Melting the walls between Educational Technologies and Teaching

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

How do you engage faculty in teaching innovation at a research university? Join us for an interactive session where we’ll share how Cornell is engaged in a process to merge academic technologies and the teaching center to enhance pedagogical innovation and improve the student experience.  We will discuss opportunities, challenges, and consider how to move the needle on innovation in teaching.


Diane Sempler is an Associate Director in the Center for Teaching Innovation, leading a team that supports faculty with innovation projects including online and blended learning. She has spent over thirty years in various roles at Cornell, with 20+ years managing and leading teams within IT and Academic Technologies. Diane’s role in these positions has brought with it broad experience with many facets of leadership, management, project management, and understanding the needs of faculty, staff, and students at Cornell. Her skills include relationship management, facilitation, influence and negotiation, managing and developing people, and the ability to lead cross-divisional collaborations and build partnerships.
Dr. Robert Vanderlan is an Associate Director in the Center for Teaching Innovation, leading a team that offers instructional design expertise and support to faculty using a range of educational technology tools. In addition to five years supporting faculty teaching development, Rob has been an instructional designer for a wide range of online and blended courses. He is also the author of Intellectuals Incorporated: Politics, Art, and Ideas Inside Henry Luce’s Media Empire (2010) and a historian who has taught at Cornell, Hamilton College, and elsewhere. Rob graduated from Cornell with a B.A. in government, holds a Master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in U.S. History from the University of Rochester.

Extended Abstract

The recent integration of Academic Technologies and the Center for Teaching Excellence provides exciting capacity and an opportunity for supporting instructors in advancing pedagogical innovation at Cornell University.  Our focus will include pedagogical strategies that bring about greater focus on student-centered learning and verve to the teaching and learning relationship across traditional, hybrid and/or online environments (Admundsen and Wilson, 2012, Ambrose, 2010).

Previously, Cornell supported faculty teaching through a Center for Teaching Excellence in the Provost’s office and an Academic Technologies unit within Information Technologies, reporting to the CIO. This situation became challenging for faculty as the line between teaching and technology increasingly blurred in recent years. Efforts to improve collaboration between the groups emerged in the support of new online and blended learning initiatives, as the two units embarked on an effort to design and develop MOOCs.  These helped, but still left faculty uncertain where to seek assistance and support. Collaboration between separate groups left multiple opportunities for miscommunication and missed opportunities.

In 2016 the Provost created a working group to recommend a strategy to expand and enhance Cornell’s teaching through the integration of innovative instructional approaches and digital tools. Following the recommendations of that group, the Provost decided to create a new Center for Teaching Innovation, merging Academic Technologies and the Center for Teaching Excellence. A  new Center would provide opportunities, which fell into three main areas:  1- for existing students, use technology to enhance existing courses and offer online courses to provide more flexibility; 2- use online and blended learning to reach more students and improve the student experience; and 3- expand technology-enhanced learning research institution-wide.

In the summer of 2017 a new Executive Director was hired, and the Center for Teaching Innovation was launched. The mission of the new Center is to promote academic success for all undergraduate students by supporting faculty excellence and innovation in teaching.  At the same time, Cornell inaugurated our 14th President, Martha Pollack. In her inaugural address, she emphasized her focus on educational “verve,” or vitality, as is evidenced by the new Center for Teaching Innovation, which “combines expertise in academic technology with more traditional support for faculty and teaching professionals.”

Many campuses face a similar challenge to the one Cornell faced, with one study reporting close to 50% of teaching centers undergoing some functional integration with instructional technology support (Kelley, Cruz, Fire, 2017). How do you bring together a teaching and technology-focused center and provide support in a way that best serves student and  faculty.

At the end of this session you will be able to:

  • Describe the challenges to effectively working with faculty from separate teaching and technology groups on campus

  • Identify opportunities to reach more faculty, facilitate the adoption of innovative, research-based pedagogies, and create a campus wide conversation about teaching innovation through the creation of a new unit

  • Identify challenges to merging different units with different work cultures and develop ideas to mitigate these challenges.

  • Outline one potential solution that you can take back to your campus.

Session Outline:

Introduction:  We will describe the history of Cornell’s efforts (described above) as a way to introduce the opportunity for supporting instructors in advancing pedagogical innovation at Cornell University.

Activity - breaking up into groups of 4-5, describe how teaching and technology are currently supported on your campus. What works well? What doesn’t work?

We will share one example of each with the group.


Innovation:  We will describe our programs, including innovation grants. Building on the innovation grants, we are working toward creating a culture of innovation and incorporating it in our processes.

  • The goal of our project proposals will be to collectively shape the nature of our ongoing campus dialogues related to learning. Participants will be engaged in the support of a campus climate of innovation and, in concert, to contribute to a “greenhouse” encouraging peer reflection and consideration of interdisciplinary applications.

  • The purpose of our innovation grants is to support faculty extending their teaching in new aspects of their discipline, especially significant pedagogical experimentation or new curricular development.  Selections will be based on scalability and substantial innovation in pedagogy.


Activity - Describe the challenges and opportunities of closer collaboration and/or merging. What challenges have you faced on your campus in bringing together teaching and technology resources to support faculty?

We will ask people to record challenges and opportunities on sticky notes we can collect and share back to the group.