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Teaching and Writing at Caltech: Past, Present, Future


Exhibit location:

Center for Student Services, Third Floor Common Area, with additional photographs in the adjacent Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach and Hixon Writing Center Suite. Visitors are welcome to see the exhibit Monday through Friday 9:00 am - noon and 1:00 - 4:00 pm, except for days that are Caltech holiday observances. Please contact in advance and let us know you plan to visit, especially if you are part of a group.

Complete exhibit text, captions, and references:


From the austere classrooms of the early days of Throop University to the diverse scenes of Caltech today, the activities of teaching, learning, and writing have intertwined in complex ways. In this exhibit, we explore those interrelationships as they echo across eras, through photographs and manuscripts that are unique to our institute.

The exhibit explores Caltech’s dynamic history of teaching and learning through six frames: Laboratory Learning, Field-based Learning, Informal Learning, Thinking at the Board, Classes and Demonstrations, and Acts of Writing. These frames help us to understand and appreciate the incredible diversity of the scenes and acts of learning that characterize the Caltech experience. 

Within each grouping, we encourage you to examine how some fundamental learning experiences seem to persist across many decades as well as how they evolve over time, changing in subtle or significant ways. Who teaches and who learns—their demographics and circumstances—are themes that are readily apparent in the images and relevant in light of Caltech’s history. How they teach and how they learn—the intensity, energy, engagement, collaboration, and thinking—also emerge as strong elements in these images, enduring across the decades. 

Over the past five years, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach and the Hixon Writing Center have intentionally incorporated photographs and an interest in visual rhetoric into their approaches to communicating about the nature of teaching and writing at Caltech. The use of images has helped to raise the profile of these central activities, engage internal and external audiences in reconsidering their importance, and reenvision their methods and meaning. An article and photo essay published in Caltech’s Engineering and Science Fall 2013 edition (pp. 28-31) is an example of such communication, which we now expand through this exhibit to include historical examples and show a wider range of recent images.

Historical photographs and manuscripts in this exhibit, along with information about their origins, are drawn from the Caltech Archives. Recent photographs feature the work of Martin Springborg and are part of a national, multi-institutional photo documentary endeavor, the Teaching and Learning Project. Also featured in the exhibit are photographs made by Caltech staff and students.

This exhibit was co-curated by Martin Springborg, photographer and faculty member at Minnesota State; Cassandra Volpe Horii, director of the Caltech Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach; and Susanne Hall, campus writing coordinator in the Hixon Writing Center and lecturer in writing. It was created in collaboration with Peter Collopy, university archivist and head of special collections, and staff of the Caltech Archives; support was provided by the Twenty-Seven Foundation as part of TeachWeek Caltech

Related Publications and Media: