Jonathan Gyurko and Meghan Snow at CHEA

“How Do We Know?”: Accounting for Teaching’s Value

“How do we know?” It was the opening question Meghan Snow, ACUE’s executive director of research and Jonathan Gyurko, president and co-founder of ACUE posed to attendees at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s (CHEA) Annual Conference, held January 28th in Washington, D.C.

How do we know our students are learning? And how do we know institutions are engaging with—and meeting—the teaching and learning standards set by their accreditors?

An answer begins with an understanding of what constitutes good teaching and the kind of pedagogical development that promotes it, and then connecting the dots between faculty development, improved instruction, and stronger, more equitable, student outcomes. 

Gyurko and Snow’s presentation, “Accounting for Teaching’s Value,” highlighted the high standards accrediting bodies have set for teaching and learning—from providing “comprehensive” professional development and engaging in “ongoing inquiry” into the processes of teaching and learning to “evaluating the effectiveness” of teaching to improve instruction. They acknowledged that bringing evidence to bear to meet these high standards can be challenging, particularly amidst all of the accrediting demands on colleges and universities, but not impossible. 

In the session, attended by nearly 100 accreditors, policy makers, and institutional leaders from the U.S. and abroad, Snow presented ACUE’s multi-stage evaluation framework as a viable approach. The methodology measures change at each step along the chain of events—from the impact of faculty development, to changes in teaching, to effects on student achievement. ACUE’s recommended model controls for other influences affecting outcomes in order to isolate teaching effects. As CHEA noted, this approach is reconceptualizing the purpose and scope of faculty development “in ways that allow accreditors to better connect faculty-related accreditation standards with an institution’s mission.”

This research protocol is now in use nationwide. Snow presented results from a number of studies conducted by ACUE, third-party evaluators, or university IR offices. This research demonstrates that faculty at ACUE partner-institutions are learning about—and implementing—evidence-based teaching practices. Most important, students taught by these educators are learning more and completing courses in greater numbers, more equitably with their peers. The research methodology collects comparison data, and mean differences are statistically significant. 

These partnerships and studies are providing institutions with better ways to meet accreditation standards. Gyurko pointed to Sam Houston State University (SHSU) which has made ACUE’s comprehensive support to faculty a central component of their quality enhancement plan. 

In a video SHSU produced as part of its self-study and shared for peer reviewers, Todd Primm, director of the Professional and Academic Center for Excellence said, “We know a key function of a university is student learning, and we know from a number of studies that the single largest factor for student learning is faculty effectiveness.” Primm continued, “Faculty come here because they want to help their students, but often they’re just not sure how to do it.” Through its work with ACUE, SHSU is equipping its educators “with an enormous variety of tools they can choose from that would be most appropriate for their students.” 

“We know that teaching and learning are complex processes,” Gyurko shared. “But that shouldn’t stop us from being as intentional as we can in describing and measuring the steps we take to enhance quality instruction and improve student outcomes. Great teaching is an art, but there’s also a science we can name, study, and help faculty develop, to help more students succeed.”

Alison Malmon

Creating a Culture of Caring, Beginning with Self-Care

By Alison Malmon

Alison MalmonStudent mental health is a growing issue on college and university campuses. National sources confirm a high and rising prevalence of depression, anxiety, and suicidality among students, and college presidents recently agreed that faculty on their campus are spending more time addressing student mental health concerns than three years ago.1

While researchers are still examining potential contributing factors to this problem, the promising practices to address it are better known, and are reflected in Active Minds’ Healthy Campus criteria:

• Stronger campus policies.

• An evidence-based approach.

• A culture of support and care.

• Individuals in all corners of the campus community, particularly faculty, equipped and ready to support struggling students.

Our data show that, next to a friend or campus counseling center, students most want to talk to a faculty member or academic advisor when they are struggling. Yet, more than half of faculty we have surveyed feel only somewhat supported to recognize and help students who are struggling, and 22% do not feel supported at all. 

In addition to providing faculty with better guidance in support of student well-being, Active Minds recognizes that a culture of wellness and mental health support is only achieved when faculty wellness and mental health supports are prioritized alongside those of students’. Faculty feel more empowered and prepared to support their students when they have had opportunities to focus on their own well-being and mental health.

Colleges and universities presented with Active Minds’ Healthy Campus Award are offering particularly innovative programs to support faculty well-being. For example:

The University of South Carolina provides comprehensive faculty and staff wellness initiatives, inclusive of wellness coaching, prevention screenings, mindfulness and meditation workshops and space, and mental health counseling.

Kent State University’s employee wellness offerings include a variety of physical activities, lunch and learns, free Fridays at the Recreation Center, cash incentives to reward positive health behaviors, health screenings, stress management coaching, a certain number of free mental health counseling sessions, and massage therapy.

• The University of Oregon’s Duck Nest Wellness Center provides faculty with skill-building opportunities for stress management, body-positive programming, nutrition information and promotion of health dietary choices both on- and off-campus, meditation and relaxation, yoga, aromatherapy, therapy dogs and mental well-being workshops.

Lawrence University’s wellness initiatives focus on key interventions: tobacco cessation, stress intervention, nutrition, and challenges to increase physical activity. Their goal is to meet faculty where they are in their wellness journey by offering a variety of programs focused on the individual including our mind spa, massage program, personal training, and dietician.

Faculty seeking ways to make time for their own mental health and well-being can consider the following:

• It’s OK to not always be available. Take the time you need to re-charge and preserve your own creativity and autonomy.

• Say “no” and set boundaries when needed. Pause and reflect before responding to a request and discern when to say yes and when to say no. It is possible to say “no” in ways that still show care of others.

• Prioritize your own well-being. Take the time you need to eat nutritious foods, exercise, play, rest, reflect, stretch, and grow in your life. 

• Take a 10-minute break every day. Take a break from your devices and experience nature and connect to the world beyond yourself and your work

We know most faculty members are not experts in wellness and mental health. They cannot (and should not) replace the role of the counseling center. However, in addition to setting an example of self-care, faculty members do play a critical role in helping struggling students day-to-day—often by simply showing them that they care. 

In partnership with ACUE, Active Minds will provide continued practical, evidence-based strategies that faculty members may implement in “the everyday.” Through these strategies, faculty can contribute to the creation of caring campus communities that support students to thrive and to seek professional help when needed.

  1. American Council on Education. “College Student Mental Health and Well-being: A Survey of Presidents.” August 2019.