SoTL Leadership Biography

During Fall of 2015, I was part of the National University of Singapore cohort for the Faculty SoTL Leadership program. This program, run by Dr. Harry Hubball of UBC, offers a graduate certificate from the University of British Columbia in the Leadership of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). The exercise required me to develop a number of written pieces, one of which included a “Scholarly Educational Leadership Dossier” which was subtitled “A Reflective and Integrated Analysis of Practice.” The exercise required me to identify what “my practice” was – which is a mix of teaching, research and administrative efforts. We also had to identify what we felt were our major impacts which are outlined in the report below. One of the most interesting parts was to describe my “methodology” and how we assessed our success. This part was particularly challenging but once done was perhaps the most valuable part of the exercise. Working on many projects requires one to assess these projects and to determine whether they are going well. It was quite interesting to try to find a mix of methods that would enable me to assess how these projects were going and my solution drew from some of the SoTL literature we were reading in our course.

Scholarly Educational Leadership Dossier: A Reflective and Integrated Analysis of Practice

 Bryan E. Penprase

Director, Centre for Teaching and Learning and Professor of Science (Astrophysics and Physics)

Yale-NUS College, Singapore

  1. Introduction 
  1. Philosophy
  1. Major Impacts
  1. Methodology: Assessment and Evaluation


 I am a Professor of Science at Yale-NUS College, Singapore, the founding Director of the Yale-NUS College Centre for Teaching and Learning, and the Frank P. Brackett Professor of Astronomy at Pomona College. I joined Pomona’s faculty in 1993, and served as Chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department from 2007 until 2011. During academic year 2012-2013, I was an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow based at Yale University, working with the Yale President-elect Peter Salovey, to foster innovative curriculum and science teaching at Yale and the new Yale/NUS college, and to help improve the diversity and retention of students in STEM fields. While at Yale, I helped lead the development of the Yale-NUS curriculum as a member of the inaugural curriculum committee and was a co-author of the landmark report on Yale-NUS College entitled “Yale-NUS College – A New Community of Learning.” I also served on the Yale Summer Bridge Program Advisory Committee, consulted with the Yale Provost’s office on topics such as online learning and science at Yale, and worked with the Yale Internationalization Office to strengthen ties with Indian institutions, as well as co-organizing a conference with Yale and the Raman Research Institute (RRI) on “The Future of Liberal Arts in India” at the RRI Bangalore campus in January 2013. During academic year 2013-14 I served as co-Director of the Liberal Arts Consortium for Online Learning (LACOL), chaired the Pomona College Future Learning Technologies Committee, served as Chair of the Science Division, and served on the Executive Committee.

Since coming to Yale-NUS College in Singapore in 2014, I have led a number of global initiatives, which have included development of new Summer Undergraduate Research Internship programs in India and Taiwan, design and implementation of a plan for creating a Teaching and Learning Center at Yale-NUS College, and serving as chair of the Teaching, Learning and Advising Committee. As a leader at Yale-NUS in curriculum development, I coordinate a group of eight professors who are offering a course known as “Foundations of Science” which all of the non-science majors at Yale-NUS College experience. The course is an interdisciplinary exploration of science, culminating in a three-week case study known as the “Grand Challenge” project, where teams of four students solve a pressing problem facing the planet.

I received both a BS in Physics and an MS in Applied Physics from Stanford University in 1985, and a PhD from the University of Chicago in Astronomy and Astrophysics in 1992. Before coming to Pomona, I was an NRC Postdoctoral Fellow at Caltech, and a pre-doctorial fellow at the Space Telescope Science Institute, in Baltimore, MD. My research includes nearly all aspects of observational astrophysics, from photometric observations of nearby asteroids to spectroscopic studies of element formation in the early universe, using telescopes ranging from the Pomona College 1-meter telescope to the Keck Telescope in Hawaii. I have authored or co-authored over 47 peer-reviewed articles, most recently in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal, but also in Nature and Science. My research team at Caltech has recently been awarded a $9-million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a new facility known as the “Zwicky Transient Facility,” and in this capacity I direct the undergraduate and educational programs for this international project. I am also the author of “The Power of Stars – How Celestial Observations Have Shaped Civilization,” published by Springer, Inc., and am working on my second book, “The New Age of STEM Teaching and Learning,” to be published by Stylus Books.


 My philosophy of teaching and learning is based on applying two terms – “relevance” and “authenticity.” These two words to me encompass all the best types of teaching and learning. By “relevance” I am referring to the ways in which good curriculum can be designed to resonate with a student’s personal experience, environment, and conceptual framework and aspirations. By “authenticity” I am referring to both the in-class experience of honest, enthusiastic, engaged communication, with classroom examples of topics that are real-world applications of the subject, or the latest published “cutting-edge” research.

