The following update was shared by Jason Rhode, executive director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, at the meeting of the NIU Board of Trustees on March 18, 2021
Thank you for the opportunity to share briefly today about NIU’s new partnership with the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) and provide an update on our progress to date in implementing.
In summer 2020, NIU launched a partnership with ACUE to support innovative pedagogy. As a result, NIU faculty members now have a new opportunity to explore and implement research-based approaches to teaching designed to improve student engagement and persistence and promote deeper learning. Faculty who complete the ACUE program can earn a nationally-recognized certificate in college instruction, endorsed by the American Council on Education.
This brief update today will offer an overview of the partnership and progress report thus far as well as feature a testimonial from one of our faculty participants from the first cohort.
The ACUE mission is simple: student success through quality instruction. At the core of this mission is the passionate belief that all students deserve an extraordinary education and that faculty play a critical role in their success.
To achieve this mission, ACUE partners with over 200 college, university, and college systems to credential faculty in evidence-based teaching practices that drive student engagement, retention, and learning. With over 15,000 participating and credentialed faculty, ACUE has a nationwide reach and significant demonstrated student impact.
This partnership with ACUE aligns with NIU’s mission, vision and values to provide students from diverse backgrounds a classroom experience that supports their success. The ACUE program incorporates culturally responsive teaching techniques and encourages faculty to engage in thought-provoking discussions and self-reflection around how to promote an inclusive class experience. This partnership is also part of our strategic enrollment management plan and retention strategy.
The ACUE program supports faculty development of comprehensive teaching competencies, aligned within 5 key outcomes:
These teaching competencies are research-based and have been developed and honed over many years.
The keystone component of the program is the ACUE course in effective teaching practices. This hybrid course consists of 25 online modules, 1 completed per week, involving approximately 2-3 hours of online content and engagement per week. The course is video-rich, with over 180 demonstration lessons showing faculty introducing new teaching practices and in the classroom. Faculty learn about new teaching strategies, apply them in their teaching, and then share reflections on the implementation and receive feedback from ACUE certified teaching experts. The course is facilitated by our Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning and includes periodic in-person meetings with cohort members and facilitators for further discussion and support.
Good teaching is inclusive teaching. Inclusive teaching is the explicit, intentional inclusion of all students into our disciplines – through course design, pedagogy, and assessment. Evidence-based teaching practices, when done with an intentionality to create an inclusive learning environment and ensure equitable learning opportunities are inclusive teaching practices.
ACUE has outlined within a curriculum crosswalk specifically which teaching practices in the ACUE course align to the inclusive teaching practices literature.
The NIU team working with ACUE is tailoring the course content to meet the needs of NIU faculty and integrating the work of the Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This includes equity focused, synchronous summary discussion at the end of every block of modules (every 4-6 weeks) and weekly facilitation of the course.
ACUE has also formed a collaboration among other northern Illinois ACUE partner institutions working with the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative (ILEA), among which NIU is a leader, to promote further discussion and sharing of best practices.
A typical faculty member credentialed by ACUE learns 55 new teaching practices, learns more about 71 practices, implements 28 new teaching practices during the program, and plans to implement 28 additional practices after completion.
We’re really pleased to report that we’re on track to exceed those outcomes! Our first cohort of 30 faculty members began in fall 2020 and we recently received a progress report after reaching the half-way point of the program for the first cohort and were thrilled to see of the great engagement of our faculty.
Faculty engagement (98%) is higher than ACUE’s national average of 94% which means that faculty are loving the course and finding it helpful and relevant to their work. This indicates that they are grateful for this opportunity and it is helping them through these times.
The most significant piece of this report is the learning and implementation data. ACUE expects faculty to learn and implement 1 new teaching practice per module. NIU faculty are indicating that they are learning almost triple the practices as what we expect!
The NIU faculty average of 1.4 practices implemented per module is one of the highest numbers reported at ACUE. Further, there has been a trend in this number dropping for most institutions across the nation due to the pandemic, so this is truly significant.
