Advancing Teaching and Learning at UCLA

February 25, 2016

UCLA Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost

Deans and Faculty

Dear Colleagues,

UCLA has an enviable record of providing our students with an outstanding education, and we have devoted considerable effort to ensuring excellence in teaching and curriculum. We offer students a rich array of service-learning, research, study abroad and other active learning opportunities; we have innovative interdisciplinary programs such as the Freshmen Clusters; and our academic support services are nationally recognized. We are proud that well over 90 percent of students who enter UCLA as freshmen earn bachelor’s degrees within six years.

At this time, a confluence of events compels us to devote renewed attention to advancing teaching and learning at UCLA. The changing demographic profile of our student body means that we need to be fully attuned to our students’ experiences in the classroom and to the ways in which we can ensure that students succeed and get the most out of their time at UCLA. We must study what happens inside our classrooms so that we can foster greater equity and inclusiveness and ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to advance steadily toward their degrees.

An outstanding report completed in December 2015 by Professor Sylvia Hurtado and Dean Victoria Sork confirms that more needs to be and can be done. Enhancing Student Success and Building Inclusive Classrooms at UCLA clearly highlights the impact of teaching practices and classroom climate on student outcomes, and it reinforces the need for renewed attention to pedagogy and student learning at UCLA, particularly in light of increasing diversity in the classroom. I urge you to read it and consider the implications for your teaching.

The report also demonstrates how new tools at our disposal can be used to analyze large data sets in order to identify the conditions that support academic achievement for all students. Such analyses allow us to improve our understanding of student learning and enhance our teaching practices.

External forces also direct our attention to pedagogy and student outcomes. A mandate to increase undergraduate enrollment over the next three years only underscores the need to help students progress expeditiously to their degrees. As part of this year’s budget settlement, the legislature and the governor are holding the UC campuses accountable for improving graduation rates and time-to-degree. The state and the UC Office of the President are also encouraging UC campuses to develop online and hybrid courses, which raises important questions about course development, pedagogy and assessment.

Many units are already acting to improve pedagogy. For example, the Humanities Division, supported by a recent grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is undertaking a project called Excellence in Pedagogy and Innovative Classrooms that is intended to transform teaching and learning in the humanities. The Center for Education Innovation & Learning in the Sciences is supporting the development of a community of instructors committed to advancing teaching excellence in STEM fields. Several professional schools have revised their curricula in order to foster active learning and problem solving.

The Office of Instructional Development, the Graduate Division and many academic units are reviewing existing resources for TA training and considering how to better prepare our graduate students as teachers. Also, my office is working with OID and others to expand offerings of online and hybrid courses that are engaging, rigorous and inclusive.

To strengthen campuswide attention on pedagogy and student learning, I am taking the following steps:

  • First, I have asked each dean to discuss the Hurtado and Sork report in a meeting with department chairs or another appropriate setting, with a focus on what the results mean for each department’s course design and teaching.
  • Second, in collaboration with Academic Senate Chair Leobardo Estrada, I will convene a working group that will develop plans to implement the recommendations in the report, take other steps to incorporate active learning into education and ensure equity in the classroom. In this context, an ongoing review of the Office of Instructional Development will provide an important opportunity to analyze and address how we can best support the development of our faculty and TAs as outstanding teachers.
  • Third, the Office of Academic Planning and Budget and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion will be developing data dashboards that allow deans and chairs to review basic data on enrollment, student performance, student climate reports and outcomes for their schools, divisions and departments. These reports will facilitate conversations with faculty and TAs about classroom barriers to learning, retention and timely progress to degree.

Mandated enrollment growth gives some urgency to these measures. Chancellor Block and I have made undergraduate education a priority for funding — including hiring faculty and lecturers, adding course sections, increasing the number of TAs, adding capacity to our residence halls, adding academic advisors and student services staff, and using technology to increase students’ access to needed courses and services. We also need to work to maintain the quality of instruction for our students so that they will have an equitable and inclusive experience in order to thrive at UCLA and beyond. I welcome your ideas for improving the quality of undergraduate education, particularly in the context of this enrollment growth. Please send me your suggestions at

As a public institution, UCLA is responsible for ensuring that our students have the skills, confidence and commitment to engage in work, family and public life in a meaningful and productive manner. We are invested in their success as students and as citizens. I encourage all of us to talk about teaching and learning with our colleagues, to seek out information and training, to innovate and to assess our effectiveness as teachers.


Scott L. Waugh
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost