The purpose of the Center for Teaching Excellence is to promote excellence in teaching
at ETSU by providing instructional development opportunities for faculty, serving
as a "one-stop shop" for teaching resources, and creating communities of practice
among faculty. I invite you to read more about the goals for the center and to get involved in our work. Please contact me if you have ideas about programming, want to nominate a teacher to be featured on
our website, or if you want to contribute the resources available on the site. We're looking forward to a great inaugural year and to growing
the instructional development services we offer.
Featured Teacher: Dr. Ryan Nivens
Mathematics teacher educator Dr. Ryan Nivens teaches teachers how to teach.
“If you want to be a blacksmith or perfect your curveball, you have to swing the hammer
or throw the ball.” True enough, but when it comes to teaching you not only have to
practice teaching, you have to learn how humans learn. You can’t just tell students
how to learn, you have to create the conditions in which they can experience it for
themselves. Experiential learning is the cornerstone of Nivens’ teaching philosophy.
A typical class session with Nivens begins with an activity such as error analysis
of common math mistakes, for example adding fractions. Too often, teacher candidates
only identify procedural errors in student work, but are unable to analyze and articulate
how such errors show a lack of underlying mathematical knowledge. Class continues
with hands on activities, discussion and group problem solving.
Nivens believes math education is undergoing a renaissance. “The way most students
were taught math is not how we teach them to teach math now.” The emphasis now is
on developing real mathematical knowledge rather than memorization of tables and formulas.
This often involves teacher candidates learning to present mathematical concepts and
problems in different forms and asking their students to explain steps they can take
to solve them.
Assessment of teacher candidates reflects this shift. Noting that teacher candidates
(and their students alike) can pass a test without really understanding the underlying
concepts, Nivens describes the authentic assessment approaches his department uses
to plumb the depths of their teacher candidates’ understanding. A capstone project
for the “edTPA” which is required for teacher licensure, involves finding, implementing,
and reflecting on lesson plans and curriculum. The result is a portfolio of work which
describes each teacher candidate’s unique experience and growth as a teacher. Plus,
it is impossible to plagiarize such a project, as any authentic learning experience
Nivens also mentors new faculty members. This semester he is leading a faculty learning
community which helps acculturate new faculty to ETSU and the realities of the 21st
century professoriate. “We focus on the three pillars: teaching, research, and service.”
Nivens’ own research interests and experiences make him ideal for this role. He started
doing professional development sessions on educational technology his first year as
an 8th grade math teacher and has been involved with teacher training and development
his entire career. His most recent publications address identifying quality scholarly
publishing outlets in mathematics education. The changing dynamics of scholarly publishing
is an issue of vital concern for new and established faculty alike.
Good teaching calls for continual reflection and improvement and Nivens believes maintaining
high standards for yourself and your students is essential. The content we teach may
not change much but we should differentiate between good and excellent when it comes
By Phil Smith
The Center for Teaching Excellence will feature a different faculty member each month.
If you'd like to nominate a teacher to be featured on the site, contact Phil Smith.
Conference on High-impact Instructional Practices with L. Dee Fink
January 8, 2018 9:00 - 4:30
Designing Significant Learning Experiences: This day-long conference is sponsored
primarily by ETSU's Instructional Development Committee. To submit a proposal for
the Conference on High-impact Instructional Practices or to register to attend, visit
the conference website.