May 25, 2019  

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ACUE Institute Program Popular Resource with Southern Miss Faculty

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USM faculty members who completed Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) Faculty Development Institute programming were recognized at the university's Faculty and Staff Awards Day May 4. USM President Rodney D. Bennett (front row, center) was on hand to congratulate the group on their achievement. (USM Photo by Kelly Dunn)

What started as a pilot program designed to enhance and expand classroom teaching strategies has continued to gain in popularity among University of Southern Mississippi faculty members committed to student achievement.

The Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) Faculty Development Institute at Southern Miss offers participants an intensive series of semester-long programs that include ACUE’s Course in Effective Teaching Practices and features research-based techniques for promoting active learning, increasing student persistence, delivering effective lectures, designing robust courses, and assessing student work. A forum for faculty members from varying disciplines to share their own experiences and approaches with each other is also a popular element of the program.

In three semesters, faculty members who work in cohorts complete online instruction modules in combination with face-to-face meetings. The online modules include videos, descriptions of research findings, and required reflections on teaching techniques. At the end of each week of the program, participants meet in small groups with their facilitator to explore the topics for that week and their responses online. Those who complete one of the semesters in the program are given USM Certificates in Active Learning, Effective Course Design, and/or Assessment of Learning; those who complete all three semesters earn ACUE Distinguished Teaching Scholar status, as well as the nationally-recognized Certificate in Effective College Instruction, endorsed by the American Council on Education.

USM Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Dr. Amy Miller said the program launched in fall 2016, with her serving as facilitator for the first cohort. Because of accommodation limits, acceptance into the program happens through a competitive application process. Typically twice as many apply as can be accepted, she said. Approximately 30 faculty members have completed all three semesters, earning ACUE Distinguished Teaching Scholar status. The institute currently has approximately 50 participants to date. 

USM has the highest completion rate in the country for faculty using the product, with the university becoming a national standard for excellence (with ACUE), she said.

“I saw faculty members from across the university who had never met, from different disciplines, sharing stories of teaching and through that process formed a sense of community,” Dr. Miller said. “That’s when it became something special.”

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely beneficial.”

Dr. Jae-Hwa Shin, professor of public relations in the School of Mass Communication and Journalism, is an ACUE Distinguished Teaching Scholar. In her testimonial about the program, Dr. Shin said many of the effective teaching practices discussed through it have reinvigorated her teaching practices for the best student learning outcomes, with the idea that “students should be active players in their learning process.”

“I have also enjoyed sharing different perspectives, approaches, challenges and resolutions in current teaching and learning practices with my fellows in the program, and wish to share them with other colleagues who are seeking more effective teaching practices,” Dr. Shin said.

Another ACUE Distinguished Teaching Scholar, Dr. Alan Thompson, said that as a mid-career faculty member he was motivated to apply for the ACUE program as a means to reinvent his pedagogy, which he described as very “traditional” insofar as he had always taught in the same manner that he was taught.

“Over the past two semesters my understanding of effective instructional techniques has greatly expanded,” Dr. Thompson said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate in the ACUE program, and firmly believe that it has improved the quality of my instruction and, most importantly, directly benefited our students.”

Dr. Cindy Blackwell, visiting associate professor and assistant director in the USM School of Mass Communication and Journalism, completed the ACUE program and then served as one of its cohort facilitators. Like Drs. Shin and Thomson, she credits what she gained for refreshing her classroom instruction, and is passionate about sharing it with her colleagues. 

“ACUE not only shows and reminds faculty what excellent teaching is, it also offers the tools and techniques to achieve that level of teaching,” Dr. Blackwell said. “I was so energized after going through the entire ACUE program that I seized the opportunity to be a facilitator for another cohort of faculty. Serving as an ACUE facilitator was even more fulfilling than going through the modules, because I got to go back through the modules again from a new and unique perspective. To teach really is to learn twice.”

For more information about the ACUE Institute, visit