ASU Faculty Use Summer as Time for ReDesign

Some 26 faculty members at Appalachian State wouldn’t have any trouble writing an essay on how they spent their summer. They were busy infusing new energy into a course they had identified earlier in the year as a target for redesign. Their efforts weren’t undertaken in a vacuum, however, because they were all participants in Appalachian’s Course (Re)Design Institute sponsored by the Hubbard Programs for Faculty Excellence as part of the College Star component B program supporting faculty.

The journey began in April as part of a hybrid face-to-face and in-person institute. After 15 hours of individual preparation, participants met as a group for a week in May and then continued their course revision work throughout the summer.

“The course provided an in-depth look at an integrated approach to designing courses that would enhance student learning and engagement,” said Dr. Tracy W. Smith, professor of curriculum and instruction and facilitator of the institute. “Our participants included tenured and non-tenured faculty and came from a variety of disciplines across campus.”“

Smith said she felt the broad representation was a real strength of the institute. “It builds community among faculty for the heart of what we do at the university—teaching,” she said.

Dee Fink’s book Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing Courses was a key focus of the course. In addition, participants learned about and were challenged to incorporate Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles into their courses. UDL principles can guide the design of instructional goals, assessments, methods, and materials so that more students’ individual needs are met.

Dr. Lindsay Masland, a participant in the 2014 workshop, served as leader of the UDL strand of the Institute in 2015 and found it interesting to be on the other side. “I have found that in teaching UDL, it’s best not to start from a point of disability,” she said. “My colleagues at the university love learning and have been successful students themselves, so starting from that point doesn’t resonate with them. Instead, I like to focus on whether or not we are measuring things we don’t care about.

“For example, she continued, “in most jobs, you don’t have to write something in 90 minutes. If we give in-class tests where students have to perform on the spot, we are putting up irrelevant barriers and creating crippling test anxiety. The only barriers we want are the ones we can teach people to overcome.”

Other institute collaborators included Emory Maiden from Learning Technology Services and Lillian Goudas from University College. Participants were introduced to strategies such as World Café Conversations, Incubator Discussions, and Paideia Seminars.

“This institute helped me to form a better understanding of how to be a more effective instructor. My achievements included becoming aware of situational factors, learning about significant learning experiences, and the human significance of good teaching and learning,” wrote one participant. “Most importantly, I became aware of how changing my assignments, syllabi, and activities, etc. contribute to the success of my classes. I found this institute to be more than faculty development—it created awareness of all aspects of teaching and learning.”

The institute gave participants an opportunity to learn how they could incorporate Appalachian State priorities such as sustainability, global learning, social justice, civic engagement and service learning into their re-designed courses.

Learning from the experiences of others was a key component of the institute and participants had multiple opportunities to test their ideas on their peers. “When you bring together representatives from many departments, they have the opportunity to learn what teaching looks like in a department other than their own,” Smith said. “It builds an inter-campus community and gives people who haven’t had a lot of experience with course design more confidence about their teaching because they have a framework.”

“The institute was implemented in a way that was appropriate and inclusive of all the different content areas of the faculty. It was wonderful to hear the challenges and techniques of faculty across the campus community,” reflected one participant. “I wish there were more opportunities for faculty to come together like this institute, with several days devoted to talking about the challenges of teaching and to see potential solutions.”

Although all participants were cognizant of the significant work ahead of them, they were reassured by the availability of additional support they received during the summer. A team at Appalachian State volunteered to review the redesigned courses. Submitting them for publication on Fink’s website is also an option.

“This needs to be offered year after year—it is career changing for my teaching,” said one participant. “I was getting burned out but I am totally challenged and refreshed. Thank you! Whoever funds this needs to continue to do so—it is vitally important for our faculty and will impact the quality of our students' educations tremendously.”