Much of the discussion around COVID-19 and higher education has understandably focused on the impact on student learning and outcomes. However, students aren’t the only ones feeling the effects of social distancing. Most of the 1.5 million college and university instructors across the country have been challenged to find new and creative avenues to build community amongst their students and colleagues. Educators at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMUCC) are working to stay connected in a way that not only builds community but also enhances their professional development and teaching effectiveness.
Dr. Kellie Smith, assistant professor of communication at TAMUCC, took a position as director of TAMUCC’s Center for Faculty Excellence in 2017 and was immediately impressed with the faculty body’s deep commitment to growing as educators.
“The faculty at TAMUCC is an incredibly robust community of sharers who are willing to discuss what they are doing in their research and in their classrooms—including what’s working or not,” said Smith.
In August, 60 faculty members comprising a diversity of colleges, disciplines and stages of career at TAMUCC began ACUE’s comprehensive online course in Effective Teaching Practices. As faculty cohorts work independently through the 25 course modules, they come together regularly via WebEx to discuss what they’re taking away from the course and how they’re implementing the proven teaching practices within their own courses.
“Being the coordinator of these events has been a delight because we have so many faculty members who are willing to speak during faculty discussion panels, participate in book clubs, and volunteer to organize and facilitate communities of practice,” said Smith. “They’re not just sharing, they’re investing in others, adding a whole new dimension of community.”
Dr. W. Scott Sherman, TAMUCC associate professor of management, has appreciated the benefit of reading and talking to faculty outside the College of Business and getting their different—and sometimes confirming—perspective on how to address opportunities and challenges.
“The blessings from the ACUE course have been many, but the two primary are: first, more intentionality about what I do with my students, as I had grown comfortable in what I was doing, and then also a sense of community around teaching and the ability to learn from and support one another as we deal with a pandemic on top of typical teaching issues,” said Sherman.
That feedback is common among TAMUCC’s ACUE cohort participants.
“Our faculty are not only appreciating the value and the skills to implement in the classroom, but they’re also appreciative of this increased sense of community among faculty who are going through this together during this unique time of uncertainty and social distancing,” said Smith
“We’re not seeing each other in the hallways or running into each other in the line at Starbucks, so the more opportunities we have to get together—albeit virtually—are welcome.”
Smith and her co-facilitator Dr. Pamela Greene, TAMUCC assistant professor of nursing and health sciences, believed it would be helpful to share some of the teaching practices that faculty in the ACUE cohort are exploring with colleagues outside the program. In October, they hosted their first virtual “Teaching Talk” and invited faculty from across campus to hear more about what their colleagues in the ACUE program were learning. It was such a success, they are planning more of these events.
“The objectives behind the ‘Teaching Talks’ were two-fold,” Smith explains. “We wanted to give our ACUE participants an informal opportunity to share their ACUE experiences with our larger faculty body and give our non-participating instructors a glimpse of the strategies our faculty course takers are learning. We also wanted to pique the interest of faculty members for future potential ACUE programs, we’ll now have a list of faculty who are lining up to participate because the impact of effective teaching practices on student success is invaluable.”
Greene and Smith, who refer to themselves as facili-takers—since they are both facilitating as well as going through the program alongside their colleagues—are encouraged by the faculty responses.
“I’m hearing faculty members say things like ‘ACUE is helping me get off auto-pilot and back to teaching with intention. The adjustments are minor—but powerful,’ and, ‘Each time I try something from one of the modules, I am surprised at the results. This ACUE stuff works,’” Greene shares. “Overall, I am amazed at the ongoing enthusiasm and sense of accomplishment faculty are experiencing.”
TAMUCC Faculty Perspective
“My initial thoughts when I learned of being recommended for the ACUE Cohort were those of enthusiasm. I embrace learning opportunities whenever possible and attend professional development workshops, seminars and lunch and learns hosted by the TAMUCC Center for Faculty Excellence on a regular basis. I felt that the ACUE Cohort would be a wonderful opportunity to enhance my teaching craft.
So far, I have completed nine modules within the 25 teaching competency module program. In that time, I have learned many new things and have been reminded of best practices that I might have forgotten about. Professional development is what the learner makes of it, and I have made it a point to take something from each and every module and use in my courses. One thing that stands out to me that I utilized this semester was to distribute information to my students addressing common errors. I distributed a list of common errors to a group of students after they submitted a rough draft. This practice benefitted the students and me. I was able to address common errors in a timely manner and help students revise their rough drafts efficiently. Then, after the students submitted their final drafts, I had the students write a reflection about the process. Reflecting on the learning process was a great learning tool for all of us. I was able to see where I might need to improve instruction in the future and where my strengths were. It also allowed my students to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses and see how important self-reflection is. In addition to learning new things, ACUE has validated many of the best practices I already utilize in my courses. It is always good to relearn things and find that you are doing things well! Thank you ACUE for allowing me the opportunity to better myself as an educator.”
—Dr. Michele R. Staples
Clinical Assistant Professor
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Learning Sciences