November 10, 2013

Cornell Center Receives $5-Million Donation to Bolster Teaching

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The James McCormick Family Teaching Excellence Institute received a $5 million donation that will help it continue to improve engineering professors’ teaching, the University announced last Monday.

The donation was given by the McCormick family, the institution’s namesake, according to a University press release.

The purpose of TEI is to collaborate with engineering faculty to help make their courses and the quality of their teaching better, according to Kathryn Dimiduk ’79, the director of TEI.

The services that TEI offers include individual sessions with teachers seeking help and an annual two-day workshop for new faculty, according to Dimiduk. TEI also manages a library from which faculty can borrow technology in order to implement these changes, according to the press release.

The donation will also help TEI continue to conduct its mid-semester evaluations, which, Dimiduk said, will help professors make changes to their courses.

“When you do an end of semester evaluation, it’s too late for the professor to change what he did. With mid-semester feedback, it’s easy for the professor to change,” Dimiduk said.

Dimiduk added that one of TEI’s main goals is to bring in active learning to the classroom, which she said is “anything that isn’t just sitting and taking notes.”

“Research shows that human beings can only pay strict attention for 15-to-20 minutes, and then attention starts to wander. So by the end of a 75-minute class, it’s hard to be writing anything,” Dimiduk said.

TEI has aided teachers in introducing tools such as iClickers into the classroom and by encouraging teachers with large lectures to ask students “talk to your neighbor” questions, according to Dimiduk.

Dimiduk also said that TEI has changed classroom settings to more easily accommodate active learning. For example, she said an old classroom would have rows of desks with one blackboard, but, after TEI worked with the faculty, a new classroom had multiple circular tables, so students could work in groups.

James McCormick ’69 said the services of TEI have had a positive impact on faculty’s teaching.

“I always thought that professors brilliant at research had the desire to be terrifically effective in the classroom as well. It turns out that they do, and are receptive to upping their game if the right one-to-one coaching is offered,” McCormick said in the press release.

Lance Collins, dean of the College of Engineering, also said in the press release that the donation would help continue the valuable services that TEI offers.

“The McCormicks’ gift will have a profound and lasting impact on engineering at Cornell. Like engineering itself, inspired teaching is an applied science,” Collins said. “The James McCormick Family Teaching Excellence Institute gives us the coaching, the technological tools, the expertise and the innovation to engineer courses that are more effective.”