Email Communications

Email communications to NIU faculty, teaching staff, and graduate teaching assistants from the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning

Fall 2023

Call for Nominations for Outstanding TA Awards - 9/14/2023New

Department Chairs and School Directors:

We are pleased to announce the call for nominations for Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Awards for the 2023-2024 academic year. You can find the details and submission guidelines at and please forward this email to your Director of Graduate Studies.

Traditionally, the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant nominations have occurred during the spring semester. However, to align with the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools Excellence in Teaching Award, we have moved the nominations to the fall semester. This will allow CITL and the Graduate School time to work with one recipient of the award at the master’s and doctoral levels to develop a nomination packet for the regional award.

Each academic or academic support unit that employs graduate TAs for teaching and related activities is invited to nominate two (2) outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistants, one at the master’s level and the other at the doctoral level, from its department/school for the awards.

Nominations can be submitted by the department chair/school director or designee. Nominators must complete the nomination form (Word doc) for each nominee, although you may also provide additional supporting documents.  We encourage nominations to be as descriptive as possible in supporting the nominee, and to include additional evidence such as student testimonials, course evaluations, or samples of teaching materials. 

Email the entire nomination, including any supporting documents, by Friday, November 3, 2023, to with the subject line “Nomination for 2023-2024 Outstanding TA Awards”.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Jason Rhode
Associate Vice Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Digital Education

Reminders for starting the semester with Blackboard - 8/17/2023

Requesting a new course on Blackboard 

Your courses are not automatically listed in Blackboard; you must request your courses to be able to build them. NEW this semester - when requesting a course, you must specify whether you want the course to be created in Original or Ultra Course View.

After logging into, click the Tools tab at the left of the page, followed by Blackboard Faculty Tools. Click My Courses and then follow the prompts to request your upcoming courses. (Instructions and step-by-step tutorials for requesting your course are also available.) In order to request a Blackboard course, you must be the "instructor of record" for the course in the MyNIU system.

Those teaching dual-level courses (e.g. 400 and 500 or cross-listed courses) or multiple sections may want to combine their sections into a single course. You must be instructor of record for both sections to be able to combine the courses. The resulting combined course will include all of the students from both sections and will be identified with "PRIM" in the course name (this replaces the previous master course/secondary course language for the same feature).

Course requests are processed immediately. It takes an additional day for someone newly assigned as instructor of record in MyNIU to have permission to request the course in Blackboard. Learn more about requesting Blackboard courses.

Accessing your courses

You can access all of your courses from the current and previous semesters by clicking Courses at the left of the page. Use the Current Courses drop down menu to select the appropriate term. Fall courses will be listed under Upcoming Courses until the start date. For quick and convenient access, you can use the search tool to find a specific course and you can favorite the courses you use most frequently by clicking the star icon. Learn more about the Courses page.

Ultra Course View

For the Fall 2023 semester, faculty may choose whether to teach in the Ultra Course View or the Original Course View. NIU is planning for a full migration to the Ultra Course View by December 31, 2023; we highly recommend teaching Fall 2023 courses in the Ultra Course View or participating in the Ultra Transition Academy this fall to prepare for spring. 

The Ultra Course View is cleaner and more modern than the Original Course View. You are able to preview and convert your course to the Ultra Course View if you are interested in using it. NEW this semester, you must choose whether you want your courses to be created in Original or Ultra Course View at the time that you request your courses. If you choose Original Course View, you can use the Ultra conversion tool to change your course to Ultra after you request it (but before you open it to students). 

Many new features have been added to Ultra Course View this summer (like an updated flexible grading workflow, the ability to upload test questions from a .txt file, thumbnail images for learning modules, anonymous grading for tests, and much more!). 

In addition, faculty can attend an upcoming workshop, complete the self-paced Transitioning to Blackboard Ultra Course View workshop, watch tutorials on Ultra Course View, or schedule an individual consultation to discuss their course.

Open your course with confidence and welcome students 

We recommend making your course available to students a few days early with a welcome message, to help them anticipate the structure and expectations of the course. Your course may open automatically at the date you specified when you requested your course in Blackboard, or you can open it manually if you did not set a date. This has led to some confusion in the past about whether a course is really "open" or not, but the Course Availability Settings tool, custom-built by the Division of IT, will tell you definitively whether your course is open and let you modify any of the availability settings, including the start date of the course.

Adding an image and name pronunciation to your profile

Did you know you can customize your profile in Blackboard to include a profile image and your name pronunciation? It's an easy step that can help students to feel more connected to you. In the Ultra Course View, your profile image appears on the Course Content page and in Messages; both your image and name pronunciation appear on the Roster and in Discussions. In the Original Course View, your profile appears in Discussions. Your students can also customize their profile with an image and name pronunciation, which are visible to their classmates. 

Customizing email notifications

The most important information from across your courses, like new materials, discussion posts or replies, assignment and test submissions, or grades will be automatically emailed to you daily as a digest each night. You will only receive the daily digest email if there was activity in at least one of your courses. You can modify your notification settings to determine what you see in the daily digest emails from your profile or by clicking the gear icon in the upper right of the Activity Stream. Uncheck any notification you do not wish to receive; uncheck all of the items on the email tab to stop receiving the Daily Digest emails. Learn more about the Activity Stream and Notifications.

Learn more about Blackboard

The Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning regularly schedules workshops on using Blackboard for teaching purposes. Faculty, Instructors, and Teaching Assistants receive the program schedule via email each month, or you can view the list of upcoming programs on our website. 

For those who cannot attend any of the scheduled sessions, CITL has created self-paced workshops on Transitioning to the Ultra Course View and an Introduction to Blackboard Original Course View.  

The Teaching and Learning with Blackboard site contains instructions, tutorials, and other helpful information related to using Blackboard for your courses, including answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

For login and password-related questions, please contact the IT Service Desk at 815-753-8100 or, or use the Division of IT Self-Service system to submit a ticket. For other teaching-related Blackboard questions, faculty can submit questions at


Stephanie Richter
Director of Teaching Excellence and Support

Teaching resources to begin the semester - 8/16/2023

Dear New Faculty Colleagues:

Again, welcome to NIU! I wanted to share some information and links to a few of the resources that will be most helpful to you this week as you prepare to teach your first semester. You can find these and much more at the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL) website –

New to Teaching at NIU
Find course policies, teaching policies, and teaching-related resources to help you start your teaching career at NIU successfully!

Syllabus Toolkit
Find guides, checklists, and statements to include in your syllabus as you design a course syllabus to best meet your teaching style, course content, activities, and departmental requirements. Consider creating a learner-centered syllabus that targets student learning and success!

Strategies for Starting the Semester Well
This list of strategies you can use the first day and into the first weeks of the semester that will help you create an engaging, motivating, and organized classroom environment.

Support Units for New Faculty
Many support units are available at NIU to assist new faculty in their teaching, research, scholarship and artistry. This guide provides a quick overview and contact information to the support units that new faculty often connect with for support.

Learning Technologies at NIU
Catalog of available and institutionally supported software and web tools to promote collaboration, enhance communication, share multimedia, teach online and more.

Tips for Starting the Semester with Blackboard
Answers to frequently asked questions new faculty, teaching staff, and TAs may have, as they request course space and get ready to develop their courses in Blackboard, NIU’s learning management system.


Our Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL) is here to support you as you teach either in-person, hybrid, or online. If you ever have any questions or need assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me personally or anyone on our team. You can contact us by phone at 815-753-0595, email, or schedule an appointment with a member of our team. We look forward to serving you!

Go Huskies!

Jason Rhode
Associate Vice Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Digital Education

Interaction requirement for your online course - 8/14/2023

Dear Colleague:

As someone who is scheduled to teach an online course during the upcoming fall semester, I wanted to make sure you were aware of an important federal requirement from the U.S. Department of Education of all online courses, that “there is regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors.”

What is “regular and substantive interaction?” You can find a detailed explanation with examples here, but in essence, regular and substantive interaction is:

  1. Initiated by the Instructor - To count as ‘regular and substantive,’ interactions need to be started by you. This doesn’t mean students should be discouraged from contacting you or asking questions – far from it! But you should expect to take an active part in initiating and guiding a range of interactions with your students throughout the semester. This ensures that interactions are not optional and left up to each student’s individual discretion; rather, they are an integral part of your instructional plan for the course.

  2. Frequent and Consistent - Interactions with students should be reasonably frequent and consistently repeated throughout the term. This means that once a course begins, long intervals of time shouldn’t pass between the interactions you initiate with students. The mode of interaction may vary throughout the course, depending on your aims and the needs of your students, but the regular cadence of interactions you establish should remain as consistent as possible. Daily communication isn’t required, but at a minimum you should seek to interact with every student at least once each week and you should log in to the course every 1-2 days.

