CTTL in the News, From the Director

What's in a Name? by Dr. Debra Rudder Lohe, Director

Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning
Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning

Welcome to the Center’s new website – and our new blog-format version of The Notebook (formerly, our quarterly newsletter)!  As you look around, those of you who have been involved with the Center for a while will notice something else is new: our name.  Beginning on Sunday, July 1, 2012, the Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) will be known as the Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (CTTL).

We’ve come a long way since our founding in 1997.  That was the year a small group of faculty petitioned the University administration to convert the Graduate School Teaching Resource Room into a formal teaching center, serving both faculty and graduate students at SLU.  (Click on this link for more on the Center’s history.)  Today, 15 years later, the Center is enjoying its strongest period of growth to date; we officially have moved out of our period of formation and into a period of transformation.  In the last year, we’ve seen our staff size double and the demand for our services sky-rocket.  Perhaps most importantly, we’ve begun to realize the dreams of all those faculty who first imagined the Center into being: increasingly, educators across our campus look to us as leaders and agents of change (particularly as they seek to find new ways of creating engaging and relevant learning experiences), not merely as a resource for good information.

This shift – from information to what we might call transformation – mirrors a shift in higher education more broadly, even as it embodies the pedagogical aims the Jesuits have been meeting for almost 500 years.  Transformative education has long been the commitment of Jesuit institutions generally and of Saint Louis University specifically.  And in a historical moment where all of us are asking, What does a Catholic, Jesuit education in the 21st Century look like?, it’s more important than ever to consider the question, What does effective teaching look like at a Jesuit institution in the 21st Century? To my mind, it looks like creating engaging, learner-centered educational experiences rooted in both innovation (21st Century) and reflection (Jesuit).

So, when we were asked to consider a name change for the Center (a request that appealed to me, given the emptiness the word “excellence” can have these days), my first commitment was that we would add “learning” to the name.  (After all, as the old saying goes, “you aren’t teaching if no one is learning.”)  But in the spirit of magis, I knew there was more to it than that.  Ultimately, we wanted a name that captured both our Jesuit values and heritage and the innovations demanded of a 21st Century university.  And I believe we captured that balance nicely.

As befits my English Literature background, I’d like just to “unpack” a few of the layers implicit in the new name, which might not be obvious to everyone:

  • Reflection: This hallmark of Jesuit education and Ignatian spirituality is essential to an act transformation; without reflecting carefully on previous experiences, one cannot see the higher purpose or greater good to which those experiences, ideally, contribute.
  • Innovation: Transformation is predicated upon some new way of looking at an old problem, a creative insight that opens up some formerly-closed system; in its oldest usage, “to innovate” means simply, “to renew, to alter, to make new.”  Given Fr. Reinert’s willingness to innovate – to admit women and students of color in the early half of the 20th Century – the Center that bears his name should embrace innovation.
  • Transformative Learning Theories: The Jesuit commitment to care for and educate the “whole person” (cura personalis) is echoed by theories of learning that foreground the transformative potential of deep, meaningful educational experiences.
  • Reciprocity: Ultimately, in moving from a noun (“excellence”) to an adjective, we’re pointing at an underlying reciprocity that exists in truly transformative teaching: when teaching is transformed, learning is transformed, and both the teacher and the learner come away changed.

As Saint Louis University seeks to increase the transformative potential of the education it offers (for both its students and the world they will create upon leaving) and to transform its modes of delivering education to more people, in more places (a social justice commitment, among other things)—in light of all this, it seems only fitting that the Center would seek to transform the teaching and the learning that happens here.  And as we look ahead at the coming years, we anticipate a surge in new Center programs, services, and audiences across the institution, as well as a surge in national and international recognition as a top-tier teaching center, all of which will (we hope) position us to be a transformative presence, both on campus and off.

That’s an ambitious set of goals.  And they can’t be met with a simple name change.  But the work has already begun, our transformation is already underway.  And so, officially, and for the first time ever, I offer you greetings from the Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning.  We look forward to seeing you soon.