Breaking down the philosophy into its two component parts – Teaching and Learning – I have the following main elements in my philosophy. For my philosophy of learning, I am working to incorporate a convergence of cognitive science, technology, and psychology into my practice. My philosophy of teaching includes these elements:

Learning is a skill that anyone can develop – Psychological studies have provided new insights into learning and intelligence. Drawing from the research of the cognitive psychology group at Stanford University (Dweck, 1999; Dweck and Leggett, 1988; O’Keefe, 2012), I have been inspired by the dualism of incremental vs. fixed frames of intelligence and ability, and the ways in which these outlooks influence learning. These studies have highlighted how incremental theories, in which competency development is stressed, can enable students to persist longer on tasks and reach higher levels of achievement than those students who adopt an “entity” theory in which intelligence and abilities are seen to be limited and fixed. Fostering these attitudes in students through appropriate assessments and messages in class can enable far greater achievement and learning than more competitive and normative formats, and this has had a major influence on my teaching.

Learning is curiosity-driven and experience-based. As says the quote from Plutarch, “the mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” Having students explore topics that they propose and that arise naturally from their own questions is the surest path to engagement. Coupling the student’s curiosity to carefully designed experiences in the field provides even more significant learning, and my approach to teaching tries wherever possible to provide both. The experiential learning cycle (Kolb and Kolb, 2005, Kolb, 1984) has been shown to reinforce learning by repeating cycles of concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualism, active experimentation, and then more experiences. This type of empirical form of learning enables students to repeatedly test and modify their concepts, based on experiences that provide authentic learning (Lombardi, 2007).

Students learn by constructing their own knowledge. Ken Bain, in his books on teaching and learning (Bain, 2004, 2012) emphasizes that students “construct their knowledge” and in the process both remove misconceptions and build new frameworks of knowledge that arise from their own questioning and experience. This theory of learning requires active learning and experience, to enable the student’s own mind to assemble a valid conceptual framework.

These notions of learning have created my philosophy of teaching, which attempts to foster learning in ways that have been shown to work by educational research, with an emphasis as mentioned on maintaining authenticity and relevance at all times, and with strong emphasis on experience and active learning strategies in the classroom. The main elements of my teaching philosophy include the principles outlined below:

 Teaching Needs to be Active – I have been heavily influenced by the ideas of “constructive alignment” (Biggs and Tang, 2011; Biggs, 1996) in which the process of classroom management is more important than a traditional “content-driven” style of lecturing. Teaching with carefully designed teaching and learning activities (TLAs) to promote intended learning outcomes (ILOs) followed by assessments, efficiently develops skills and new cognitive frameworks for students.

Teaching has deep cultural and psychological groundings. In addition to notions of performance and “fixed” vs. “incremental” frames described above, a classroom is a complex environment in which the psychology and cultural backgrounds of students have to be accounted for in teaching. Parker Palmer (Palmer 2007) describes teaching as neither “professor-centered” nor “student-centered,” but rather subject-centered – in which a teacher can create a space which bridges the separation between teacher and student that arise from generational and cultural differences. The Intergroup Contact theory (Forsyth, 2009) provides a framework for bringing groups of different cultures together through an environment that creates equal status, common goals, intergroup cooperation, awareness of local culture, and personal interaction. My teaching attempts to create these elements to create a classroom in which students can collaborate and build a sense of interdependence.

Teaching should be rooted in Assessable Learning Outcomes. In designing courses, the Learning Outcomes should dictate the nature of activities for in-class activities and assignments (Handelsman, 2007). These outcomes should dictate the content included in a course, and should provide the basis for the assessments, which are the primary elements within a course.

Teaching can be enhanced by Technology. In many cases active learning can be fostered by the judicious use of technology, as has been demonstrated in using clickers for peer learning (Mazur, 1996). I have actively adopted new techniques of technology-enhanced teaching such as clickers, self-graded online quizzes, computer simulations, video-conferenced discussions and flipped classrooms in an effort to empower students to become more active and to help them visualize and connect with the materials.

Academic Leadership in Teaching and Curriculum Development for me is grounded in the notion that good leadership is ultimately a form of teaching. Good leadership needs to be empowering – and to give all members in an organization as sense that their voice matters, and that ultimately the leader is serving the institution – a notion sometimes described as Servant Leadership (Greenleaf, 2002). Good leadership, like good teaching, has to maintain its own relevance and authenticity, by making sure that the leader is responsive to the experience and interests of their group, and that the leader embodies the values of the institution. The psychological and cultural components of leadership requires one to listen and to respect the different viewpoints of people in the organization, as they embody an expansion of perspective and knowledge in the group that if fully incorporated will enhance the excellence of the group. Within this conception is a strong belief that active listening will ultimately exert the greatest impact on others by recognizing their viewpoints and learning from their ideas. Any messages from the leader should include an awareness of the four frames of leadership (Bolman and Deal, 2008), and adequately address all four of the Structural, Human Resource, Political, and Symbolic frames. Good leaders employ communication that is transparent, honest, and accurate – with rigorous use of data in decision-making – just as good teachers are ultimately communicators, who benefit from research-validated pedagogy.