  3. Focused on the Course Subject - Interactions should be connected to the subject of the course and contribute to the students’ progress toward course, program, and college learning objectives. Routine procedural interactions, such as reminders of upcoming deadlines, aren’t ‘substantive’ on their own; neither are activities like assigning grades, unless they are accompanied by personalized feedback or suggestions for improvement. This doesn’t mean that interactions designed to welcome students or build classroom community aren’t important, merely that they aren’t sufficient by themselves.

Please take a look at the regular and substantive interaction guide on the CITL website for recommendations for promoting regular and substantive interaction in online courses and consider as you are drafting the syllabus and preparing your online course for the fall semester how you will ensure that your online course is meeting this federal requirement.

I also encourage you to look through the complete online standards and principles for success that represent quality online teaching and learning experiences at NIU for additional tips as you prepare your online course. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or any of the rest of our CITL team with any questions.

Have great fall semester ahead!

Jason Rhode
Associate Vice Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Digital Education

Update on transition to the Blackboard Ultra Course View - 8/7/2023

Dear Department Chairs/School Directors,

As the fall semester approaches, I wanted to take a moment to remind you of NIU’s ongoing transition to the Blackboard Learn Ultra Course View. It has been a long road, and this fall is the final semester before our December 31, 2023, deadline to completely move to the Ultra Course View. All Spring 2024 Blackboard courses will be taught in the Ultra Course View. Past courses will not be converted from the Original Course View to ensure an accurate record and student data for assessment and accreditation purposes.

In the Spring 2023 semester, 40% of all courses were taught in the Ultra Course View; that value hit 65% this summer. You can view Ultra Course View adoption for your programs (organized by course code, e.g., UNIV) to get a sense of the adoption levels in your department. 

We would love your help to spread the word to your faculty about the upcoming transition deadline and the support offered by the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Some of the highlights of that support include Making the Move to Blackboard Ultra Course View online workshops every week in August and throughout the fall semester, drop-in online Blackboard Ultra Office Hours, the three-week Ultra Transition Academy twice this fall, a self-paced workshop on Transitioning to Blackboard Ultra Course View, one-on-one consultations with our staff scheduled via Bookings, and extensive documentation and tutorials

We have attached a draft email that you can customize to send to your faculty that details all of the support offered leading into and throughout the fall semester. We would also be happy to speak with your faculty at an upcoming department meeting.

I’m sure you have a lot of questions, as well. We have scheduled an FAQ session for Department Chairs and School Directors for Tuesday, August 15 at 9 AM. A meeting invitation and Teams link will be sent separately if you are interested in joining. If you have questions but are unable to attend, please feel free to send them to me directly. 


Stephanie Richter
Director of Teaching Excellence and Support

Syllabus toolkit and updated statements - 8/7/2023

Dear Colleague:

As you wrap-up your summer and begin preparing for your fall course(s), I wanted to make you aware of the updated NIU syllabus toolkit with resources that you may find useful as you prepare your fall syllabus, including:

  • Guide to Creating a Course Syllabus – An in-depth guide, as part of the NIU Instructional Guide for University Faculty and Teaching Assistants, that provides a detailed overview for getting started creating a course syllabus. A sample downloadable syllabus template is included. This is a great starting point for someone creating their first course syllabus.
  • Syllabus Checklist – A shortened guide that highlights the key elements to include in your course syllabus.
  • Syllabus Statements – All required and suggested statements to be included in NIU syllabi compiled in one single location for easy reference. New statements added for this fall include honors mini-section statement and artificial intelligence (AI) use statement.
  • Accessible Syllabus Guide – Easy, step-by-step tips for creating a fully-accessible syllabus using Microsoft Word.
  • Course Workload Estimator – If planning a new course, use this estimator to approximate the workload for students for learning activities and assignments you are planning.
  • Student Success Guides - Find tools offering tips and practical strategies for student success that you can link to from your syllabus.

I hope you will bookmark the updated syllabus toolkit and use the included resources to tune up your course syllabi for the fall semester!

Jason Rhode
Associate Vice Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Digital Education

Updates on August programs for faculty and TA support - 8/1/2023

Department Chairs and School Directors:

As we approach the start of the fall semester, I wanted to share the following dates and updates with you on programs offered for faculty, instructors, and graduate teaching assistants. Links for more details are included. If you have new hires who would benefit from attending any of these programs, please forward. For new hires who may not have their NIU Account ID active yet (needed in order to self-register), they can call 815-753-0595 or email to register.

