contrary, we believe that positive change in learning outcomes across the University requires the input of committed, individual faculty as well as departmental administrations and curriculum committees.
The common denominator of most successful degree programs is a focus on critical thinking and empathic awareness: how do I help solve problems for people? And how do I work with and communicate to people with differing needs and resources?
So what have we learned so far in our work with department faculty? Many of our students do not end up in jobs that directly correlate to their undergraduate majors. Most Psychology students, for instance, do not become psychologists. Is this a bad thing? Not if we remember that the best of what psychology undergraduates are exposed to is respect for the differing perspectives and experiences of human beings. Which is a great starting point for a career in any field.
As our faculty review their degree programs, they are carefully thinking through questions such as this: what are the experiences we can offer students to help prepare them for work in jobs that don’t even exist yet? The common denominator of most successful degree programs is a focus on critical thinking and empathic awareness: how do I help solve problems for people? And how do I work with and communicate to people with differing needs and resources?
If we design more learning experiences that help students answer and “live” those questions, then as educators we will have better prepared them for a continually evolving technological and cultural future.
I look forward to hearing what many of you have to say about higher education, about teaching and learning, about the way technology is changing our lives almost daily, and about how to catalyze transformative learning experiences.
Director of the Faculty Innovation Center
Dr. Hart is also a Distinguished Senior Lecturer in the Cockrell School of Engineering, where she has been a faculty member since 1987. Her research interests include environmental and risk communication, the social impact of technology, and engineering ethics.