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Center for Teaching Excellence

East Tennessee State University

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Welcome to the Center for Teaching Excellence

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  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.

Dr. Nivens

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 is.

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 to teaching.

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 .

See past featured teachers here.

Tip of the Week

Photo of Megan Atkinson Hamilton

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.

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