Impact Statement

During my career as a professor and leader in teaching and education, I have had impacts in four primary areas – undergraduate curriculum, innovative national and international initiatives and consortia, new international programs for fostering student research and global liberal arts, and technology-enhanced teaching and learning. Each area is described below in separate sections.

Undergraduate Curriculum. Through my work at Pomona, Yale University and Yale-NUS College, I have been responsible for several ground-breaking initiatives in undergraduate education. I was a member of the inaugural curriculum committee, and a co-author of the Yale-NUS College curriculum document (Garsten, et al, 2013). Other innovative initiatives at Pomona College include the Fletcher Jones Foundation Astrophysical Computing Initiative, in which I was responsible for leading the development of online astrophysics simulations for undergraduates, as well as an online remotely operated observatory. At Pomona College I led an effort that enabled the construction a new $1-million Digital Immersive Theatre at Pomona College for interdisciplinary visualizations in the sciences, the arts and humanities. As part of my Caltech research collaboration, we have been awarded $5-million from NSF to develop a global network of astronomical observatories, coupled with an educational initiative that will develop a set of international astronomy courses. In this effort, I will be leading the development of parallel multi-campus observational astronomy courses in a format sometimes designated as a DOCC (Distributed Open Collaborative Course). Our initial partners include Pomona College, Caltech, Haverford and Williams College, and we hope to add our international partners in Taiwan, India, Israel, Germany and Sweden to the collaboration.

National and International Initiatives and Consortia. I have led a number of innovative national and international consortia for advancing science education and liberal arts. Since 1995 I have been part of the national Project Kaleidoscope (or PKAL) effort to reform science education. I was a member of the first class of the PKAL leadership institute as a junior faculty, and later served as a senior faculty mentor in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Under the auspices of the American Astronomical Society, and the American Physical Society, I represented Pomona College at National Astronomy and Physics Chairs Meetings, and worked with other department chairs to lobby for increased funding, and to improve physics and astronomy education with an emphasis on increasing equity and diversity in our STEM workforce. Other national educational efforts include hosting the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s biennial national astronomy education conference entitled “Cosmos in the Classroom” in 2007, co-founding and directing the Southern California PKAL regional network for science education (culminating in a regional PKAL meeting at Pomona in 2010). In 2012 I was invited to a Gordon Conference at Colby College, Maine in 2012 to present my work on “Astronomy Research and Physics Education.” I also serve as a member of the Advisory Board for the MIT/NAE task force on “Liberal Studies in Engineering,” working with other national leaders in STEM education to establish a new Engineering Curriculum that blends humanities, sciences, and arts with a more interdisciplinary approach to design. In January of 2015 I chaired a panel discussion in Washington D.C. at NAE, entitled “Transcending Silos in Colleges and Universities.” In May of 2015, I was also invited to join in the Harvard China Fund “Dialog on Global Liberal Arts and Sciences” in Shanghai, China, and my presentation on liberal arts and science education in India and Singapore is going to be published as part of the conference proceedings.

International Programs for Student Research and Global Liberal Arts. From my work at Yale-NUS College in Singapore I have helped develop a student exchange program between Yale-NUS College and Pomona College, and have helped Yale-NUS College expand their summer research programs and to include international students and to expand into new countries. I have hosted and co-organized two conferences on the “Future of Liberal Arts and Sciences in India,” and have met with the Presidents of major universities in China (such as Tsinghua University in Beijing, NYU Shanghai and Duke Kunshan University) to discuss liberal arts undergraduate programs in Asia. At Pomona College, I founded a summer Research Education for Undergraduates (REU) program at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena that has enabled Claremont College undergraduates to conduct astronomy research in Pasadena, California and the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Our NSF PIRE proposal at Caltech will create a collaborative global network of observatories in Japan, Taiwan, India, Europe and California that also will enable student and faculty exchanges among our international partners. I have also been a leader in the new Luce Foundation proposal entitled “Envirolabs Asia” which is funding an interdisciplinary study of environmental issues in Asia, involving faculty from the Claremont Colleges and Yale-NUS College, who will explore this research with teams of students from both institutions.

