As a faculty member at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Park campus, Linda Hanson often attends conferences and workshops to brush up on her craft. But she rarely gets the opportunity to engage in the kind of training she is currently undergoing with 29 of her peers â an eight-week program designed to greatly expand her use of evidence-based teaching practices shown to promote student success.
Hanson is enrolled in the national Association of College and University Educators’ Faculty Development Institute underway at Southern Miss.
“It is excellent,” she said. “By far some of the most useful information I’ve received. It directly impacts what I use in the classroom.
“I learn something. I go back and try it. I would say the main focus has been on active engagement for student learning â how to initiate discussion. Very structured conversation with open-ended questions that promote deeper learning without regurgitation.”
The intensive program focuses on research-based techniques for promoting active learning, increasing student persistence, delivering effective lectures and facilitating engaging class discussions.
Hanson goes online each week and reads material, watches a “Technique Talk,” observes classroom demonstration videos and participates in an online discussion board. Then she goes back to her class to try out the teaching strategy of the week and writes an essay on how it went. Each Friday, the 30 faculty meet for 90 minutes to discuss the lessons and talk about how the strategies could be implemented at Southern Miss. Hanson and three of her colleagues on the Gulf Park campus Skype into the Friday discussions, which are held on the Hattiesburg campus.
Amy Miller, vice provost for academic affairs, said the course was started in reaction to faculty demand.
“Our faculty were interested in opportunities for professional development,” she said. “I learned of this organization that had a fully online model. We combined those online resources with weekly meetings to discuss the research and what (the faculty) are doing in the classroom.
“It’s been fun to listen to faculty from different disciplines talking about how to encourage students to master skills and material.”
Miller, who leads the Friday discussions, said Southern Miss faculty don’t get many opportunities for professional development.
“There’s some, but not a lot,” she said. “You may get development in your field or we may have one-time workshops. But this is sustained development. It creates a sense of community and gives the chance for deeper learning.”
Faculty who complete the course receive a Certificate in Effective College Instruction endorsed by the American Council on Education.
Penny MacCormack, chief academic officer at the association, said class begins to look different for the student when his or her instructor has engaged in the course modules.
“(Students) are clear about what they’re learning. They’re clear about why they’re learning,” she said. “That clarity is very, very motivating for students.”
MacCormack said an important part of the course is when faculty try the techniques in their own classrooms and then write about the experience.
“It requires you to think about what went well and what challenged you,” she said. “The way you become a master teacher is not that you try something and it’s perfect. You reflect on it and what went wrong and what went right.”
Miller said the course includes the most up-to-date teaching techniques.
“I think it was needed because the research on teaching and learning has really exploded,” she said. “We are able to bring them the latest research on the most effective teaching practices.”
Courtney Luckhardt, assistant professor of history, said the only teaching instruction she received before coming to Southern Miss was one semester during her doctoral work.
“Southern Miss is really invested in student success,” she said. “This kind of program is what I was hoping would be available to professors, as we’re working to best serve our students.
“I certainly think it’s improved some of my teaching techniques, absolutely.”
Miller said university officials will evaluate the program and survey the faculty who participated. They may hold the course again with different professors or expand it to give the same group more exposure.
Miller said the goal of the program was three-fold.
“To give faculty a broader repertoire of teaching techniques so they can be as effective as possible at reaching our students, to improve faculty satisfaction with teaching and to have students be more successful in the classroom,” she said.