‘Students learn a passion for truth’: Baylor ranks in top 10 best learning communities

Matthew Brammer, professor of journalism, new media and public relations, is one of many professors who contribute to the best of Baylor's learning communities. Mia Crawford | Photographer

By Caleb Wheeler | Staff Writer

Baylor has made headlines again, landing the No. 10 spot in U.S. News and World Report’s top 10 learning communities.

Dr. Christopher Richmann, assistant professor for teaching and learning, works with the Academy for Teaching and Learning to support professors.

“The rankings … on learning communities are going to probably reflect more the things that are happening outside of the classroom than things are happening in the classroom, as ironic as that might sound, because those rankings are reputational,” Richmann said. “What I mean by that is U.S. News and World Report doesn’t send a roving reporter to colleges to find out what’s happening; what they do is they ask other leaders in higher education.”

Richmann said such reports are based on professional feedback, not classroom experience. Regardless, he said he thinks classroom involvement is just as vital and bleeds into the community indirectly. That classroom experience is where the Academy for Teaching and Learning becomes a tool for professors, teaching the skills they don’t acquire in graduate school.

“That’s why something like the Academy for Teaching and Learning exists, because we recognize that faculty … don’t come into a job like this trained how to teach,” Richmann said. “So when they have questions about teaching, they want one place they can go to that kind of serves the whole community [of professors].”

Dr. Jason Whitt, senior lecturer in medical humanities, said he considers not only what he teaches but also how he teaches it.

“I think about my pedagogy in terms of how I teach the class such that it’s not just content,” Whitt said. “But I’m also thinking about the things that my teaching practices are teaching, so how do I cultivate kinds of virtues in the classroom? Content matters, certainly — but it is also the very ways that I teach, the structure of assignments, classroom activities that cultivate virtues of attentiveness, humility, charity and community.”

Whitt said he structures his classes with the mindset of wanting students to listen not only to him but also to each other, which is why he starts the first day of classes with students talking to each other before him. Whitt said he focuses on three main questions to help students grow not only as learners but also as people.

“Those things that teach the lessons that are underneath the actual content: Does this person next to me matter? How do I approach things with humility? How do I read with attention?” Whitt said.

Whitt said an important lesson he tries to teach is the habit of attending to a person the same way one attends to a text, being attentive and present while absorbing everything without distraction.

“I do think how we teach is what brings the Christian part [of Baylor education] in —that my neighbor matters to my learning, … that students learn a passion for truth and beauty, and that wonder and generosity drives our study,” Whitt said. “What we aim at is what makes education Christian. We don’t just amass knowledge or skills, but we recognize [what] our education is to some end. That end, I believe, is wisdom. So our ultimate goal in Christian higher education is to make wise students who know how to use all that they learn to serve God and their neighbors.”