DCAL names new director

Lisa Baldez, who took over as director of Dartmouth’s Center for the Advancement of Learning in November, said that the organization will focus on not only enhancing classroom facilitation through digital and experiential learning initiatives, but also on addressing diversity and sensitivity within teaching and learning at the College.

Her appointment comes after a debate within the organization about whether the new leader should be an outside professional in the field of teaching and learning or a College faculty member, Baldez said.

Baldez, a government and Latin American, Latino and Caribbean studies professor, has been involved in DCAL since its inception in 2004.

When Provost Carolyn Dever arrived last summer, she decided a Dartmouth faculty member would serve the DCAL best as its leader. She then appointed Baldez interim director, and made the title official in November. Her directorship will expire in four years.

DCAL founder and director for nine years Tom Luxon –— an English professor — said he felt the Center deserved fresh leadership and had desired a return to his scholarly projects.

Although not officially involved with DCAL, he said he will continue to attend the programs and lead events when asked. He added that he hopes Baldez will continue the tradition of leading by serving.

“She’s very open-minded and has taken advantage of DCAL’s services for many years,” he said. “She knows what works and what’s good.”

Her role as director includes convening and leading the planning team and facilitating one-on-one consultations with faculty, among other activities, Luxon said.

For the past ten years DCAL has held workshops and programs designed to help teachers to enhance their classes, she said.

Baldez works in tandem with DCAL associate directors Cynthia Tobery and Prudence Merton and director of digital learning initiatives Josh Kim. Tobery said that DCAL has become more involved with projects like digital learning initiatives and has been a part of ongoing conversations about experiential learning.

Shortly after College President Phil Hanlon’s arrival on campus, DCAL received an anonymous donation to begin new projects such as the Gateway Initiative — a program dedicated to redesigning large, introductory level courses for students — and the DartmouthX — a push to create massive open online courses. Baldez said that while those activities were formerly partly managed by DCAL, they are now fully under DCAL’s purview.

“We went from providing basic workshops and teaching to really funding innovation in and outside of the classroom,” Baldez said.

While Baldez said that faculty are already engaged in many innovative techniques in the classroom, she hopes they can make changes to curricula.

“I would like to see DCAL in more of a position to provide resources to expand those efforts by enhancing existing classes, developing new classes and incorporating active learning and digital technologies into College classes.”

Anthony Helm, a member of the DCAL executive team, said in an email that it has been a challenge encouraging some of the more experienced faculty members to examine their teaching methods. He added that there is always room for improvement as the fields of teaching and learning are constantly changing in response to scientific discoveries about how people learn.

“Lisa Baldez understands this well and has already been asking the executive team to brainstorm ever new ways to reach the faculty,” he said.

Tobery also noted that DCAL must figure out how to reach faculty members beyond those who are regularly involved in DCAL discussions.

“[Baldez] has already been making an effort to personally invite faculty to events that she thinks will be of interest to them,” she said. “She also has talked about ways perhaps to have our faculty advisory board help us create subcommittees who will provide feedback about DCAL initiatives and our involvement across campus on a more regular basis.” 

In addition to enhancing the classroom experience, Baldez said she also wants to address issues of diversity and sensitivity in teaching and learning at Dartmouth. This weekend during Dartmouth’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, Rev. Starsky Wilson, picked by Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri to co-chair the Ferguson Commission, will be giving a series of lectures as well as holding a DCAL workshop where he will discuss the implications of the events in Ferguson last fall for teaching and learning at the College. Dever and Native American studies professor Bruce Duthu will be moderating the discussion.

President Hanlon will soon announce a new resource called the experiential learning initiative, which will develop new courses, work with faculty seeking to redesign existing courses and offer programming to students, Baldez said. Director of action-based learning programs Gail Gentes has spent the past year collecting data and cataloguing the College’s experiential learning opportunities for this initiative.

Over the next couple of weeks, Baldez said she will be “fleshing out” the specific details for the initiative.

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