Stanford explores the future of higher education and teaching during the 2015-16 Year of Learning

Stanford will explore the art and science of teaching and learning in 2015-16 with the Year of Learning initiative. To kick off the Year of Learning, innovative Stanford faculty will share their techniques and projects at the Great Teaching Showcase event on Oct. 2.

Rod Searcey VPTL John Mitchell

Stanford Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning John Mitchell, whose office leads Stanford's Year of Learning initiative, will be among the presenters at the Lytics Lab open house Oct. 9.

Biophysics Professor Steven Block wants his freshman students to learn to think like scientists. So Block, who studies biomolecular motors, has his students conduct an experiment using "piezo poppers"—film canisters propelled through the air by an explosion ignited by a piezoelectric device.

First the students hypothesize about the fuel mixture, body design and optimal launch angle, and then they run tests to prove or disprove their hypotheses.

Elsewhere on campus, Marília Librandi-Rocha brings the study of Brazilian culture to life for her students through fictional narrative, in contrast to historical narrative. Her students create art, music and dance and offer them as gifts to an imagined great-great-great-great grandmother Balangandã, an experience that offers the students a deep understanding of the suffering, courage and resistance of the African presence in Brazil and the Americas.

Meanwhile, Stanford's innovative approach to language instruction focuses on what students can do with a language rather than what they know about a language. Alice Miano's Spanish language students use iPads in class to put their Spanish-speaking skills to use in a virtual ways – by conducting city tours using Google Earth or hunting online for apartments abroad.

All across Stanford, creative faculty and instructors are forging new ways to improve student learning.

The Year of Learning

Stanford is thinking broadly about how to best educate its students in the 21st century. In 2015-16, the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learningis hosting the Year of Learning, a year-long series of events and initiatives for the Stanford community, to engage faculty, instructors, students, staff and alumni in thinking about the past, present and future of teaching and learning at Stanford and beyond.

The Year of Learning begins Friday, Oct. 2, with the Great Teaching Showcase, where Block, Librandi-Rocha and Miano will join colleagues to share examples of teaching innovation in all seven of Stanford's schools.  From 5-8 p.m. in Lathrop Library, this celebration of great teaching at Stanford will include a gallery walk showcasing projects and ideas, with brief inspirational talks by faculty and instructors Harry Elam, Ray McDermott, Eavan Boland, Allyson Hobbs, Mark Applebaum, Maya Adam and Fei-Fei Li. A reception follows. See video here.

A different theme each quarter

Each quarter, the Year of Learning programs will offer the community an opportunity to consider questions related to a different theme.

  • Fall: Advancing the art and science of teaching and learning in higher education. Topics will include a close examination of effective teaching and learning; what the latest research is telling us; how learning varies between disciplines; and how departments can recognize effective teaching.
  • Winter: The changing ecology and demography of higher education. Topics will include efforts underway on other campuses to reinvent higher education; the social, economic, and political forces that shape public expectations; how learners are changing; and the changes that will come from learning technology, new forms of credentials and global interconnection.
  • Spring: The future of Stanford teaching and learning in this changing environment. In the spring, the Year of Learning will consider why learners are important to the success of a leading research institution; whether Stanford should expand its student body, range of programs and approach to lifelong learning; and how Stanford can best pursue new opportunities in ways that respect and honor its values, traditions and academic integrity.

The Year of Learning program coordinator, Petra Dierkes-Thrun, VPTL director of interdisciplinary teaching and learning and a lecturer in comparative literature, said the Year of Learning will "investigate not just the changing landscape of learning, but also Stanford's possible future roles in it."

Her aim for the Year of Learning's opening event Oct. 2, the Great Teaching Showcase, is to celebrate excellent teaching at Stanford and to recognize great teachers and ideas from around the university. Said Dierkes-Thrun, "We are a research university, and there is so much creative, innovative teaching going on. Our Great Teaching Showcase is meant to celebrate that and inspire others through concrete examples from all seven schools."

Participating in the Year of Learning

Additional events this fall provide opportunities for Stanford faculty, staff and students to learn more and get involved.

On Friday, Oct. 9, the Lytics Lab, an educational data science research community, invites the Stanford community to its Open House, 3-5 p.m. at the Barnum Learning Hub. Faculty co-directors John Mitchell and Candace Thille and student researchers will present their research in progress in a demo and poster session. 

Stanford students, staff and instructors can register now for the ATXpo (Academic Technology Expo) Monday, Oct. 12, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Arrillaga Alumni Center. Exhibitors and speakers from Stanford, San Jose State University and the University of California, Berkeley will present technology tools for teaching and learning. The program includes a keynote address by Elizabeth Bernhardt-Kamil, an "IdeaLab" interactive project gallery, and a panel discussion.

The kickoff of the Stanford125 celebration, the 125th Anniversary Symposium: Thinking Big About Learning on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2-5 p.m. in Cemex Auditorium, will address challenges facing education. John Mitchell, vice provost for teaching and learning, and Dierkes-Thrun will be speakers at the event.

At the Learning Goals, Teaching Excellence, and Course Evaluations event Thursday, Nov. 19, 12-2 p.m. in Paul Brest Hall, a faculty panel will discuss how to formulate effective learning goals through the new course evaluation system. Speakers include Carl Wieman, Russell Berman, Sheri Sheppard and Robyn Wright Dunbar.

More events are planned in winter and spring, including a Learning Summit in April, at which Stanford will host colleagues from Harvard, MIT, and UC Berkeley to discuss the art and science of teaching and learning.

Any program or organization wishing to set up an activity as part of the Year of Learning is welcome to contribute activities that will be listed on a shared calendar.

All Year of Learning events, news and topics for each quarter are here.

Follow #YearofLearning @StanfordYoL.