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James Groccia

Director of the Biggio Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning
Associate professor of educational foundations, leadership and technology

James Groccia is the Director of the Biggio Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. In April, he was awarded a Fulbright grant to study as a visiting scholar in Estonia this fall, where he will spend a semester at the University of Tartu. Groccia served as the keynote speaker at a January 2011 conference hosted by the university. He is also an associate professor of educational leadership and is a former president of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD Network). Since 2003, Groccia has taught graduate courses each year as part of Auburn University's 12-hour graduate certificate, which prepares graduate students from all disciplines for academic careers.

1. Tell us about your Fulbright Scholar grant. How did you become interested in Estonia?

I was invited to apply for this Fulbright by the rector (president) at the University of Tartu (UT) and the Estonian Ministry of Education as a result of conducting faculty training institutes there the past two summers.  UT is one of the best and oldest universities in the region, and I felt like this would be a great place to consult and learn about higher education.  I have developed an interest in international perspectives on college and university life and have included related material in the two graduate courses that I have been teaching in the Department of Educational Foundations, Leadership and Technology. The Fulbright will provide "up close and personal" exposure to the everyday lives of academics that will be invaluable to my teaching and my students.

2. What does it mean to you to be selected for such an honor?

This is hard to express. Ever since I was in high school I have respected the work of Sen. J. William Fulbright and the international understanding mission of the program. Fulbright was one of my early political heroes, so to actually be a Fulbright scholar has great importance to me and signals a personal accomplishment that goes beyond any public recognition. Being selected for this award also signals recognition of two fine academic institutions, Auburn University and the University of Tartu, and their contributions to the enhancement of teaching and learning.

3. What other countries will you visit during your semester, and what will you do there?

I am planning to visit the two other Baltic countries, Latvia and Lithuania. Together with Estonia, these countries share a similar history of conquest, domination and liberation. It will be interesting to see how the three countries are developing convergent and divergent paths to educational, social and political reform. Depending on time limitations, I am also hoping to visit Sweden, Denmark and Finland, as I have a number of colleagues there that have developed comprehensive faculty development programs from which we can learn. I would also like to visit St. Petersburg, Russia, as one of the world's great art museums is located there.

4. The Biggio Center's vision states, "In the 21st century, the Biggio Center will emerge as one of the nation's premier academic development centers supporting Auburn University's attainment of educational excellence." What would you say is the single most important function of what you and your staff do?

Probably the most important thing we do is support faculty who want to enhance their teaching, and as a result, improve the quality of student learning.  We do this in direct ways (individual consultations, mid-semester student feedback procedures, etc.) as well as indirect ways through working with committees and advising on policies and procedures that support quality teaching.  Additionally, we mentor new faculty and graduate students aspiring to future faculty careers on evidence-based teaching strategies that engage students more directly in the learning process.  On a personal level, I have been fortunate to work on a number of books on teaching and learning that have had wide distribution and (hopefully) influence.

5. How long have you been at Auburn and why is it such a special place?

I have just completed my eighth academic year at Auburn.  Auburn is special because the Auburn people make it special.  The affection for and sense of connection with Auburn and its traditions held by Auburn faculty, students, staff and alums is greater than any place I have previously studied or worked.  The people I work with care deeply about Auburn and strive to make this a better place for all.

May 16, 2011