William & Mary

Q&A with Mark Hofer, director of W&M’s new Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation

As the fall semester gets underway, the university’s Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation is taking shape in Swem Library. Established this spring by Provost Michael Halleran upon the recommendation of a cross-disciplinary advisory team, the center will allow faculty and students to collaborate across traditional boundaries, leverage new technologies and advance teaching excellence at W&M.

Mark Hofer (W&M School of Education photo)Mark Hofer, professor of educational technology at the W&M School of Education, was selected as the center’s first director. A former high school history teacher, Hofer’s teaching and research has focused on integrating curriculum-based technology and deeper learning practices in K-16 classrooms. He also co-founded the Center for Innovation in Learning Design in 2016, bringing together researchers and practitioners to explore, prototype and test new learning designs.

We talked recently with Hofer about his vision and plans as the TLI Studio comes together.

Why is the time right for a Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation at W&M?

William & Mary has a long history of highly-engaged faculty offering rich and deep learning experiences for their students. Our current context makes this commitment to teaching and learning more important than ever. We work today to prepare our students for an increasingly complex and interconnected world, in which they will work to solve thorny problems in careers that may not even exist yet. Recognizing this complexity, a recent report from the Academy of Arts and Sciences highlights three essential priorities: strengthening the student educational experience; reducing inequalities and fostering inclusion; and maximizing the value of investments in teaching and learning. The TLI Studio was created as a means for William & Mary to advance our institutional mission as we respond to these critical priorities. The studio can serve as the hub or nexus on campus to bring together faculty, students and staff to learn together to advance our educational mission.

How do you envision the studio helping to break down boundaries among schools, units and disciplines?

Nearly every day I hear about another interesting program, teaching approach, student project or professional learning opportunity. Unfortunately, there has not been a unit on campus positioned to be a connector across all of these areas. Consequently, few, if any people on campus truly have a panoramic sense of all the inspiring examples of teaching and learning happening each day at William & Mary. This is one key role and service that the TLI Studio can provide. Whether it’s connecting faculty from VIMS, the School of Education and Arts & Sciences on approaches to mentoring graduate students in research, convening a conversation across schools and departments on strategies to promote inclusivity in course design, or supporting faculty and co-educators as they work together to solve problems of practice, the studio will serve as the catalyst for teaching and learning across all campus units.

Teaching is at the center of W&M’s mission and identity. How will the TLI Studio enhance that part of our work?

Through a broad array of programs and opportunities offered through the studio and available to instructors at all career stages, with all types of appointments and from all schools, units, programs and departments, we will help to build, support and sustain a culture of teaching and learning. Faculty and instructors can engage with the studio in a variety of ways, including attending one of our workshops, participating in a University Teaching & Learning Project team, scheduling a consultation and/or teaching observation with our staff or student workers, contributing their expertise on an academic innovation project, or even just accessing needed resources online to support their teaching practice. The kinds of programs, experiences, and resources we offer in the studio will be shaped both by insight from our advisory council and by the new opportunities and challenges that arise.

What drew you to apply as director? How does your experience position you to lead this effort?

In many ways, the TLI Studio director position is at the confluence of nearly all my professional and academic interests. As a professor in the School of Education, I have worked for more than a decade to explore with teachers how technology can be used to support and transfer teaching and learning in classrooms. More recently, I have worked with teachers, school leaders and university faculty to better understand how to design, launch and sustain innovation efforts that promote students’ deeper learning. Along the way, I have had the good fortune to collaborate with amazing colleagues within and beyond William & Mary in all of these efforts.

Across my experience and projects that I’ve been involved with, I understand how challenging it can be to operate in a complex, constantly changing educational environment. I’ve learned that it’s only in working with and learning from others that we can accomplish anything meaningful and sustainable. This mindset of collaboration, curiosity, creative problem solving and connection are what drew me to apply for the director position and fuel my work to help launch the studio.

What are your hopes for the TLI Studio in the first year? And longer term?

My guiding vision is that every member of the teaching and learning community at William & Mary will come to see the TLI Studio as a place to connect with other “fellow travelers” and explore ideas together. My hope is that through consultation with the studio’s advisory council and through feedback and insight from faculty, students and staff across campus we will identify a core set of services, resources and experiences that best assist professional growth and expertise. I hope that the studio, through partnership with the many units on campus, becomes the clearinghouse for teaching and learning resources to advance our shared values and priorities. Finally, I hope that in all these ways the studio can support faculty, students and programs to incubate innovative approaches, tools and experiences that align with our emerging university strategic plan.

You mentioned that cross-campus collaboration is an integral part of the TLI Studio’s mission. What partnerships are already in place? What others do you envision in the future?

The teaching and learning advisory council convened by Provost Halleran last year and led by Vice Provost Ann Marie Stock and Professor Paul Heideman helped to lay the groundwork for some productive collaborations. There are excellent opportunities to work together with the Center for the Liberal Arts and CLA Fellows, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, University Libraries, the DC Center, the Reves Center and many more. We’ve already begun to explore small quick wins and more strategic, longer-term efforts in which we can partner to support faculty and instructors. We’re also eager to explore ways to facilitate the integration of learning by thinking together with Student Affairs, study abroad program directors, the Cohen Career Center, the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center and others. It is through these kinds of collaborations that we can best understand the opportunities and challenges across campus to provide support for faculty, students and staff to advance teaching and learning.

Where can we find you and the TLI Studio on campus?

The physical space of the studio will be housed on the ground floor of Swem Library across the Botetourt Gallery from the Media Center. We are in the planning stages for this dynamic, flexible space that will open in a few years. In the meantime, the studio will have a “collaboratory” space on the ground floor of Swem in room G64 across from the media studios and just down from the print shop. Once this space is complete we will have an open house to welcome the campus community. You can count on good coffee and conversation whenever you stop by.