ACUE Partner Schools in Florida Join Together to Build Community of Professional Practice

In academia, the issue of silos is a common one. Oftentimes, faculty find it easier to look within their departments for new ideas or collaborations than trying to expand beyond their disciplines. But what would happen if faculty from various backgrounds and from across different colleges and universities had the opportunity to gather together to discuss effective teaching practices in an effort to encourage one another to try new things and share their lessons-learned? It was the question that got Dr. Jodi Robson thinking.

Robson, director of the Institute for Academic Excellence at Indian River State College (IRSC), has seen the positive impact of faculty collaboration over best practices since 2018 when IRSC first started partnering with the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) for faculty development.

“When it comes to professional development, there is no better material than what ACUE is developing,” Robson says. “It’s amazing to see how rich the material and content is, and how it truly helps students persist in their education. Listening to our own faculty share their stories of success with one another, I had the idea of trying to branch out to connect with fellow ACUE-credentialed faculty and cohort participants beyond our campus.”

Robson discussed the concept with Dr. Barbara Rodriguez, ACUE’s regional director for academic programs – who immediately became excited with the idea of seeing an ACUE community of professional practice grow organically. Rodriguez thought to connect Robson with fellow ACUE-participating schools nearby.

Robson found a kindred community when she was introduced by Rodriguez to Michelle Levine, district director of faculty development at Broward College, Dr. Brandon McIntire, director of eLearning at Florida Gateway College, Margaret Shippey, director of faculty development and classroom engagement at Miami Dade College, and Steve Grosteffon, professor of mathematics at Santa Fe College.

“I emailed these four strangers on a Saturday morning, and all immediately responded with enthusiasm and interest in how to create a program that would foster community among faculty while improving student outcomes,” Robson says.

Soon after, a “homebrewed” initiative – The Coffee Shop – was born.

logo for the coffee shop professional learning communityLevine shares, “We had our first team meeting in early September and were up and running with our first session in October. Each member jumped in and contributed his or her expertise supporting the strength of the team. It’s amazing how five people who didn’t know each other came together and just clicked, with each having different strengths and finding his or her niche.”

The Coffee Shop provides webinars that are like an espresso shot – short and highly concentrated – which feature two baristas (presenters) sharing evidence-based teaching practices or strategies they learned through the ACUE Effective Teaching Practices course. After the presentations, participants move into breakout rooms to discuss the ideas and become better equipped to improve teaching practices.

“We modeled The Coffee Shop format after ACUE online course best practice recommendations. For example, we use polling and breakout rooms to engage the participants, and we end every session with our version of an exit ticket that we call “the coffee bean,” Levine says. “Our first session in October was focused on the ACUE Using the Active Learning Cycle module – and since then we’ve had additional sessions on the Aligning Assessments With Course Outcomes and Engaging Underprepared Students modules. Soon, we’ll launch another session on Helping Students Persist in Their Studies.”

And the “buzz” around The Coffee Shop is growing. While the team wanted to start slow to work out kinks, colleges and universities from other states across the country are inquiring about participating in the sessions.

“We launched the program in September and since the beginning, we’ve had nearly 150 participants per gathering,” Levine explains. “We ask for a lot of feedback about how to make the program more effective and helpful moving forward.”For example, after January’s Coffee Shop event, Robson heard from colleagues from another institution preparing to launch their first ACUE cohort. They offered the webinar as a resource to their faculty, and one participant quickly responded, expressing her excitement.

In her email, the participant shared: “I just attended the ‘Engaging Underprepared Students’ session. This was truly one of the best professional development opportunities that I have participated in recently. I have a full page of notes from the session.”

A different faculty member from a college in North Carolina also emailed Robson, saying, “I really appreciate having been able to have this opportunity to not only learn how other instructors are getting innovative but to have the support and collaboration.”

Levine has heard similar sentiments from other faculty members, too.

“I often hear how thrilled faculty members are to interact with other faculty,” Levine says. “Having these opportunities to chat with each other and share great ideas for classroom instruction has been meaningful – especially now when so many are feeling isolated.”

Seeing excitement build and the connections occur has been particularly encouraging to The Coffee Shop’s founders. The team calls this, “the magic.”

“It’s so affirming when participants ask to get connected to presenters after the sessions and share their enthusiasm about incorporating what they learned into their own classrooms,” Robson says. “I am excited to see how this program continues to evolve and expand to serve faculty across the country.”


For more about The Coffee Shop, subscribe to the initiative’s YouTube channel or email a Coffee Shop team member:
Steve Grosteffon | [email protected]
Michelle Levine | [email protected]
Dr. Brandon McIntire | [email protected]
Dr. Jodi Robson | [email protected]
Margaret Shippey | [email protected]

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