No one teaches Ph.D.s how to teach students.
It’s a truism that James M. Lang, Ph.D., a retired English professor from Assumption University and the author of a 20-year teaching and learning column in The Chronicle of Higher Education, knew as soon as he received his own doctorate from Northwestern University in 1997.
“My first job was assistant director at Northwestern’s Center for Teaching Excellence, where I served for three years,” Lang says. “I found it fascinating that this process had been missing from all the training people receive. I started to study teaching and learning, and writing about it myself.”
Now, after deciding to retire from his tenured professor position at Assumption, Lang has agreed to join Eckerd College as the 2021–2022 Presidential Innovation Fellow to share his research on teaching and learning with Eckerd’s faculty and provide consultation during the launches of the Nielsen Center for the Liberal Arts and the St. Petersburg Center for Engaged Citizenship and Social Impact.
“Liberal arts institutions like Eckerd,” Lang says,” pride themselves on offering a holistic education to their students, with attention not only to learning but to community-building and student well-being. The research on teaching and learning in higher education has implications for our work in all of these areas, and I hope to inject some of that research into the conversations already happening at Eckerd, and see if it can further expand what Eckerd provides for its students and the community.”
Lang first made his Eckerd connection after he announced his retirement in his column for The Chronicle. President Damián Fernández, Ph.D., reached out to ask if he wanted to bring his vast teaching and learning research to sunnier climes. As the author of several books on collegiate education—including On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching; Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty; Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning; and his most recent, Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It—Lang has skills that Fernandez thought would benefit his small liberal arts college.
“Jim Lang brings us extensive experience, brilliant insight and rich creativity as we begin to pursue key initiatives in our Strategic Plan,” Fernández said. “We are delighted that he has chosen to partner with us to provide professional development opportunities for faculty and consult on our efforts to better connect with the St. Petersburg community.”
While serving as the Presidential Innovation Fellow, Lang will give several public lectures, hold seminars and workshops for Eckerd College faculty and Nielsen Center for the Liberal Arts Fellows, meet with faculty and administrators at the College, and provide a draft proposal for a Center for Teaching Excellence at Eckerd. He’ll spend a week each month on campus getting to know Eckerd and using his observations to inform his ongoing research and writing projects.
In between lecturing and writing, Lang says he hopes to get in some winter rounds of golf and visits to his father in Stuart, Florida. The husband of a kindergarten teacher and father of five relishes the chance to continue his work in a setting as idyllic as Eckerd’s waterfront community.
“I’m a proponent of place-based learning, and I like to get out into the community,” Lang says. “There’s the idea of great learning experiences and the grounded curriculum that really engages the local environment, and I’m intrigued by that and how it manifests.”
James M. Lang, Ph.D.