While I can summarize the experience and benefits to our faculty and their engagement, we felt it best that you hear first-hand from one of our faculty participants in the program. We’ve invited Dr. Shanthi Muthuswamy, associate professor in the Department of Engineering Technology, to share briefly in her own words about the ACUE program and how she has already begun to incorporate new practices for improving student engagement and persistence and promoting deeper learning and connection.
(Shanthi Muthuswamy) Good Morning Everyone! As Dr. Rhode had mentioned I am from Engineering Technology and yes we are trained to interpret the world through numbers and data and draw conclusions through scientific methods and statistical analysis. But, today I am not going to talk about how the grades have improved or the assessment scores have gone up. Yes, there is a positive shift in that direction. More importantly, I am going to share with you what took me by surprise as I unraveled new learning practices through ACUE! My students started seeing me and I SEE them.
I have a few quotes from my students here. In the beginning of the semester, I started my online classes with a couple ACUE teaching practices – syllabus reconnaissance and let’s get to know each other. These were discussion board threads where the class can come together and share their thoughts. I asked students to share what their favorite local takeout restaurants were, asked them to share one thing they were worried about in an online class and so on. Jason’s quote comes from that exercise.
"My biggest fear about an online class is missing a deadline or due date. I work full-time as a CAD Drafter/Designer (11 years), and I’m currently taking care of my father in most of my remaining free time.” – Jason
Students started opening up. I learned so much about them – including which Mexican restaurant has 25 different kinds of salsa. My respect for them grew when I came to know that they are taking care of their elderly parents during these stressful times. That’s what I mean, I started seeing them.
“My father lives on 33 acres with a driveway that is half a mile long so I have to keep plowing the driveway out with the tractor just in case any emergency services need to get here.” – Bill
Another practice suggested spending time getting to know your students. So, I did a 1-on-1, 15-minute video call with every single student of mine during the first two weeks and I have almost 70 students, so you do the math. So, when Kyla told in a recitation chat message that she had COVID, I wrote a private email to her because I didn’t want to discuss her health in front of the class. This was her response.
“Good afternoon Dr. M, Thank you so much for checking on me. You are the first person, besides my parents, to actually ask me how I am doing.” – Kyla
I give book reviews for my graduate classes and Logan, he is in the Marines, liked it so much that he wanted to read more. He asked me for recommendations. The last quote from Daniel, he works full time in a local company. I was touched when he said he is emulating my behavior when he is mentoring college graduates at work. I haven’t seen this kind of motivation amongst my students in the last 10 years of my teaching career.
“I wanted to say I really enjoyed being exposed to lean and in the method the novel used to teach…Is there simple “basics of lean” type of book that you would recommend to read to build a foundation? I can see myself coming back to the Learn Manager with a much clearer understanding.” – Logan, Marines.
As a professor, as a teacher what else can I ask for! So, this connection has bonded us especially during these times when we crave this social connection. We inspire each other!! and can you believe teaching practices can do this? Thank you!
(Jason Rhode) We’re really pleased where we’re at today with the ACUE program and look forward to continuing the partnership with ACUE into the future. There is significant evidence that faculty who participate in extended faculty development (like the ACUE course) translate that learning into course materials and teaching approaches that lead to student learning gains.
There are additional benefits to NIU with our ACUE partnership beyond the impact to our classroom teaching environment. ACUE is committed to rigorous academic research, peer reviewed and presented and a range of higher education associations noted for both research and practice-based scholarship. As part of our partnership, ACUE will be assisting us with robust impact studies of outcomes over time.
ACUE also works to develop partnerships and networks for student and teaching success – bringing together teaching centers, provost’s offices, advising centers, academic diversity, equity and inclusion, and other related functions in new ways.
The ACUE partnership sends a clear signal that quality instruction, student success, and diversity, equity, and inclusion are institutional priorities.
In closing, I’d like to take this moment to express my thanks to Provost Ingram and all our college deans for their enthusiastic support of the ACUE partnership.