Email Communications

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

Fall 2022

Change in timeline - call for nominations for Outstanding TA Awards 2023 - 10/12/2022New

Department Chairs and School Directors:

This is to announce the call for nominations for Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Awards for 2023. You can find the details and submission guidelines at and please forward this email to your Director of Graduate Studies.

**IMPORTANT Change in Timeline for 2022-2023**

Traditionally, the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant nominations occur during the spring semester. However, to align with the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools Excellence in Teaching Award, we are moving 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 to the department chair/school director or designee. Nominators must complete the nomination form (Word doc) for each nominee and email it with any supporting documents by Monday, November 14, 2022 to with the subject line “Nomination for 2023 Outstanding TA Awards”.

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


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

Give your students a Homeric welcome this semester - 8/19/2022

Dear Colleague:

As you begin the fall semester, I thought you might find this article below as thought-provoking and helpful a reminder as I have to the importance of the welcome that we extend to our students during the first week of our class. I hope you take a few minutes to read and reflect on how you plan to welcome students to your class.

And, if you’re looking for ideas as you plan your first week of class, I encourage you to take a look at the new Week of Engagement Toolkit for activities that build engagement and excitement. Wishing you a fantastic fall semester ahead.

Go Huskies!

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


Give Your Students a Homeric Welcome This Semester

Don’t underestimate the importance and power of hospitality on the first day of class.

By James M. Lang | August 15, 2022
The Chronicle of Higher Education

My three youngest children will be heading off to college this fall, which means we’ve been inundated with mail and email about the festivities being prepared for their arrival. My older daughter will be welcomed back for her junior year by friends, professors, and staff members whom she has already come to know. As first-year students, our twins will be on the receiving end of even more expressions of hospitality: new-student orientations, convocations, ice-cream socials. Colleges and universities have become experts in the welcoming business.

Most faculty members don’t participate in our institution’s opening ceremonies, but we still have a key role to play in welcoming students. The first day of the semester is our prime opportunity. As I have argued in one of The Chronicle’s guides — “How to Teach a Good First Day of Class” — the essential features of a great opening session include sparking curiosity about the material, setting expectations for the semester, and building community among the students.

You’ll find no shortage of additional advice online and in print as you plan for opening day. But in the waning days of summer, I have been thinking about a text that most of us probably wouldn’t reach for in seeking tips on how to create a great first day of class: The Odyssey. Homer’s 3,000-year-old Greek epic has caught my attention — both as a human and as a teacher — because of the lessons it offers about the importance and power of hospitality.

Here’s a thought experiment to illustrate what I mean: Imagine you are having a dinner party. Your guests are eating, drinking, telling stories, and listening to music when, suddenly, a stranger shows up at your door. He is dirty, limping, clothed in rags. You are not used to seeing homeless people in your neighborhood, and you assume that he’s going to either rob you or beg you for money. Your guests can see him through a window, and some of them seem downright scared. What should you do?

  • Option 1: You try to be a giving person, but you have your limits. You have been planning this party for months. You ignore the doorbell, and hope he goes away. But he’s persistent. Finally you open the door a crack and speak to him through the screen door. You ask him what he wants, but you have your cellphone ready to call the police at the first sign of trouble. “I have suffered beyond your imagining,” he says. “I need help.” You reply: “Who are you? What exactly do you want?”
  • Option 2: You immediately go to the door and open it wide. “I have suffered beyond your imagining,” he says. “I need help.” So you urge him to come in, and call out to your partner, who’s plating food in the kitchen: “Prepare a heaping serving for this unfortunate stranger.” You ask your guests to make room at the table, in the seat next to you. You ask the stranger if he would like to take a shower first. The stranger starts to tell you his name and his story, but you stop him. “Bathe, drink, eat,” you say. “When you feel better, you can tell us who you are and what you need.”

If you chose Option 1, you might be someone who, like me, lives a relatively comfortable life in America in the 21st century. We try to act ethically. We donate to charities and help our friends and families when we can. But if a stranger knocks on my door, or accosts me on the street, I have some questions: “Who are you? What do you want? How do I know that you’re not trying to con me or rob me? Do you have any proof to support your identity or your story?”

If you chose Option 2, you might be a character in The Odyssey, the epic account of a warrior’s tortuous journey from the battlefield to his home on the Greek island of Ithaca. Odysseus is a powerful soldier, a clever schemer, a skilled orator, a handsome man. But some of the Greek gods have conspired against him, so his straightforward voyage home turns into 10 years of wandering. He has to outwit gods, fight monsters, navigate treacherous seas. Throughout his journey, Odysseus needs the help of others. Fortunately for him, the culture in which his story unfolds has a deep-seated tradition of hospitality.

