Cynthia Golden reflects on her time at Teaching Center

This interview with Cynthia Golden appeared in the June 24 Teaching Center newsletter, shortly before she left her role as associate provost and executive director of the Teaching Center on June 30.  She sat down with Chris Gates, manager of communication and outreach, to reflect on her journey at Pitt and what the future holds for teaching and learning at Pitt.

Gates: As you prepare to depart, what have you been reflecting on the most from your time at Pitt?

Golden: As I reflect on my time at Pitt, what really stands out for me is that we have such a great community here. There is something special about our faculty, our staff, and our students. People are committed to this University. I’ve worked for a number of other institutions in my career, all wonderful places. But I think Pitt really stands out because of the way we care about each other. This care manifests itself in so many ways — our leaders work to create an environment where students and employees thrive, our faculty are committed to creating great learning experiences for students, our staff truly want to make a difference. In our center, we have a fantastic team of professionals who have gone to great lengths to support this academic community. For me, our Pitt people are our greatest asset.

Another thing that I love about Pitt is a culture that promotes collaboration and interdisciplinary work. The best ideas and the best products come from people working together, and the people at Pitt value that and live that. In the center, we have collaborated with some of our most talented faculty and staff, who are always willing to share what they know and to further the work of the center.

Gates: You earned your master’s degree at Pitt. What does it mean to you to have been able to serve in a leadership role where you are an alumna?

Golden: My Pitt degree, from (what is now) the School of Computing and Information, is what really launched me on a career in technology, higher education, and teaching and learning. I have always been more interested in the application of technologies and how we used them most effectively than I have been in developing tech itself, and Pitt enabled me to pursue that. I never imagined I would come back here, but when the opportunity arose, I thought it might be a good experience. I have really been honored to serve in a leadership role here, and to have contributed to the university that gave me such a valuable education.

Gates: When you arrived at Pitt, the Teaching Center was not called the Teaching Center. The landscape of teaching and learning looked dramatically different. Things have really changed. What stands out to you most about the transformation that has occurred over the past 13 years?

Golden: Things are dramatically different today. The old Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education was re-envisioned and re-launched as the University Center for Teaching and Learning. What stands out to me about that transformation is how much more we do now than we did then. We have an expanded portfolio of services, and we engage much more widely with the faculty than we when I arrived.

We have partnerships with organizations like the University Library System, Pitt IT, the Learning Research and Development Center, the School of Education, and many others that have enabled us to have a greater impact than in the past. For example, our ULS partnership is critical for the Open Lab, and our collaboration with Pitt IT has ensured a successful transition of the learning management system and support for faculty. The work we have done with LRDC has helped us apply research to practice. I could go on and on!

Our provost, Ann Cudd, and former Provost Patty Beeson, both put an emphasis on excellence in teaching, and our deans have as well. Supporting that idea has translated into a lot of business for us in the Teaching Center!

Gates: In thinking about the many things you accomplished at the Teaching Center, what are some of the things about which you are most proud?

Golden: First, let me say that any successes I have had have been because other people. I think overall the thing I am most proud of from my time at Pitt is building a terrific team. The University counts on us, whether it is to administer an exam in our Testing Center, conduct the Office of Measurement and Evaluation of Teaching (OMET) surveys, create a video for an online class, consult on a learning activity, or any of the myriad things we do on a daily basis.

Our staff are experts in their fields, come from a variety of disciplines, and provide a very broad range of support services to the campus. My goal was always to build not only a high-functioning team, but to also have our center be a place where people really wanted to work. I sure hope that is the case.

Of course, helping the University through the pandemic is probably one of the most significant activities of my time here. Successfully changing learning management systems by moving from Blackboard to Canvas, in the middle of it all, was quite a feat for all involved.

Building the Center for Diversity in the Curriculum has been another important effort to assist faculty in creating inclusive learning environments.

Another important point is that we are engaged across the University, so we have been involved in helping to create an accessibility policy, develop open educational resources, support community-engaged teaching, grow our online programs, and other teaching and learning activities that are founded on a collaborative approach.

Gates: The COVID-19 pandemic created dramatic change at Pitt in a very short period of time. This obviously accelerated change regarding how faculty teach, and how students learn, at Pitt. What stands out to you the most when you reflect back on what things were like in March 2020, as compared to where we sit now in May 2022.

Golden: When we headed into the pandemic, we had to quickly pivot to remote teaching. It was disruptive, and we continue to feel effects of that disruption. It has been a very stressful time for our students and faculty, but indeed it has accelerated change. We see greater interest in the use of technology in teaching, for example. I think that attitudes toward online learning are changing, too.

Gates: With your decades of experience in higher education, educational technology, and enterprise IT, what do you think will be the biggest changes we will see in higher education in the next decade?

Golden: As higher education changes, we will need to adapt. Online learning is certainly likely to take on a much larger role in higher education than in the past.

Effectively using the power of emerging technologies will become more important. So things like AI will become embedded into enterprise systems, we’ll be making even greater use of analytics for student success, and we’ll see the use of VR/AR/XR grow where it can really make a difference in teaching and learning.

I also think that more attention will (and should) be paid to privacy and security — we need policies and laws that govern the increased sharing of data, and we need to educate students and faculty not only about how to use data and analytics, but also about best practices in safeguarding their own information and that of others.