Q&A with Center for Teaching, Learning, and Mentoring Director Dr. Skilton

By Caitlin Burns | December 8, 2020
Headshot of Arcadia University professor Dr. Ellen Skilton

Since its launch in June 2020, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Mentoring (CTLM) has brought together community stakeholders to support Arcadia’s innovative pedagogies and adaptive strategies. The CTLM serves the needs of all members of the Arcadia community—faculty, staff, and student peer educators—who are responsible for delivering transformative learning experiences.

In this interview, Dr. Ellen Skilton, director of CTLM and professor of Education, discusses the Center’s accomplishments and new programs, and looks forward to how CTLM can support the community post-pandemic.

Q: What are the major accomplishments of CTLM so far?
Dr. Ellen Skilton: For me, one of our biggest accomplishments is the ways that faculty, staff, and students are collaborating on so many different projects. We have some fantastic student fellows who are in leadership roles and helping to make sure that what we’re doing is really connected to student experiences. 

I just have loved the ways that we’re collaborating, and the two examples that come to mind for me most are the LOVE Pilot Program and a new innovation grant that [Professor of Education] Dr. Graciela Slesaransky-Poe and I have put together, which includes four other faculty, five staff, one CTLM staff fellow, and two student fellows. So the idea is that we have 13 people coming together to really think about “How do we create a model for inclusive pedagogy at Arcadia and inclusive excellence at Arcadia that cuts across domains that it’s not just classroom based, it’s also co-curricular?”

When we’re talking about inclusion, we’re talking certainly about making sure that everything is accessible, but also about race and first-generation college students and their experiences of feeling like they belong on campus, and the ways that we tap into the many strengths that all students bring to college. We’re trying to think about the many strengths that are often invisible in “traditional” classrooms and how those strengths can be a really fundamental part of how teaching and learning happen. 

I would say that the same quality of using our community’s strengths is also part of the LOVE Pilot Program, where we have staff and faculty who are being facilitators for affinity groups and planning the programs. We have triads in the facilitation that include graduate and undergraduate students. So it’s people coming with different perspectives and different connections to the University around a common cause of what it would mean to be an antiracist institution. 

So for both of those projects, I find it thrilling to have students, faculty, and staff in the same room together thinking about teaching, learning, and mentoring. I think we’re really trying to take the stance that everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher. I’ve just learned so much having students really be a part of the planning and implementation. 

Q: What other community collaborations have been established with CTLM?
ES: Our newsletter is very much a joint venture—[Adjunct Professor of English] Daniel Pieczkolon is the Faculty Fellow who is overseeing that, but we’ve got student writers, editors and designers as well. There’s been this creative element to it that I think has been really fantastic. 

We’ve also formed some powerful partnerships with Digital Learning Services (DLS), where this summer they focused on the technological tools and made sure people were up to speed, and CTLM built workshops around those tools so people got to try out them and share successes and challenges. So I hope we’ll be able to continue that. 

We have some Support and Get Stuff Done days coming up in collaboration with DLS, where faculty and staff can have the opportunity to be with other people so there’s accountability to work on either finalizing the fall or preparing for spring. Then, we’ve got sessions that are going to be led by faculty and staff in what we’re calling an “unconference”—where people will come and decide what they want to share. We also have some DLS  sessions that will be a follow up from the visit from author Flower Darby, who wrote Small Teaching Online, that are really focused on particular IT tools on campus. 

I think all the collaboration has been really dynamic and exciting, especially at a time when we’re all so physically far apart from each other. 

Q: How is CTLM helping to break down the barriers to create cross collaboration?
ES: I feel like those have been some of our most thrilling moments because it has seemed like it would be impossible. It was interesting how all summer we were very focused on preparing and then there would be these moments where we were like, “We need to be thinking about this from the students perspective. What do students need to be able to manage learning online?” So that work started to happen in the summer, as we were all trying to figure out how to do this as well as we possibly could.

Then once fall started it felt like the shift really went toward assessing how are students doing, what do they need, how can we support them. Now, as we’re preparing for spring, there’s more thinking about what we learned and what we want to do better for the spring, so it’s interesting to watch how the emphasis has shifted. 

Additionally, a couple of times a semester we have a large meeting with campus partners to check in about how we should be connecting the dots for faculty, staff, and students. The last one led to some great conversations, just having all of those people in the room at the same time talking about where we need to put our attention that we haven’t yet, so I’m looking forward to continuing that as well.

Q: What have been some of the most challenging things you’ve overcome since the start of CTLM? 
ES: I think one of the challenges always is, what’s the balance between innovation and creativity? And creating sustainable structures. Having a clear sense of our procedures for onboarding new fellows and the long term infrastructure for how do you sustain an organization. We can’t keep up this pace, and so how do we make sure that we continue to respond to what people are wanting and needing on campus and still set up the structures that allow us to function well, and at the same time take care of ourselves. I mean, I think that’s the question for many people in higher education right now. That there’s no commuting time anymore. There’s no time between meetings anymore. How do we keep it going and continue to be excited about the potential and not just get exhausted? So I think that’s probably the biggest challenge.

Q: Where do you see CTLM going in the spring and even then post pandemic?
ES: We’ve been having some internal meetings about that and also are about to have a brainstorming session with the Provost. The structure of CTLM right now is very fluid—we don’t have a location and I’m currently the only person that continues on each semester. Our fellows might or might not be able to continue into the next semester. So we’re really trying to figure out, at a time when there are not endless resources, how do we invest in the best way possible. So some of the things that we’re thinking about are how do we become a sustainable entity? How do we handle the administrative tasks that we have to do in order to innovate and collaborate on campus? 

I think there’s a desire for us to also be able to offer some consulting services on campus, particularly for junior faculty. So, I think we’d like to be able to have the capacity to train the trainer, so we can have mentors to new faculty. The other thing is that new faculty can also provide resources to those of us who’ve been teaching a long time. We’re trying to figure out ways that if someone wanted a particular kind of support, that they might be able to get it. 

We’re also thinking about a series of teaching circles that would be around a particular issue that has come up in the spring. So if a group of people wanted to come together and really think about how they’re doing assessment, for example. But that group could meet three to five times and really pull together resources around assessment or around how to connect with the community in an online environment. Even collaborating with the Office for Impact and Innovation and thinking about could we do some teaching circles that meet once a month over the semester that allow people to go a little bit more in-depth around something that they’re trying to figure out in this online moment. So a couple things we’re working on.