AASCU 2018: Faculty as the Agents of Change

We frequently talk about student success initiatives as “what” we implement on our campuses to impact student retention and completion and ensure students’ learning leads to meaningful degrees—but what about the “who” behind student success?

At the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ Academic Affairs Summer Meeting, ACUE-credentialed faculty members Christina Zambrano from Rutgers University-Newark, Mohammed Errihani from Purdue University Northwest, and Jason Myrowitz from Northern Arizona University shared how they’re contributing to their universities’ student success efforts by using evidence-based practices that improve student engagement, persistence, and learning. Below are some of the critical insights they shared during the session.

Q: How are faculty part of student success efforts on your campus? Is teaching part of these efforts?

CZ: Teaching is not a peripheral part of student success; teaching is the key to student success.  Faculty spend the most time with students, and students are more likely to identify a faculty member as a mentor than any other individual on campus. Thus, it is absolutely essential for faculty to be included in student success initiatives. Faculty-student relationships can be opportunities to identify students who are at risk of not completing courses due to personal circumstances, who can be candidates for accelerated programs, who are in jeopardy of failing, and every student in between. The use of active learning, transparent assignments, and multiple low-stakes assessments creates more opportunities for student success and communicates that the faculty member cares about student learning. Since incorporating these new approaches into my teaching practice and earning my ACUE credential, students are now passing my classes at much higher rates and are able to recall and apply knowledge long after the courses end. It has been so amazing for me to see my students achieve more in my classes, without ever lowering my expectations or sacrificing rigor.

ME: Faculty and teaching are critical to student success at Purdue University Northwest. Faculty are in charge of curriculum and instruction, which is particularly apparent in the experiential learning component of every student’s tenure at PNW. Faculty play an important role in student research, not only through instruction but also through mentoring and copresenting/coauthoring, all of which represent important components of student success at my institution. Additionally, our faculty are becoming more and more aware of their role in student retention and graduation since 62% of the freshman class at my university are the first in their families to attend college. As such, faculty have become an integral part of their success by making sure they provide students not just with effective classroom instruction but also effective study skills, mentoring, and advising.

JM: Faculty can contribute to student success in any number of ways, certainly including teaching. I believe faculty are also instrumental in helping motivate and inspire students to pursue their personal and professional goals. Professors are routinely called upon to write letters of recommendation, broker introductions to business professionals, and serve as advisors for student organizations. While I believe there has yet to be an agreed upon definition of “student success” in the academy, I hope that all efforts—whether by faculty or administrators—that lead to an increase in students’ realization of their potential are viewed as correlates of that success.

Q: Sometimes faculty are viewed as “challenging” when it comes to making important changes. Has this been your experience? If not, what’s made the difference on your campus?

ME: This is an issue that’s more pronounced with some faculty and less so with others, although I would say that shared governance seems to be the issue that irks many faculty, who are generally quite vocal about it. I’ve been on both sides of this debate—as an administrator in charge of 14 faculty members while directing an English as a Second Language program for 10 years at my institution and as a tenured faculty in the English department. I see that faculty in general are beginning to realize the important role that they need to play in making sure that students return the following semester and graduate. My experience is that faculty are playing a more active role in student success and retention because their jobs and the jobs of future faculty rely primarily on student success.

CZ: Faculty are driven by initiatives that will make a difference in their students’ lives. When changes are implemented that are for the benefit of students, I have not seen faculty be as challenging at all. If anything, faculty are often at the forefront, pushing for these changes. On the other hand, when changes are either viewed as forced upon faculty or lacking a clear purpose, resistance may ensue. Change has most successfully occurred among faculty when there has been community support and accountability, coupled with strong support from the administration. My experience is that when faculty are engaged with a cohesive community of people in making a change, anything is possible.

Q: What does it take to embrace—and equip—faculty as “agents of change”? What did it take on your campus?

JM: Equipping faculty as agents of change requires providing resources to help faculty improve their teaching and general interactions with students. This adjustment can be accomplished in so many ways, such as introducing ACUE credentialing to faculty who want to help their students become more thoughtful members of society. There are also a host of books and videos on how to engage more effectively with students. Any university that provides access to these opportunities and materials will imminently see vast improvements in the potential for instructors to effect change.

CZ: At Rutgers University–Newark, there is clear communication from the highest of administration that teaching matters—that by implementing good teaching practices, we are providing all students with the tools to succeed. When opportunities like ACUE’s Effective Teaching Practices course are offered, it communicates the value of education. It is crucial for good teaching to be of merit: in conversations, in hiring and promotion decisions, and in policy and practice. I have observed a transformation in my teaching since receiving my certification through ACUE. I’m able to focus on my goals for a class session and for an overall course, and I’m now equipped with strategies that get students to grapple with course concepts and apply knowledge in new ways. My students have more than risen to the occasion, and I have witnessed a greater depth of learning since I began teaching in this new way. Faculty are in a position to have the biggest impact on students’ lives, and when faculty are knowledgeable about transformative pedagogy, they become equipped to change the lives of every student in their classrooms.

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