Technology-Enhanced Teaching and Learning. As chair of the Pomona College Teaching and Learning Committee and later as Chair of the Future Learning Technologies Committee I arranged for workshops and discussions about technology-enhanced learning, and supervised grant programs for technology-enhanced teaching. As co-Director of the LACOL consortium, I met with Presidents, Provosts, CIOs and faculty from eight of our liberal arts institutions, and discussed ways in which we could expand technology-enhanced teaching. This work included hosting a national conference at Pomona College, and meeting with the founders of the online education providers Coursera and EdX. During my work at Yale-NUS College, I have arranged meetings with Yale Online, the Yale Summer School, and the NUS CDTL to develop online courses and lectures to link Yale-NUS College and Yale University in New Haven. From these efforts, several pilot programs are underway to link Yale-NUS College with institutions in North America and Asia.



 At Yale-NUS College a standard set of performance reviews are conducted for faculty members, in which each professor is evaluated by the Division Director and Dean for their quality of teaching and research. I am participating in this program, as well as in an independent review of my performance as Director for the Center of Teaching and Learning. Within the “blueprint” document I wrote defining the Teaching and Learning Center, I included a specific set of deliverables that included academic year programming, visiting scholars of pedagogy, conference planning and faculty development programs for new incoming and experienced faculty. The assessment of these programs will be conducted by the Vice President of Academic Affairs, the President and the Dean of the College.

In addition to these standard formal procedures for assessment, I rely on feedback from Yale-NUS faculty to guide our programming at the Center. Our feedback channels include online surveys, solicitation of comments from email and in-person interviews, and discussions with peer institutions such as NUS and NTU to compare our programs with theirs. Throughout the year I will be providing multiple consultations, programming and resource guides, and we will be surveying faculty on the effectiveness of these offerings.

Our Foundations of Science (FOS) course is also being assessed carefully using a set of in-person focus group interviews and online survey instruments, such as the Science Attitude Survey (Glynn, 2006). Deep assessment, which includes critical reflective writing about our learning outcomes (Ash and Clayton, 2009) will be conducted using research-validated techniques for generating prompts for reflective writing and interviews with carefully and randomly selected students to form a representative sample. These assessments will help us determine whether our Foundations of Science course is effective, and form the template for future assessments of other of our science courses. I am hoping to expand the number and sophistication of assessments for other of our courses at Yale-NUS College, and will be meeting with course coordinators to design and implement assessments across the Yale-NUS College in the coming year. The SoTL course has provided valuable training in necessary methodologies to conduct the FOS assessment, and this forms the basis of my capstone project. Within the SoTL course I also have realized that the authentic assessment of student learning is a key component of my educational practice and I hope to implement and measure effectiveness of both courses I teach and curriculum I lead in terms of authentic assessment and alignment between espoused, enacted and experienced learning outcomes.

This SoTL course has also taught me that the Scholarship of Curriculum Practice (SoCP) requires constant attention to assessment of effectiveness across both horizontally and vertically integrated curriculum, and to measure the learning outcomes systematically. In my practice as an educational leader, I hope to employ the same methodologies of sound SoCP that were described in the podcast by Joanna Bates. In her work she is sure to use program evaluation indicators that include short-term indicators, medium and long-term indicators. The methodology I can employ to assess the effectiveness of my practice can also employ such indicators, which for each timeframe will rely on a mix of quantitative and qualitative data. For short-term indicators, I can rely on consistent and positive evaluations from students, positive feedback from colleagues, and frequent and increasing numbers of requests for advice and input from my faculty on matters related to teaching and learning and to larger policies of educational leadership from the administrators at Yale-NUS College. The medium term indicators would include invitations to speak at conferences, invitations for high-level meetings to discuss educational policy, and increasing levels of influence both within the Yale-NUS campus and at NUS and beyond through improved contacts and high level consultations with academic leaders in the region. Longer term indicators of success would include traditional metrics such as publications and citations and also the impacts of my projects as indicated by external reviews of the Yale-NUS Curriculum, monographs on teaching and learning that I have co-edited or wrote (with subsequent feedback and sales), and even adoption of some of the curriculum practices disseminated through some of the educational research we will be conducting at Yale-NUS College.

Ultimately the methodology I employ in my work as an educational leader should follow the framework for “good practice” in SoTL (Felton, 2013). To this end I should ground my work in an effort that is always focused on student learning, be grounded within the context of each project and problem I am working on, which may also require flexibility in adopting the correct methodology for each problem. This framework also prescribes that work be done in partnership with students in a manner that is appropriately public, while soliciting feedback from diverse stakeholders, and providing clear and transparent communication about the motivations and background research that informs policy recommendations and curriculum. These recommendations for good practice in SoTL were developed for educational research, but apply generally to educational leadership and provide a great example of how SoTL can naturally promote effective educational leadership – something I am hoping to accomplish through an awareness and of the research-validated approaches to education discussed in this course.



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