There is a common lament expressed often by faculty in the world of higher education – there are simply not enough hours in the workday. Between lecture preparation, office hours, research, instruction and a plethora of meetings, finding time to dedicate to professional development – especially when it’s voluntary – often takes a back-burner.
However, in an effort to improve instructional excellence to foster student success, Delaware State University (DESU), a historically black university located in Dover, Del., decided to partner with ACUE in 2018 to offer a course in Effective Teaching Practices. And while the university is seeing the fruits of its efforts, it didn’t come without initial challenges.
“When we first partnered with ACUE, we were perhaps overambitious in trying to launch two cohorts at one time,” laughs Amber Ward, DESU’s coordinator for its Center for Teaching and Learning. “Not only that, I was trying to serve as a cohort facilitator while also working through the modules for the first time myself.”
Piloting the new program gave Amber time to reflect on changes that could be made in subsequent cohorts.
“Working through the materials, I could see the value in the program,” Ward says. “While our course completion rates were not as high as we hoped that first year, we had really positive feedback from the faculty. We just needed to refine the logistics around it.”
When it came time to launch DESU’s third ACUE cohort, Ward decided to implement group study sessions once a month to walk through a module in real-time, and allow faculty time to collaborate with one another. Not only that, after becoming ACUE-credentialed herself, Ward emphasized to the faculty the importance of ACUE’s reflection guide.
“I told them that Reflection Guide was going to be their ultimate cheat-sheet,” she says. “During our monthly calls, I’d record our conversations and then post internally so other faculty members could go back and refer to it. And while I had many faculty in the cohort reaching out to me for questions, I reminded them to also talk with one another.”
For Ward, encouraging faculty to lean on one another not only helped her be a more effective course facilitator, but it also tapped into the idea of peer mentoring which can be extremely valuable.
“The effect of positive peer relationships and peer mentoring is so important,” she says. “It’s one of the reasons we started offering teaching testimonials where our ACUE-credentialed faculty could share what they got out of the program and how they’re incorporating best teaching practices into their classrooms. Not only does it give our faculty a platform to share with their peers, but it also increases interest in future ACUE cohorts.”
As DESU recently launched its fourth cohort, Ward decided to try an additional approach to increase the success of the ACUE partnership – small group leaders.
“I sent an email to all our faculty who had completed the ACUE program and asked for volunteers to serve as group leaders, helping their peers to navigate through their modules,” Ward says. “Six faculty members offered to help, so each of them has four to five cohort participants they check in with once a week or so to provide encouragement or offer advice.”
One of those leaders, chemistry professor Dr. Kimberly Milligan, found her own experience with ACUE extremely positive, which is why she volunteered to serve as a group leader.
“I completed my ACUE course in May 2020 – at the start of the pandemic. While our department was thrown into a frenzy with having to transition all of our courses online, I was unusually calm and a bit excited about implementing all of the ACUE techniques that I had learned over the past year,” Milligan explains. “Seeing how much ACUE helped me as an instructor, I began to spread the word around my department and have helped to recruit several department members to sign up for this year’s cohort.”
The addition of having a group leader has made a real difference in the willingness of faculty to push through to complete the program.
“I had one faculty member reach out to me telling me they were considering withdrawing from the program because they were worried about the time commitment, but after talking with their group leader, they were encouraged to push through,” Ward says. “That’s exactly the kind of support I was hoping to see by introducing group leaders to our ACUE program. Having a colleague there to encourage them makes a big difference.”