“Whether you’ve just finished your graduate work, whether you’ve been teaching for thirty years, whether you’ve been teaching for five years, there’s always an opportunity to strengthen your instruction,” said Kelly Lester, director of the Center for Faculty Development at the University of Southern Mississippi. Through USM’s new Faculty Development Institute, Lester and her colleagues are providing that opportunity. They’ve developed a blended and three-semester approach for USM faculty to earn their ACUE credential, with striking results.
The Institute brings faculty together in multi-disciplinary cohorts to discuss how they are implementing ACUE-recommended practices in the classroom.
“The Institute’s really been a way to create community and a powerful experience for faculty,” said Amy Miller, vice provost for academic affairs and a developer of the Institute.
Jennifer Regan, an associate teaching professor of cell and molecular biology, noted that the experience helped her connect with faculty from other disciplines she might not interact with. “I learned so much from people outside of my discipline and learned how to use similar techniques in a classroom that I didn’t think would be effective,” she said. She also shared that she was nervous, but the support from others in the Institute encouraged her to just try the new practices, and that failure is okay.
Lester noted that challenges are, in fact, to be expected. “Faculty develop a huge toolbox of techniques to pull from to try in their classes,” she said. “And we talk a lot about sometimes when you try that, it might be messy. But that’s all part of the process.”
Jeremy Deans, an assistant professor of geology found the experience challenging and rewarding. “It’s been very reflective,” he said. “Each module really forces you to think about how you teach and how you approach your teaching.”
Marek Steedman, associate professor of political science, agrees, noting that while teaching is what they are doing most of the time, they don’t always have time to reflect. “I think that time to focus really on how you are teaching, what’s working, and what’s not working, is the real benefit,” he said.
To date, 91% of Institute faculty have earned their ACUE credential and are designated USM Teaching Scholars.
“It’s a way to recognize faculty,” said Cindy Blackwell, associate director of the Center for Faculty Development. “It says to our stakeholders ‘We care about good teaching.’ That’s why we’re here as a university. That is our purpose.”
Lindsay Wright, an assistant professor of child and family sciences, feels that support. “I personally value working somewhere that values us as teachers,” she said. “I consider myself here for the students. I’m now able to have a very large student support role, and I think it’s great.”
This story was originally published by USM and has been adapted for print.