Faculty Spotlight: Jeff Galle

Director, Center for Academic Excellence, Oxford College

March 2, 2015

Jeffery Galle joined Oxford College of Emory University in the spring of 2008 as the Director of the Center for Academic Excellence after serving nineteen years at the University of Louisiana at Monroe both as an English faculty and as an administrator. He has taught both undergraduate and graduate students in subjects including composition, introduction to literature, advanced writing, renaissance drama, literary criticism and theory, American and British surveys, and world literature. Professor Galle has received a number of teaching awards, including the Scott Professorship for Teaching Excellence (1996-99), Outstanding Professor of the College of Arts and Sciences (2006), the Liberal Arts Teaching Award (1995), and the English Department Outstanding Professor Award (1994).

What are some important accomplishments of Oxford’s Center for Academic Excellence (CAE)?

Jeff Galle: On the broadest level, the Institute for Pedagogy in the Liberal Arts, first conceived in the strategic planning process of 2005, has grown to include faculty from across the divisions of Emory and beyond to a number of institutions in the U.S. and abroad. But just as important has been the response of Oxford faculty to such programs as mirrored observations. Mirrored observations, which we started about five years ago, is one the CAE’s most popular programs and one that works best in a small college environment. First, I visit a classroom session taught by one of our faculty, and within a few days that instructor visits my class. Then we write up our thoughts. At a third meeting we share those thoughts: what we saw, what occurred to us, what suggestions we have. It’s not an expert/novice relationship. It’s colleague to colleague. I see very committed faculty doing creative things. In their classes, I can see how conversations flow, who answers questions, and how they answer them and if there are blind spots. It’s mutually beneficial. I would also add that Oxford faculty have contributed to several significant publications on pedagogy, including a book on high impact practices coming out this summer. More efforts are underway. Local programs like the observations combined with studies and the institute that can reach larger audiences are things I would point to with a sense of accomplishment.

How have faculty responded to the mirrored observations?

JG: The times when I’ve had no response or there’s been resistance is when there’s confusion that the program is part of the tenure and promotion observation process. That occasionally occurs among new faculty who think that someone is visiting their classes to identify weaknesses. I think everyone now understands that this is a service and isn’t linked to tenure and promotion. When new faculty arrive at Oxford, I tell them the program is available and how it works. Typically I visit their classes during their second semester after they’ve had time to settle in.

How does the annual Institute for Pedagogy in the Liberal Arts (IPLA) fit into Oxford’s plan?

JG: It provides an opportunity for Oxford and Emory faculty to reflect on their teaching. Its structure is unique and it’s been highly successful. Rather than going to a conference where you visit many sessions one after the other for an hour or two each, at the IPLA participants choose two pedagogies and spend two full days in successive sessions. Each session consists of a small group led by an expert in that pedagogy, with the goal being to carry something away—for example, a new or revised syllabus, a course idea, or ideas for presenting a challenging chapter of organic chemistry where students keep stumbling. They leave with ideas that they can apply to a particular problem or about something they want to work on in their teaching. The IPLA connects to the core identity of Oxford. It’s one of our defining features and it provides us with resources for faculty here and elsewhere to truly to focus on their teaching in meaningful ways. The IPLA is one of the ways that Oxford College enacts the commitment to excellence in teaching and pedagogical innovation. 

What impact has the shift to inquiry-guided learning had at Oxford?

JG: Oxford College faculty have long enjoyed small classes and have practiced a variety of active learning strategies. I think the development of our Ways of Inquiry has both given a name to the focus on student learning, student questions, and the development of disciplinary thinking in the first two years of the undergraduate program. Yet new faculty often ask, “What is inquiry-guided learning? How is it similar or different from what I’m already doing?” Every semester we address these recurring questions through lunch-and-learn sessions and workshops. Among senior faculty, some have gone the way of inquiry-guided teaching and learning, while others have said, “No, I’m going to stick with what I’ve been doing.” For those who are more comfortable with a lecture format, that’s great. My job is to support every faculty, not to convince everyone to adopt any particular approach, including inquiry-guided learning. I’m not trying to proselytize; rather, perhaps I can help them become better lecturers. More than three quarters of the faculty are very curious about inquiry-guided learning, and that’s a major improvement from when we started the change. It’s a continuing conversation. Virginia Lee, a well-known higher-education consultant, wrote in a paper that she’s aware of only five colleges whose pedagogy and core identity are in alignment, and Oxford College is one of them. She said that we’ve managed to align our inquiry-guided pedagogy with our emphasis on teaching and learning at the college and with such efforts as the IPLA.

What are some of your long-term goals?

JG: I recently went to Emory Hospital to see an Emory cardiologist for a personal medical visit. Emory hospital is not only impressive for its reputation, it is also committed to excellent teaching. One hope of mine (and I hope this is not presumptuous) is to make any good contribution to its teaching focus. In fact, to provide any kind of teaching support or programs to other divisions at Emory would connect the ideals of the CAE—perhaps through the CFDE—to other divisions within Emory. Oxford has a small group of committed people separated from Emory by just forty miles. It would be wonderful if we could figure out ways to take our focus on pedagogy to make contributions to other divisions, like the School of Medicine. We’ve had faculty from every division of Emory attend the IPLA. But my impression when I visited the hospital is that this is a huge, incredible institution focused on teaching, and it would be fantastic if Oxford can make a contribution to the teaching that goes on at the medical school. Second, I want to continue to promote the emphasis that Oxford places on teaching and to promote that in the way that Virginia Lee described: a perfect alignment of the mission, the pedagogy, and the support. 

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