Norfolk State University ‘Shows Up’ for Students, Faculty

On Thursday mornings this summer, you’ll find 60 faculty from Norfolk State University (NSU), a public, historically Black university (HBCU) engaged in a lively Zoom meeting, sharing their experiences implementing new online teaching strategies they learned the week before.

For the faculty and administrators at NSU, providing students with the highest quality education and collegiate experience has always been a top priority. In partnership with ACUE, NSU launched two cohorts of ACUE’s nine-module microcredential course, “Promoting Engaged and Active Online Learning.” One of ACUE’s programs for institutional partners focused on effective online teaching practices, the flexible microcredential program enabled NSU’s two cohorts to be up and running within days.

More than 100 faculty members at NSU applied for about 60 seats in the program sponsored by the NSU Center for Teaching and Learning. Dr. Rhonda Fitzgerald, an NSU associate professor who facilitates one of the cohorts, hopes that establishing a healthy dialogue around effective online teaching practices within the cohort will encourage faculty to extend that conversation to colleagues across campus.

Talk it Through Thursdays

A sample agenda from one of NSU’s Talk it Through Thursday conversations.

Fitzgerald, along with fellow cohort facilitators Dr. Cynthia Nicholson, Dr. Berkley N. King, Jr., and Dr. Nicole Kyser, assistant professors, developed “Talk it Through Thursdays.” During these virtual gatherings, faculty discuss course content and how they’re implementing ACUE’s evidence-based teaching practices in their classes. Additionally, they use these meetings to encourage one another by handing out virtual “trophies” to faculty participants who are taking risks and putting in exceptional effort.

Nicholson’s cohort is comprised of faculty members who are currently teaching summer courses online, so they are putting their newly-learned practices—like chunking lectures—immediately to work while moving through the course.

“I’m already getting personal emails from faculty in my cohort thanking me for helping them through this,” says Nicholson,. “Our ‘Talk it Through Thursdays’ give our faculty a learning community where they can discuss what they’re doing and encourage one another to try new things.”

“We are thankful our university was willing to invest in faculty by providing this training, so we wanted to make the most of it,” Fitzgerald says. “ACUE offers discussion boards and other engagement options within the modules, but we wanted to have a place to engage in deeper conversations about how this is working in our classes.”

Faculty on the Front Line

As the novel coronavirus pandemic forced NSU faculty to move courses online, they quickly realized supporting one another would play a critical role in student success.

“The reality is most of our students who were forced to transition to online courses last spring would have never chosen to take an online class. Many of them are first-generation college students and non-traditional students with jobs and families,” explains Dr. Rhonda Fitzgerald, NSU associate professor of mathematics. “As faculty, we had to come together to think through how to make online learning as engaging as possible. How can we humanize our courses and pull our students in?”

A huge part of eliciting enthusiasm from faculty, Nicholson explains, is the amount of research behind ACUE’s best practices. “Many of our faculty are heavily involved in research themselves, so for them to see the data behind these teaching methods and the impact it’s making at other colleges and universities was really important.”

Fitzgerald agrees and explains that the timing of this program couldn’t be better. “This is really an unprecedented time for everyone. We’re working remotely, stuck at home and in our silos,” she says. “This course has really brought us together, so we can, in turn, show up for our students.”

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