September 19, 2017  

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USM Faculty Members Complete Inaugural Development Institute

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Faculty members at University of Southern Mississippi who completed the ACUE Faculty Development Institute were honored during a special ceremony on Dec. 9. (Photo by Kelly Dunn).

A strategic teaching initiative launched in September by The University of Southern Mississippi has enabled faculty participants to hone skills that will enhance their classroom instruction and foster student success.

Approximately 30 USM faculty members recently completed the University’s first ACUE (Association of College and University Educators) Faculty Development Institute. The intensive, eight-week program saw participants engaged in a subset of ACUE’s Course in Effective Teaching Principles, which focuses on research-based techniques for promoting active learning, increasing student persistence, delivering an effective lecture, and facilitating engaging class discussions.

Dr. Amy Miller, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, points out that the faculty members spent between 50 and 150 hours working on the Institute. In addition to completing a comprehensive online course, the participants also met for an hour-and-a-half each week to discuss the program. Of the 29 faculty participants chosen for the Institute, 28 completed all of the eight assigned modules and will receive a USM Certificate in Active Learning.

“One of the most beneficial aspects of the Faculty Development Institute was the sense of community that emerged among participants,” said Miller. “Because they met weekly to discuss their online work and classroom implementation, they got to know one another, support each other’s efforts, and learn from people in widely varied disciplines. We were all energized by the multidisciplinary conversations.”

Miller explained that during Institute participants delved deeply into research on teaching and learning, and in doing so they gained both skills and confidence in using best practices around active learning in their classrooms.

“From math to history to anthropology, faculty teaching large and small classes practiced and learned from new teaching techniques to improve student learning,” said Miller.

Faculty participants offered glowing appraisals of the program, calling the opportunity “transforming” and “incredible.” Below is a sampling of comments from some of the participants:

Dr. Katie Smith, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology and Sociology – “Not only do I think that I have learned invaluable methods to take to the classroom, but I have also benefitted greatly from learning how to best connect with students. I would love to be able to continue my work on improving my teaching skills and discuss these skills with other faculty here.”

Dr. Melissa Ziegler, Instructor, School of Kinesiology – “I gained so much from the first set of modules; I cannot imagine not wanting to continue to develop in my teaching practice. My teaching philosophy has always revolved around preparing students to become confident, well-prepared, logical clinicians.”

Dr. Ann Blankenship, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Research and Administration – “We live in an age where students can access any information they want all of the time from their phones. I really need to focus my attention in the classroom to how they are using knowledge. Lecture just doesn’t accomplish that goal. I’ve made small adjustments to the classes I was teaching while going through the course, but am planning major revisions in my spring classes.”

Dr. Cindy Blackwell, visiting Assistant Professor, School of Mass Communication and Journalism – “This semester ACUE has really challenged me to grow in my teaching. While I have always put thought into my teaching, I realize I have not, as of late, expanded or challenged my teaching methods. I would like to continue to challenge myself in the formal way that ACUE has demanded.”

Miller says that the University is seeking external funding to be able to offer more iterations of the ACUE Faculty Development Institute in the years to come on different evidence-based practices for improving student success.

“In spring 2017, we will host another Institute on active learning as well as a second term for continuing participants, which will focus on assessment of teaching and learning,” she said. “We are excited to bring this resource to faculty and encourage the community it develops.”