Q&A: Robyn Dunbar, new director for the Center for Teaching and Learning

Sept. 26, 2013, 12:31 a.m.

Robyn Dunbar succeeded longtime Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) Michele Marincovich ‘68, who is moving on to become senior advisor to Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam. Dunbar brings 14 years of experience to the role as senior associate director for science and engineering in the CTL.

With the inauguration of the new Hume Center for Writing and Speaking in Building 250, The Daily sat down with Dunbar to learn what she expects of the Center’s future.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): The Oral Communication Program recently merged with the Hume Writing Center. What does this mean for the Center of Teaching and Learning?

Robyn Dunbar (RB): This one part of the Oral Communication Program, the Speaker Center, is what has merged with the Hume Center to make it the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking with a beautiful new place on the Quad conveniently located for students. I’ve been over to the new place a number of times. It’s very visible, but what is not so visible is that the new program is above and beyond. It’s one space for all those resources for students, which is incredible.

TSD: What kind of new events and workshops is CTL planning to incorporate for this year?

RB: One thing I think we’re doing new is we’re increasing opportunities to create events to put together faculty, grad students and students to talk about teaching and learning.

It’s very common for students to talk to each other about classes, and it’s very common for faculty to discuss how they’re teaching their classes, but it’s less common for students, TAs and faculty to sit around the same table to talk about teaching and learning. We want to bring more events that attract those different voices.

TSD: What are your top priorities for CTL?

RB: Everyone is time-stressed. Instructors make tough decisions about what to teach in class in their limited time and students make very elaborate strategies over what to study, what to produce and when. And honestly, we don’t make those decisions as well as we could. Research shows many other ways that are effective, habits that work better than memorizing, and we try to share that knowledge.

As for professors, if they can’t do anything directly to help their students, we help them develop their curriculum and teaching methods so that students retain more of the material at the end of the year.

We let them know, “What can I, as a student or professor do on a daily basis to make learning better?” We focus on what goes on in the classroom when the professor and the student or TA and students are together, live, and we try to optimize that experience.

TSD: What problems do you foresee in the development of your plans for CTL?

RB: I have to say I’m an optimist and I don’t see any barriers. But the big one is if we think that this is solely for CTL, that CTL owns the success and the initiative for how learning works. If we take it as a shared responsibility, it’s not a barrier at all. But if only a handful of people at CTL are trying to make it happen, it’s a barrier.

If there is any kind of barrier, it’s time. Making time and finding time to grow and implement programs. But I’m incredibly excited. Working at CTL is a blast. Many people here care about teaching and learning, and there is a tremendous amount of energy on campus. This is a great place to be a teaching and learning center. Everywhere on campus—from highest administration to day-to-day—values teaching and learning. For me it was a career shift when I moved from the faculty role into something like this, and I’ve been on cloud nine ever since.

A previous version of the article said Robyn Dunbar’s former position in the CTL was as assistant director. The Daily regrets this error.

Catherine Zaw was formerly the Managing Editor of News for Vol. 245 and Vol. 246. To contact her, please email [email protected].

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