ITL Masthead

Vol. 1, No. 1

Your Source for Teaching & Learning News and Information

Fall 2007


Letter from the Editor:

Welcome from the ITL Director

The mission of the institute for Teaching and Learning (ITL) is to support faculty professional development for the nation's largest university system. We approach this challedge, in part, by creating a web of connections among faculty through each campus' teaching and learning center, as we address connections between teaching and learning, teaching and scholarship, and teaching and research. Consequently, we believe we have found a fitting name for our e-newsletter: ITL Connections.

Our banner atop this newsletter showcases students with Dr. Jodi Christiansen, physics professor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Having observed Jodi teach the first day of general physics class this past spring, I saw how she engages students in concrete examples and experiments to aid their understanding of complex concepts:

"Which can of soup, mushroom or beef broth, will win hte race down the incline plane every time? And why?"

Dr. Christiansen represents the many CSU faculty who meticulously craft that perfect example in order to aid student connections between prior experiences and new learnings. Consequently, we believe we have found a fitting CSU colleague for our banner, someone who illustrates that good teaching promotes good learning.

With this first issue ITL Connections welcomes your readership, contributions, and feedback.


Cynthia Desrochers
ITL Faculty Director

faculty development council
Faculty Development Council
November 2007 Meeting at San José State

p h b    Campus News

The Faculty Development Council

The Faculty Development Council (FDC), an affinity group composed of the 23-campus Teaching & Learning Center Directors, has a campus role similar to that of ITL, that of building campus connections for hte purpose of enhancing faculty professional development. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sorcinelli and Cook (2002) highlight the values of an effective Teaching & Learning Center, which includes:

  • Playing a key role in creating a campus culture that values and rewards teaching and learning

  • Providing an overview of campus best practices in order to highlight and disseminate them campus wide

  • Fostering faculty conversations across disciplines

  • Addressing unique campus interests and needs in support of educating our students

  • Taking responsibility for staying abreast of and communicating the literature on student learning

  • Assisting faculty, chairs, and deans on a confidential basis

  • Offering a comprehensive program to support faculty professional development

Faculty Associates Extend Center's Reach

Our CSU Teaching & Learning Centers typically have two employees, a Center Director, who may be part-time, and a administrative support assistant. Consequently, requests for Center involvement are often greater that a Center is able to provide. Currently, many CSU Centers have met this challenge by having Faculty Associates lead some Center programs.

Center Associate provide expertise on specific topics, for example:

  • CSU Dominguez Hills

    • Student Engagement Associate

    • Faculty Mentoring Program Associate

    • Student Learning Outcomes Associate

  • CSU San Marcos

    • Peer Coaching Faculty Fellow (focus:improving student learning)

    • Faculty-Student Mentoring Fellow (focus: graduating at-risk students)

  • CSU Stanislaus

    • Student Assessment Coordinator (focus: working with departmental Program Assessment Coordinators)

  • Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

    • New Faculty Associates (5 faculty each with one-course release)

    • Writing IN Generally Every Discipline(WINGED) Program Associate

    • Student Affairs Liaison Associate

    • Library Liaison Associate

  • San Francisco State

    • Turnitin Faculty Associate

    • Special Projects Faculty Associates (semester-long Scholarship of Teaching and Learning projects designed on an individual basis

(Continued at the top of column 2)

Review past issues at

Dr. Cynthia Desrochers
Director, Institute for Teaching & Learning
CSU, Office of the Chancellor, 6th Floor
(562) 951-4752
(562) 951-4982 (fax)


(Continued from the bottom of column 1)

Win-Win Relationship

Faculty Associates hold their positions from one semester to three years, renewable, and are generally compensated by a one-course release or an annual stipend, plus clerical assistance in order to fulfill their Faculty Associate duties. Not only does the Teaching & Learning Center benefit from more expert-hands on deck, but there are benefits to the Faculty Associate as well, including:

  • Leadership experience
  • New networking opportunities
  • Research support
  • Renewal and exploration
  • Service to the university
    • Giving back to one's faculty colleagues
    • Sharing one's expertise to further student success in college

Helpful Hints

Center Directors share the following points to consider when creating a Faculty Associate position:

  • Carefully define the
    • task
    • work schedule (e.g.,4 hours, twice a week)
    • deliverables (e.g., workshops, reports, and classroom visitations)
  • Establish reporting lines and times with the Center Director
  • Tap tenured faculty, as they have experience, institutional history, and permanence, as well as typically greater freedom in service-choice as compared to their not-yet-tenured colleagues
  • Include Faculty Associates on the Center's Advisory Board
p h b    Teaching & Learning Tips

Overcoming the Overstuffed
Curriculum: Concept Selection

With burgeoning new information in all disciplines, which concepts are most important to include as you design and teach your courses? Looking historically, professors have favored the following types of concepts:

  • Core concepts

  • Critical-attribute concepts

  • Threshold concepts

Threshold concepts are the most recent addition to the list. What are they, and why are they important? A threshold concept is unique among concepts in that many have the following characteristics:

  • Transformative - Opens a portal to new understanding for students

  • Irreversible - Unforgettable once learned (which may explain why professors have difficulty comprehending a student's lack of understanding of threshold concepts)

  • Integrative - Allows students to see new connections

  • Troublesome - Difficult to grasp and often counter-intuitive

Cousin, G. (December 2006), An Introduction to Threshold Concepts

A frequently cited example of a threshold concept is that of opportunity costs in economics, defined as the value of the next best choice that one gives up when making a decision. For example, imagine that one of your students has three events on hte calendar at the same time, but can only participate in one. Of the three, the student decides to go to a midnight movie versus study for your final exam, As a direct result of this choice, the student fails the exam, earns a D in the course, and must retake it the following semester. The consequence of this choice, or cost of the lost opportunity to study and pass your course, termed the opportunity cost, is a threshold concept.

Imagine a departmental meeting, or a faculty development session, where like-minded colleagues identify threshold concepts in their disciplines and discuss student-learning strategies to teach ( and reach) them.

p h b    Events

March 7-8, 2008

3rd Annual Conference on Community-Based Teaching & Research
LAX Westin Hotel

March 20-21, 2008
12th Annual Western Region Assessment Conference
Titan Student Union at CSU, Fullerton

March 21-22, 2008
20th Annual Lilly-West Conference
Kellogg West Ranch at Cal Poly, Pomona

April 12, 2008
11th Annual Regional Teaching & Learning Symposium
Cal Poly, Pomona
See your campus Teaching & Learning Center Director for details

p h b    Links

How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice

This seminal book explains key findings of research on learning - free download

Podcast: A Conversation with Alexander Astin at CSU Dominguez Hills, November 2007

CSU Institute for Teaching & Learning

ITL Advisory Board Contact Information

CSU Faculty Development Council

Community Service-Learning Impact
The 23 campuses of the California State University are committed to ensuring that all CSU students have the chance to participate in service prior to graduation.

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