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Teaching-Learning Academy takes aim at study question

Students, faculty and staff discuss this year's "big question" for the Teaching-Learning Academy on Wednesday, Jan. 13, in Wilson Library. // Photo by Christina Becker
Students, faculty and staff discuss this year’s “big question” for the Teaching-Learning Academy on Wednesday, Jan. 13, in Wilson Library. // Photo by Christina Becker

At the first installment in a series of winter quarter dialogue sessions sponsored by the Teaching-Learning Academy, students, faculty and community members wrestled with the working definitions of words like equity, action and self sustainability. Figuring out what those words mean is a key piece of answering a larger question about inclusivity on campus.

Each year, TLA participants spend fall quarter coming up with a question that addresses a particular issue on campus. Winter quarter is spent discussing the question and gathering student and faculty input in order to develop a plan of action. That plan is completed in the spring and includes recommendations for programs and policies to be implemented by the university.

The question developed during TLA’s fall quarter sessions for the 2015-16 year asks, “How do we move beyond conversation to achieve self-sustaining equity and inclusivity at Western?”

The question is a nod to ongoing discussions of diversity on campus in the wake of student protests against discrimination across the country, as well as the racially charged social media threats that led to the closure of Western’s campus on Nov. 24, 2015.

The session took place on Jan. 13. It was the first of five meetings that will take place every other week on Wednesday and Thursday through the rest of winter quarter.

Carmen Werder, director of the Learning Commons and TLA, oversees the dialogue sessions, along with Communications 339 students leading discussion groups for credit.

“I really think we are trying to be deliberate in causing a little trouble–good trouble,” Werder said. “In the fall, there was a collective sense, like, ‘let’s shake things up a little bit here.’ There’s an impatience and I think it’s a healthy one.”

The dialogue session opened with Werder and other facilitators introducing the question. Participants were then given an opportunity to talk about what aspects of this year’s learning question were significant to them.

During the 2014-15 academic year, TLA focused on promoting lifelong learning at Western by recommending the creation of a mentorship program in the community and conducting surveys to analyze barriers to higher education.

Communications senior Sam Reier participated in the dialogue session.

“I don’t think these conversations are happening as much as they should,” he said. “I think it can be an uncomfortable subject for most people to talk about so when you’re put into a situation to do this and in a sense forced to it’s really good.”

Inclusivity takes on a different form for each student, Werder said.

“Overall we really talked about two terms: inclusivity and equity,” Reier said. “I don’t think anyone [at this point] has a clear idea of what they see this turning into.“

The next set of dialogue sessions will take place Feb. 3 and 4 in Wilson Library 270.

Teaching Learning Academy: 15 years of dialogue and discussion

The TLA program was born out of the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning program and took shape in 2000. The TLA now operates as program run out of the Library Learning Commons. Each year, they have generated a question to study and attempt to answer through recommendations to the university.

2002-2003: What do we want for our general education requirements?

– Reduced the number of credits required for general education requirements and made general education required classes smaller.

2003-2004: What do we count as the features of an optimal learning environment? And what evidence of those features do we see here at Western?

– Led to recommendations for the university about professor evaluation forms, called for a program that would put in place student observers to analyze professors in-class.

2004-2005: What role, if any, should/does the University play in the development of ethical reasoning or civic engagement?

– Produced documented recommendations to the city of Bellingham about the redevelopment of the city-owned waterfront property, formerly the Georgia Pacific paper mill.

2009-2010: What do WE mean by a sustainable, reflective learning culture?

– Proposed a Community Welcome Day that would invite people from outside the university on campus.

2011-2012: How can we engage and connect multiple voices to strengthen WWU as a 21st-century liberal arts university?

– Called for more upper-level liberal arts credits available to all students, as well as a larger effort from the university to recognize the role of liberal arts in all degree programs at Western.

2013-2014: How do we ignite individual passion, purpose, and potential to co-create a culture of trust?

– Worked to create a trust-building event focused on creating relationships around service work.

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