By Cathy Wooten
At first blush it could be mistaken for a sort of upside-down detention hall: teachers spending their first days of the summer interim back in the classroom, only this time as students. But the 27 attendees at the Institute for Pedagogy in the Liberal Arts, held at Oxford College May 12-15, were willing participants-more precisely, very enthusiastic ones. The 2009 institute, known by the acronym IPLA, was a joint effort of Oxford's Center for Academic Excellence and Emory's Center for Faculty Development and Excellence.
The four-day program consisted of two two-day sessions, in which participants focused on new ideas to refresh and expand their teaching. They were led by members of the faculty of both Oxford and Emory, each of whom has been recognized for expertise in their fields of study. Session subjects included the use of information technology in the classroom, problem-based learning, debate as a teaching tool and pedagogies of engagement. Presenters were Dr. Patricia Owen-Smith, Dr. Ken Carter and Dr. Paul Oser of Oxford; and Dr. Pat Marsteller and Professor Melissa Wade of Emory College. Attendees included faculty from Oxford College, Emory College, Georgia Gwinnett College and Newton High School of nearby Covington, Georgia. The six high-school teachers will be part of the Newton Academy of the Liberal Arts, a new magnet program opening this fall. Oxford has signed on as a community partner with the academy and has pledged support through mentoring and professional-development efforts such as IPLA.
Special guest presenter for IPLA was Dr. Arthur Young of Clemson University, who led sessions on teaching writing across the curriculum. Young is a nationally known leader in the movement to ensure that a college education equips all students with the ability to write and communicate well, no matter what degree they may pursue. For his success at Clemson, Young was awarded the state of South Carolina's Order of the Palmetto in 2001. His IPLA sessions, said Young, concentrated on "students' writing and critical thinking abilities, helping participants discover ways that writing-across-the-curriculum strategies, such as writing to learn, interactive writing and reflective writing can promote active and engaged learning."
Promoting active and engaged learning is exactly what IPLA and its parent organization, the Center for Academic Excellence, are about. The Center was founded in 2007 to support the primary goals of Oxford's long-term strategic plan: to establish Oxford as the premier example of a liberal-arts-intensive college and to continue growing its transformative learning environment through innovative pedagogy. "Oxford received national recognition in 2003 from the Carnegie Foundation for its innovation in teaching and learning," said Dr. Jeff Galle, who heads the Center for Academic Excellence. "The Center and its programs such as IPLA aim to nurture continued innovation and to share the knowledge it creates with colleagues within and well beyond the University".
Dr. Galle says that participant evaluations showed enthusiasm for opening the conference to those beyond Oxford and Emory, and that will be considered again for future conferences. Work and planning are already under way for IPLA 2010.