Faculty Focus Successful On All 3 Campuses

Long-time successful faculty development programs at three universities are quick to give College STAR credit for giving their efforts a boost and providing a unifying framework around Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

From its inception, College STAR has been a two-track program with Component A focusing on student-support programs and Component B supporting each university in designing an instructional support model for faculty members. Much of this support has focused on assisting faculty members who want to infuse UDL principles into their classroom instruction. Use of these principles has the potential to enable them to better serve the wide range of learners in college classrooms today, including, but not limited to, some of the students in Component A.

UDL is an educational framework based on neuroscience research that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. It encourages a curriculum that presents information in multiple ways to give learners various ways of acquiring knowledge, providing learners multiple ways to demonstrate what they know and using multiple ways of engaging learners to keep them interested and motivated.

Dr. Kate Brinko, Director of Faculty and Academic Development at Appalachian State, said over the years it has been challenging to sort out which new teaching ideas are simply the “trend du jour” and which have more staying power. She believes that College Star’s emphasis on UDL has given Appalachian State a unifying principle for all teaching innovations, especially when they were undergirded with good course design.

“UDL is best practice,” said Dr. Dorothy Muller, emphasizing that faculty members are not simply retrofitting their courses but rather redesigning them so they are meeting the needs and preferences of many different kinds of students. “Courses are more complete and enjoyable if we allow for options,” she said. “It gives more power to the students and they have more buy-in.”

Dr. Emily Lenning, an associate professor who heads up Component B at Fayetteville State, will be infusing UDL principles into the faculty development seminar she co-teaches every fall. She will be working with Dr. Bonnie Grohe of the Office of Faculty Development to make a UDL connection implicit in many faculty workshops.

In addition to support for UDL and course redesign workshops, College Star has also supported efforts to establish faculty learning communities. “New faculty arrive with hopeful ideas about the amount of interaction they will have with each other,” Muller said. “They crave intellectual conversation.”

Brinko and Muller both said that getting faculty together to talk about teaching and to work on ideas together has been greatly facilitated by College Star support. Sometimes it is as simple as providing refreshments and the support of a graduate assistant who can organize meetings, look up references and add a research component.

Faculty learning communities will get underway for the first time this fall at Fayetteville State. Lenning said the goal is to have three communities who work on some completely revised courses for spring of 2016. A unique feature of these new communities will be the participation of a student representative from Component A’s Bronco Star program. 

In addition to sharing experiences, the three schools recently joined together for a webinar on Flipping Classrooms. More than 80 faculty members participated. Fayetteville State hosted the webinar using Adobe Connect and faculty from Appalachian and ECU served as presenters.

Another resource faculty can access courtesy of College Star is a series of on-line modules. Modules on topics such as using smart pens, game-based learning and using syllabi are available at https://www.collegestar.org/faculty.

Muller said faculty are embracing programs that assist them in providing a more active learning experience for students. “Students won’t accept passive learning situations anymore and technology can support activities that enable students to experience real situations. Faculty are realizing there’s a better way and they are finding teaching more enjoyable.”

Brinko said she felt one workshop participant’s Facebook posting summed up how energizing course redesign could be. “When I woke up this morning, the only skill set I thought I would be using today involved my knowledge of effective university teaching practices,” wrote Lindsay Masland, an assistant professor of psychology at Appalachian State. “By the end of the day, however, I had shot, edited and streamed an entire viral video as well as performed an interpretive classical ballet dance depicting effective teaching practices in front of the entire professional development institute. It may have been the best day ever.”

When you get that kind of feedback, it’s easy to see what keeps the Component B leaders charged and ready to go. With College Star support, they know they have the potential to reinvigorate faculty and provide students with memorable and effective educational experiences.