Today, we are joined by Dr. Eileen O’Brien, program director of UMBC’s graduate certificate program in College Teaching and Learning Science. Dr. O’Brien spoke with us about the program, its course curriculum, how the program will address industry needs, who can benefit from it, and how it will give professionals a competitive edge.

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What is the value of a graduate certificate in College Teaching and Learning Science?

The College Teaching and Learning Science certificate program is designed for individuals who are either in the process of getting an advanced degree or who have completed their masters and are thinking about teaching, particularly college populations, whether a community college or four-year university. These individuals may desire to be more well-acquainted with the population that we have in college now, which is extremely different from years ago. In fact, one of the biggest shocks I often hear from people in industry who transition to teaching in college is – I thought I could be an adjunct easily. I came in to teach the course and it was difficult for me to understand the nature of the student.

This program delivers five courses that help to transition someone who is in industry or business to teach as an adjunct or full-time instructor in college. We prepare them to teach our new population of college learners.

Can you talk about the industry needs and how the program will address them?

Employers want to know what preparation a candidate has had in teaching and learning. Students of today are looking for someone who can facilitate their learning as opposed to stand on the stage and preach. Teaching is more facilitative today and that requires different skills. You can be an expert in your discipline, but now when you’re faced with helping individuals learn something. That’s a different ballgame. You need a different set of strategies and a different set of skills and abilities.

This program offers an immersion into facing the learner who today is of a different age. Oftentimes, our students are older. They’re oftentimes coming with the notion that they are consumers and this is a purchased item. They want to know how you’re going to take them to the next level and facilitate their learning. We give our students the tools to do this.

What makes this graduate certificate program different from others?

UMBC is at the forefront of innovation in teaching. You see that across all the disciplines we offer. We’ve focused on course redesign and setting up environments that allow for innovative pedagogy. Students now walk into a classroom where there’s no longer a stage and a podium. Round tables replace them to foster interaction amongst students. The instructor engages students by saying, “Okay, let’s make this relevant so you can apply what you’ve learned.”

You see, learning is no longer about memorization and multiple-choice questions. It’s about working in a group and demonstrating your knowledge. UMBC has paved its way to the head of the pack on this. Many of our classrooms have transitioned to more active learning. It’s phenomenal.

What has been the reaction of new faculty to this new active learning shift?

I always love when we have a candidate come in for a faculty position. We had one recently. I took her to an interactive classroom set up and she said, “Oh my gosh, how do you lecture here?” And I said, “Well that’s just it. We don’t lecture per se.”

Teaching is much more about getting the student to be an active learner in a situation and to be totally engaged in what they’re doing, rather than just passively listening to a lecture. Our goal as educators should be to leave students with a change in their behavior and how they’re going to apply some of the skills that they’re learning in class out in the real world.

Who could benefit from this program?

Someone who could benefit from this graduate certificate program is someone who is in industry who might be in education at the secondary level or someone in business who is saying, “I want to engage students and influence the next generation of workers by being an adjunct.” Or they might be saying, “I want to transition from this research role I’ve had for years to working with individuals in the classroom in higher ed.”

This program is also well-suited for individuals in graduate school who are learning their discipline and becoming expert researchers who will leave to work at large organizations, then one day want to teach their expertise. They’ll try to design a course and realize they need a different set of skills that they were never exposed to in their education. This certificate will help them to translate their expert knowledge to the classroom and to students who are coming to learn.

How does the program prepare its graduates for success?

We designed the courses around feedback from a focus group that consisted of college administrators, faculty in higher ed, individuals and faculty development centers for teaching and learning, and graduate students. We hosted several focus groups and they gave us sage advice regarding what skills today’s faculty need and what challenges are out there. They informed our thinking on critical race theory. When it comes to a diverse population, we learned that teachers need to be sensitive to different ways of learning and different needs of the population.

College learners today are stressed. They’re managing their lives, home, work, and education. Everything’s a priority, so we’re dealing with this very stressed group. Many are dealing with a lot of mental health issues that come to the forefront and we need to be able to address those and help people work through them so that they can meet their goals in education.

Can you talk about the course curriculum and what students might expect to learn?

The Applied Learning Science course looks at the adult/college learner. College learners come in all ages and ethnicities. We will look into how one approaches the learning situation with understanding the learning science that one approach doesn’t meet everyone’s needs. We prepare students to design courses that are very clear to the learner and provide exactly what they need to be successful.

The student will gain skills and knowledge to build a course that is going to identify learning objectives and outcomes at the course level, the program level, and the university level. The course drives home the point to students that as educators they’re responsible for the student. We want our teachers to go out into the world, get that job, be a good teacher, and fulfill their life goals.

The Best Practices in College Teaching course looks at the classroom pedagogy, technological skills, and abilities one needs to reach students online or in a hybrid format. So much today is done with technology and learning, so learning analytics is a focus point in this course, as well as familiarizing oneself with different learning platforms. Students also learn how to use the data received from learning platforms to inform teaching.

The Assessing College-Level Learning course looks primarily at evaluation. What is the best way to evaluate a learner? How do you know that they’ve learned and not just memorized something? The course focuses on testing and measurement and looking at outcomes at all levels of teaching from the course, to the program, to the University competencies wanted for all graduates.

The College Teaching Practicum course uses the first three courses as a foundation for what a student will do in a classroom. It’s highly connected with the College Teaching Seminar course that helps students focus on what they’re doing in the classroom. Students will need to find placements or we will help them identify a good placement and help that negotiation.

This experience gives them the opportunity to prepare a video package that shows an example of how they are drawing on all the knowledge from the first three courses and using that in the classroom with students. The seminar helps them build a teaching portfolio of which that video would be one of the most important components. The practicum and seminar give us a visual and observational piece of information that demonstrates this person has taken and comprehended the first three courses, assimilated all that knowledge, and is able to deliver it effectively as a good teacher and someone who can facilitate learning.

How will this program give people a competitive edge?

Colleges are becoming more aware that the faculty need to be prepared to reach students. This program distinguishes you as an applicant for an adjunct or a faculty position to say that you’ve had this type of preparation. It offers you that boots on the ground experience as opposed to just saying, “I’ve got this theoretical approach from my graduate program or I’ve taught in the business world so I know how to reach college-age students.” It’s not that easy.

This certificate gives you an advantage. It shows that you’ve looked at the recent literature and the current notions around learning and that you’re able to apply them. I think you come in with a competitive edge if you’ve got that certificate.


Claim Your Future

If you’d like to learn more about UMBC’s graduate certificate in College Teaching and Learning Science, reach out to us today!

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