Teaching Effectiveness Institute
Thursday, August 17, 2023, 9 AM - 4 PM
In-person at the Holmes Student Center
Speaker: Rob Eaton, author of the new book, Improving Learning and Mental Health in the College Classroom.
Open to all NIU faculty, instructors, and staff

Participants will come away with evidence-based, practical suggestions for making small improvements in teaching that will have great impacts on the learning and the lives of students with mental health challenges. More details and register at

Teaching Assistant Institute
Open to new and returning graduate teaching assistants, online with synchronous sessions on August 15, 16, and 18 from 9-10:30am, in-person networking session on August 18 from 2-3:30pm.

More details and register

Upcoming Programs
A wide variety of programs are offered on topics related to teaching, inclusive instruction, and instructional use of technology. For more details, view the schedule of upcoming programs for faculty/staff and graduate teaching assistants on the CITL website at

Fostering a Culture of Belonging through Inclusive Teaching for Equitable Learning - ACUE Microcredential
As educators, we can work to create inclusive environments with equitable learning opportunities to ensure that every student has the opportunities necessary to succeed. ACUE's microcredential course in Fostering a Culture of Belonging through Inclusive Teaching for Equitable Learning provides faculty and teaching staff with proven strategies to create a more equitable and just learning environment. This course is organized around five competencies and takes approximately 8 weeks to complete. You will learn within a facilitated online cohort of NIU faculty members, with whom you will share insights and ideas.

The next cohort begins September 25. More details and register at

Summer 2023

Blackboard access for new hires - 7/20/2023

Department Chairs and School Directors:

For new hires that may be awaiting the processing of hiring paperwork and activation of their NIU Account ID necessary to access Blackboard, we continue to have a technical solution in place that allows for new hires to receive access to their Blackboard courses for the upcoming semester using a temporary guest Blackboard ID associated with their personal email address. With this temporary Blackboard guest ID, new hires are able to login to access their fall Blackboard course(s) to develop and begin teaching as needed until their employee NIU Account ID is activated and they've been assigned as instructor of record in MyNIU. They then will be able to transition to using their activated employee ID and password to login to their Blackboard course(s) without any need to transfer any course content or settings.

If you have any new hires for fall who are still awaiting their employee Account IDs for Blackboard access, please reply back to me or submit using the Blackboard Ask A Question Form the following for each new hire who still needs Blackboard access so we can expedite creation of temporary accounts: first name, last name, contact email, course(s) assigned to teach for fall (include course number and section). Upon receipt we will promptly ensure they receive access to their course(s) and follow-up individually with each to provide them their login details.

First Name Last Name Contact Email Course(s) Teaching for Fall (course number and section)

Jason Rhode
Associate Vice Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Digital Education

Registration is Open for the 2023 Fall Teaching Assistant Institute – Online Synchronous and Asynchronous, August 14-25, 2023 - 7/17/2023

Department Chairs and School Directors:

To assist departments in planning efforts as we approach the Fall 2023 semester, I wanted to share the following dates of the Teaching Assistant Institute offered by the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning to welcome new graduate teaching assistants.

Like previous years, the Teaching Assistant Institute will feature a mix of live online discussions and pre-recorded videos as well as asynchronous activities to promote connection and community. While some of the pre-recorded videos will be standard for all TAs participating in the Institute, each TA will also be able to choose from a selection of elective videos based on their experience and role. Topics will include cultural competency and inclusive teaching, engaging students, and resources at NIU to support teaching and learning. Schedule and registration information are now available on the event webpage.

Based on feedback from participants, we are opening the Teaching Assistant Institute a week earlier to provide TAs with more time to start the asynchronous activities. This year, the institute will become available in Blackboard on August 14. Registration is open now and will continue throughout the Institute and even into the first few weeks of the semester, for any late hires. 

Live online sessions will be held on August 21, 22, and 24 from 9 - 10:30 AM. 

TAs will need to attend the live discussions (or watch the recordings) and watch the required core and elective asynchronous videos to receive a certificate. We will track attendance in live sessions and views on the videos for departments that require TAs to complete the Institute. 

The Institute will also include an optional in-person networking event on campus. The session will include light refreshments and the opportunity to meet other new and experienced teaching assistants.  This session will be held Thursday, August 24 from 2:00-3:30 PM in the Founders Memorial Library.

The Teaching Assistant Institute page has more details and information on how to register as well as the synchronous sessions schedule.

Thank you for your continued support!


Stephanie Richter
Director of Teaching Excellence and Support

Contact Us

Center for Innovative
Teaching and Learning

Phone: 815-753-0595

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