This is exemplified in the scene in which Odysseus, alone now after the death of his entire crew, shows up at a feast of a Phaeacian king, falls at the feet of the queen, and asks her help. “I have had many years of pain and loss,” he says. “Now help me, please, to get home, and quickly. I miss my family. I have been gone so long it hurts.” Everyone in the hall stares at him in astonishment, until the queen chides her husband: “You know it is not right to leave a stranger sitting there on the floor beside the hearth among the cinders. Everyone is waiting for you to give the word.” The king springs to life and fulfills his obligations to hospitality with food, wine, and water. Rest, the king tells our hero: Then we can hear your story and figure out how to help.

In the introduction to her recent translation of the epic poem, Emily Wilson, a professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the hospitality tradition depicted in Homer’s epic appeared in many cultures but was especially important during the era of travel and exploration in ancient Greece. “The Odyssey suggests,” she writes, “that it was the responsibility of male householders to offer hospitality of this kind to any visitor, even uninvited guests, strangers, and homeless beggars.”

This August I have been slowly reading Wilson’s translation, savoring a chapter each night before I go to bed. And it’s this hospitality tradition that keeps returning to my mind. Which means, for this longtime teacher, I can’t help wondering: What would it be like for faculty members to give a Homeric welcome to our students? 

I posed this question to my wife, a kindergarten teacher who took a leave last year to help me recover from my heart transplant and stroke, and who will be returning to her classroom in late August. She teaches at a public arts magnet school in a low-income area of a city, which means some of her students live in homeless shelters or with foster families, while others come from wealthy families who are seeking an arts- focused education for their children. From a 30-year teaching career, she knows well that rich and poor students alike can bring their own kinds of trouble.

In her classroom, she said, a Homeric welcome means that “you have to show the same hospitality to every student who shows up in your classroom, no matter where they are coming from or whatever experiences they have had until now. Everybody is a new stranger showing up at your door, and they all need help.”

Throughout the pandemic, higher education has become much more aware of the importance of welcoming all students — no matter their demographic characteristics, income levels, or life experiences — to our campuses and classrooms. That idea is closely aligned with the literature on inclusive teaching: First we welcome all students, and then we include them all in the classroom experience. We are witnessing an explosion of research and resources on welcoming and inclusivity in higher education, including Viji Sathy and Kelly A. Hogan’s Chronicle guide on inclusive teaching. Their new book, Inclusive Teaching: Strategies for Promoting Equity in College Classrooms, was published this month. It joins other excellent titles such as this essay collection, published in 2021: What Inclusive Instructors Do: Principles and Practices for Excellence in College Teaching.

So if you are looking for the latest research and practical tips on how to welcome all of your students in the fall semester, new resources are appearing all the time. But there are some old ones out there as well. Not only as teachers, but as human beings, we can take hospitality lessons from the culture in which Odysseus’s saga unfolds. Some strangers bring trouble, to be sure. Others will change our lives for the better.

They all deserve the richest welcome that we can offer.

OK, so it’s a bad idea to wash your students’ feet, stuff them with meat and wine, or send them away on the first day of class with parting gifts of gold and silver. But strangers will be showing up at your door soon. How will you welcome them?

Teaching resources to begin the semester - 8/15/2022

Dear New Faculty Colleagues: 

It was great to see many of you at the New Faculty Welcome earlier today. I’m following-up with 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.

Classrooms at NIU
Learn more about the classrooms where you’ll be teaching as well as other available learning spaces across campus.

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

Fall 2022 classroom technology training and support - 8/12/2022

Dear Department Chairs/School Directors:

Please forward this to all your faculty, teaching staff, and TAs. A number of classrooms were updated this summer with brand new technology, and CITL is offering workshops next week to help faculty learn to use the new technology in these spaces.

Fall 2022 Classroom Technology Training and Support

By focusing on a smaller number of classrooms during summer 2022, the DoIT classroom team was able to completely rebuild the systems to be modern, easy to use, and cohesive. All of these updated rooms are consistent with one another, as well. The updated rooms include touchscreen controls, a document camera, a high-definition room camera, lapel and tabletop microphones at the instructor station, and lecture capture capabilities.

