New Associate Vice Provost and Director of the Teaching & Learning Center
—Suzanne Willever, TLC Communications Manager & Web Designer, Temple University
Associate Vice Provost and Director of the Teaching & Learning Center
Dr. Pamela Barnett is new to Temple as an Associate Vice Provost and Director of the Teaching & Learning Center. She comes to us from Princeton University’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, where she served as Associate Director and was responsible for programs serving faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates. Before Princeton, she was tenured as a professor of English and African American Studies at the University of South Carolina. Her book Dangerous Desire: Literature of Sexual Freedom and Sexual Violence Since the Sixties was published by Routledge in 2004 and examines literature written in response to the liberation movements of the 1960s.
Given her background and scholarly interests in race and gender studies, one of her first concerns when she moved to instructional development at Princeton was to develop programming about identity and diversity in the classroom. Among her other initiatives was a program that linked support for undergraduates with support for faculty. Her “large class initiative” provided academic skills instruction for undergraduates in some of the university’s most challenging large science and quantitative classes, and then teaching consultations for the faculty who taught them. Thus, a workshop on “Problem Solving Skills for Physics 101” became an opportunity to brainstorm with faculty about new teaching approaches as well.
Dr. Barnett’s interest in working at Temple University was sparked when she taught a night class here several years ago on African American literature while on leave from the University of South Carolina (USC) and living in Philadelphia. She was impressed by the diversity of backgrounds—in terms of race and ethnicity, class, age, and life experience—and how much it enriched their study. “The experience underscored what a liberal education can be in a richly diverse environment. So,” she recalls, “when I decided to relocate permanentlys to Philadelphia and make the next stage of my career here, I kept my eye on the Temple job website. This is where I wanted to be: at a large, diverse, public, urban, institution with a real sense of educational mission.”
Dr. Barnett is particularly suited to understanding the needs of Temple faculty and Teaching Assistants; over the course of her career she has served as a TA, Adjunct, Non- Tenure-Track faculty, and then Tenured faculty. She has balanced classroom teaching with dissertation advising and her own research, and at Princeton she balanced teaching with administrative duties. Therefore, she understands the unique challenges faced by university teachers at various stages of their careers and in their different roles. Her varied experiences will help her develop programming and services that are relevant to the different roles—and worthy of Temple teachers’ precious time.
She also brings her experience as a professor of African American studies and her work in diversity and pedagogy programming. She plans to have the TLC do its part to contribute to the efforts of the Office of Multicultural Affairs to promote the retention and success of faculty who are underrepresented in their fields. And she wants to provide programming to support all faculty teaching Temple’s diverse student body. She notes, “This is the most diverse university in the country, and I aim to build a center that enables Temple instructors to make the most of this unique environment. The learning opportunities in this context are enormous.”
Coming into the TLC, Pamela was impressed by the foundation laid by her predecessor, Angela Linse, who built the center and cultivated relationships throughout the university. She also notes that the entire TLC staff has raised the profile of the center by running high quality pedagogy events like the annual new TA orientation and the winter faculty conference. “I feel very fortunate that so many people are interested in what we do, predisposed to want to talk with me.” She hopes to continue the relationships that exist with the center’s current network of great teachers and administrators who are involved or have been involved on the advisory board, in facilitating teaching programs, or speaking at the TLC.
What does she want the TLC to look like in a few years? Her top priority is to develop sustained and substantive opportunities for faculty to reflect on their teaching and their students’ learning, and to do that in communities with other teachers. Expanding upon TLC’s one-time workshops, Barnett intends to experiment with different formats including book groups, teaching discussion circles, short courses, pedagogy certificate programs, and research projects on teaching and learning.
Dr. Barnett is also currently working on a new program that will give instructors the opportunity to visit the classrooms of their colleagues who are doing innovative, interactive teaching in the challenging large-lecture format. The program will pilot this fall, allowing participating instructors to visit classes of their choice from a list, then meet with those professors to talk about the methods they are using, why they use them, and how they impact students’ learning. Ideally, participants will get ideas and have conversations that will enable them to bring some new strategies to their own teaching of large classes. Dr. Barnett cites the importance of consulting with fellow teachers: “It is one thing for me and my staff to extol the benefits, for example, of using the rapid response systems or ‘clickers’ to get students thinking and engaged in a large lecture hall, but it’s another actually to see how a colleague uses them successfully.”
As the center grows and adds staff, it will also offer one-on-one consultation services to instructors, along with classroom observation and feedback. She believes that busy faculty should be able to make an appointment to talk about a teaching issue, whenever the need arises: “The assignment design workshop may not be offered the week that you really need it.” As for classroom observation and feedback, she adds, “I’ve now seen this process invigorate many people’s teaching. If we do our job well, we help instructors build on their strengths, innovating in ways that fit their teaching goals and personas.” Another top priority moving forward is the Gen-Ed initiative. She believes the TLC needs to stand by faculty as they design and pilot innovative new courses, and then as they assess and consider how to improve them year to year.
Her longer-term goals include expanding TLC programming for TAs. One exciting initiative would implement a pedagogy certificate program, through which Temple will gain more recognition for producing excellent scholar-teachers. In addition to participating in TLC programming and getting classroom observation and feedback, certificate seekers would get support creating materials that are often expected on the academic job market: statements of teaching philosophy, well-designed course syllabi, and other elements of a teaching portfolio.
Prior to moving into an administrative role, Dr. Barnett received awards for teaching excellence. When asked why she decided to shift to administration, she replied that after having finished her book and knowing that her tenure was secure, she had more time to reflect on what she most loved about her career and what she wanted to do next. She recalls, “I always wanted to be a teacher; when I was young, I even had a play schoolhouse on my back porch where I somehow convinced neighborhood kids to come study globes and draw letters. And it turned out I was well suited to getting things done, in collaboration with other people.”
For instance, she chaired a committee to revise USC’s African American Studies curriculum and enthusiastically embraced the challenge of thinking about what the students needed to learn and how the curriculum could be designed to get them there. This experience convinced her that departmental service, and then a position of greater administrative responsibility, would be a good way to make a difference using her interests and skills. Adding to this a desire for urban life, and the ability to choose where she lived, solidified her decision to move to Philadelphia and work in administration. “I am motivated knowing that my work can affect more students; I will continue to teach, and by supporting all of the university’s instructors, my work as an educator extends beyond my own classrooms.”
Since taking the job here and relieved of her grueling commute to Princeton, Dr. Barnett is finding more time to become involved in the community. She would like to go back to some work she was doing with the Center for Literacy’s adult high school diploma program before she started her commuting life. Another thing for which she now has time, she happily adds, is gardening: “When I got the job at Temple, one of the first things I did was get a plot in my community garden. I now actually have time to water it before or after work since I don’t have to commute 110 miles a day.” As for her colleagues at Temple, we are thankful that Pamela Barnett has planted roots, quite literally, in our neighborhood, and we look forward to the contributions she will make to this center and to the Temple University community.