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Faculty exchange perspectives across institutions and borders

by Stephen Sechrist

UESTC and W&M Faculty Reception

“It is better to travel 10,000 miles than read 10,000 books.”

As this ancient Chinese proverb goes, so goes the experience of a group of visiting faculty from W&M’s sister university, the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC). Through a new faculty development program between W&M and UESTC that launched this August, a cohort of 9 faculty from UESTC faculty are engaging in a semester-long, immersive experience that introduces them to new approaches to university teaching and provides an opportunity for them to exchange perspectives on their field with W&M faculty.

Administered by the W&M’s Reves Center, in collaboration with the W&M School of Education, and UESTC’s Department of Human Resources, the Excellence in University Teaching Program (EUTP) originated with the help of two local residents, Chaoyu Liu and Nancy Yang. Chaoyu is an alumnus of both UESTC, where he received his bachelor’s degree, and W&M, where he received his master’s. Knowing that UESTC sought to expand professional development opportunities for its faculty, and W&M’s strong reputation in teaching, Nancy and Chaoyu reached out to the Reves Center’s Office of International Students, Scholars, & Programs to propose a collaboration.

The EUTP curriculum was designed by School of Education professors Jim Barber and Katherine Barko-Alva, who are co-directing the program. It includes a weekly seminar in university pedagogy, focusing on topics such as course design, inclusive teaching, student engagement and motivation, educational technology, and assessment. Concurrent with the weekly seminar, the UESTC faculty are paired with a W&M faculty colleague, typically from their discipline. During the course of the semester, the UESTC faculty observe their colleague’s course, experiencing firsthand how teaching of their discipline may be approached at a US university.

W&M Professor Jennifer Kahn and UESTC Professor Ting Helen Lyu are one of the faculty pairings. Reflecting on her observation of Jennifer’s course on Archaeology and Pop Cinema, Ting commented on the interactive nature of the classroom “While I was sitting together with my young American classmates, I was deeply affected by the lively dynamic in the classroom … The professor is more like a coach or referee. She keeps activating the class with various strategies such as raising a controversial question, grouping students for different task, having students give a presentation on certain topics.”

The benefits of the program go both ways. As Jim and Katherine noted, “It is such a positive learning experience on both sides. As co-directors, it’s been very rewarding to spend time working with our Chinese colleagues on issues of pedagogy, especially our approaches to teaching across cultures and across languages. We are learning so much from our differences and also recognizing how much we have in common as teachers.”