The following classrooms were updated during summer 2022:

  • Anderson Hall, Room 248
  • Barsema Hall, Room 110, 131, 240, and 333
  • Center for Black Studies, Room 112
  • Cole Hall, Room 100
  • DuSable Hall, Room 170, 176, 206, 212, 254, 268, 270, 274, 306, and 446
  • Engineering Building, Room 101, 209, 221, and 241
  • Graham Hall, Room 339, 340, 341, and 424
  • McMurry Hall, Room 205
  • Montgomery Hall, Room 231
  • Nursing Building, Room 100A and 100B
  • Reavis Hall, Room 201, 202, 205, and 209
  • Swen Parson Hall, Room 150 and 173
  • Wirtz Hall, Room 101, 103A, and 103B

Workshops on Teaching in Updated Classrooms

These sessions will address the new, updated technology in the classrooms listed above. Because these classrooms are consistent in configuration, you can register for either session to learn about the technology that will be in your classroom. 

  • Tuesday, August 16, 10 - 11 AM 
  • Thursday, August 18, 1 - 2 PM

The workshops will be held in person but will also be streamed for those who prefer to attend online. They will also be recorded.

Individual Consultations

CITL staff are also available for a limited number of individual consultations, in-person or online, particularly if you want to learn more about teaching in a classroom that was not updated this summer. To request a consultation about using classroom technology, schedule an individual consultation with us.


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

Reminders for starting the semester with Blackboard - 8/11/2022

Dear Department Chairs/School Directors:

Please forward this to all your faculty, teaching staff, and TAs who are in charge of their own courses. The tips below will help those who are new to Blackboard get started, but they also highlight some new and exciting features for everyone.

  1. 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.

    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 one master course. You must be instructor of record for both sections to be able to request a master course. The resulting “Master Course” will include all of the students from both sections.

    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.

  2. 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.

  3. Ultra Course View
    For the Fall 2022 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 recommend that faculty plan to teach their Fall 2023 courses in the Ultra Course View. 

    At this time, all courses start in the default Original Course View, but you can choose to switch to the newer Ultra Course View. 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.

    Many new features have been added to Ultra Course View this summer (like inline previews of files, point-based and custom overall grade calculations, one-question-at-a-time view on tests, and the ability to create and edit question banks). There are still some features of the Original Course View that are not yet available or that work differently in the Ultra Course View, so we recommend that faculty explore the Ultra Course View before converting their course. We have a list of new features, a feature comparison guide and a decision guide to help faculty determine whether the Ultra Course View would be a good fit for them at this time.

    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. For those who want to move to Ultra Course View for Spring 2022, we will be offering the 3-week Ultra Transition Academy starting in September; applications are now open for participants and Ultra Ambassadors.

  4. 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.

  5. Adding an image and name pronunciation (NEW) to your profile
    Did you know you can customize your profile in Blackboard to include a profile image and your name pronunciation (introduced in June 2022)? 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. 

  6. 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

Interaction requirement for your online course - 8/8/2022

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

Syllabus statements and new toolkit - 8/4/2022

Dear Colleague:

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

I hope you will bookmark the 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 - 8/4/2022

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 and new teaching support services offered for faculty, instructors, and graduate teaching assistants. Links for more details are included. Your faculty will receive separate email invitations to these, so you need not forward. This is more just for your information.

Teaching Effectiveness Institute
Speaker: Todd Zakrajsek, Associate Professor of Family Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill, Director of the International Teaching and Learning Cooperative Lilly Conferences on evidence-based teaching and learning and author of The New Science of Learning.
Open to all NIU faculty, instructors, and staff

Thursday, August 11, 2022, 1–4 PM
Understanding and Uncovering the Hidden Curriculum
(helping students, particularly first-generation students, learn to be more effective university students)

Friday, August 12, 2022, 9 AM – 12 PM
Motivating and Engaging Students
(strategies to motivate and inspire students to stay engaged in their learning)

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

Scaffolded Support for Teaching Gateway Courses *NEW*
Semester-long program for faculty of all rank and graduate teaching assistants, geared for everyone teaching 100- and 200-level courses that have historically had high DFUW rates and equity gaps (as defined by HLC Quality Initiative). Weekly/bi-weekly newsletters beginning the week of August 8 with concrete, easy-to-apply teaching strategies; Participants who implement teaching strategies and complete three status reports during the semester receive digital badge and certificate. In-person program launch on August 17, Noon-2:20pm (lunch provided). More details and register for lunch at

Week of Engagement *NEW*
Campaign and toolkit to promote active engagement strategies faculty can use during the first week of classes to make a strong connection with students early, sent to instructors of record for all 100- and 200-level courses during the week of August 15. Digital badge and certificate given to recognize those who adopt strategies and have an impact. More details to follow.

Faculty Academy on Cultural Competence in Education (FACCE) *NEW*
Monthly series of workshops developed and delivered by NIU faculty and staff. First session August 26, 11am-1pm. More details and register at

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

Contact Us

Center for Innovative
Teaching and Learning

Phone: 815-753-0595

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