Facilitating the ACUE course on Effective Teaching in Higher Education

Jim O’Connor, PhD
Founding Dean Emeritus, CEHS, TUC
Director, Center for Innovative Learning and Teaching, Touro Western Division

Please allow me to first give you some background information. I served as Dean of the College of Education and Health Sciences (CEHS) for ten years at Touro University California (TUC). The CEHS included the Physician Assistant program, the Public Health program, the Graduate School of Education, and the School of Nursing.  At the end of the 2016-17 academic year, I chose to step down as Dean and become Director of the Center for Innovative Learning and Teaching (CILT) for the Touro Western Division, which is TUC and Touro University Nevada (TUN).

Quickly, my background includes both health sciences, I was one of the first surgical physician assistants in the United States, and education, my PhD is in educational psychology specializing in learning, instruction, and cognition. Prior to coming to Touro, I was a professor at the University of Iowa. I also served as a Center Fellow at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, and spent six years as an Assistant and Associate Professor of Education at Cal State University Bakersfield. I also worked in surgery and taught at the local community college in Homer, Alaska.

My first year as CILT Director was spent focusing on what CILT should look like, and what services it should offer. I visited several teaching and learning centers in the San Francisco Bay area, and interviewed directors of several programs. As well, I visited numerous websites from university teaching and learning centers around the country. Most importantly, I met with faculty and administrators at both TUN and TUC to determine what services should be provided to best improve teaching and learning on each campus.

In the spring of 2018, Provost Ray Alden from TUN asked me to attend a meeting where the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) would present information about an online course they were offering on Effective Teaching in Higher Education. The course is an online course using Canvas as the learning platform.  After much deliberation, Provost Alden, and TUC Provost, Sarah Sweitzer decided to offer this course to faculty at both TUN and TUC. Dr. Alden asked if I would co-facilitate the course along with Dr. Yvonne Randall, the Associate Dean in the College of Health and Human Services at TUN. Of course, I agreed.

Concurrently, Provost Sweitzer asked me if I would head up the transition from BlackBoard to Canvas at both TUC and TUN. I requested that Dr. Michael Barbour, a highly talented instructional designer and Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at TUC, assist me.  The provost agreed, and both  Michael and I have been overseeing this transition, along with instructional designer, Debbie Millican, from TUN.

A decision was made to offer ten slots to TUC faculty, and 23 slots to TUN faculty (since the funds were coming from the TUN budget).  We sent out announcements to both campuses, and quickly filled the class with faculty members from across all programs at each campus.

The course began in early August of 2018, and we received lots of help, guidance and materials from the ACUE staff. Each person enrolled in the course, and both Yvonne Randall and I, were issued a Canvas account through ACUE. I love the Canvas platform, and serving as a course facilitator really allowed me to quickly learn all of the important features of Canvas. This enabled me to do a better job overseeing the transition from BlackBoard to Canvas on both campuses.

The ACUE course consists of twenty-two units divided into four blocks. The topics of the units included the following:

Connecting with Your Students

Promoting a Civil Learning Environment

Engaging Underprepared Students

Helping Students Persist in Their Studies

Embracing Diversity in the Classroom

Planning an Effective Class Session

Delivering an Effective Lecture

Using Active Learning Techniques

Planning and Facilitating Effective Class Discussions

Developing Self-Directed Learners

Leading the First Day of Class

Using Advanced Questioning Techniques

Using Concept Maps and Other Visualization Tools

Checking for Understanding

Providing Useful Feedback

Using Student Achievement and Feedback to Improve Your Teaching

Establishing Powerful Learning Outcomes

Aligning Assessments with Course Outcomes

Aligning Activities and Assignments with Course Outcomes

Preparing an Effective Syllabus

Developing Fair, Consistent and Transparent Grading Practices

Developing and Using Rubrics and Checklists

The course began with face-to-face meetings on both campuses with ACUE personnel. We also had two other face-to-face meetings on each campus following Blocks I and II. The course moved briskly, with a new unit each week. Faculty enrolled in the course would read over introductory materials from each unit and watch numerous videos that were provided. They engaged in online discussion groups, where posts were required for each unit, and then they would design activities to be used within their own courses. They were required to implement these activities, and analyze the results of the implementation.

My job as co-facilitator, along with Yvonne Randall, was to review the discussion boards, send out announcements, and meet, via Zoom, with ACUE personnel who were providing us with guidance, and soliciting suggestions from us about improving the course.

Using Canvas features, we were able to monitor student progress in real time. Numerous faculty participants, at one time or another, were unable to keep up due to their campus workload, or personal commitments. We frequently reached out to faculty participants providing encouragement as needed. As we approach the end of the course, most of the thirty-three participants have either completed the course or are near completing.

In October 2018, TUC lost their IT Director. Provost Sweitzer asked me if I would be willing to serve as Interim Director. This was astonishing to me, since I literally knew nothing about IT. After turning down her request four times, I finally agreed to serve as Interim Co-Director, along with IT Support Technician, Gary Van Winkle.

Talk about a steep learning curve! This was has been the most challenging job I have ever had. The job has been very demanding, and took away time I had to spend on the ACUE course. Nevertheless, I have learned sooooo much about IT during the past six months: I believe it has helped me with my other duties as Director of CILT, and overseeing the Canvas transition.

What is most rewarding about facilitating the ACUE course is that it has been transformative for those faculty enrolled in the course. Based upon their written testimony, as well as one-on-one and group conversations, what they have learned in the course is making a significant difference in the quality of their teaching and the resulting student learning. Several blogs from ACUE students can be found on the CILT website: https://western.touro.edu/cilt/

Even more exciting, is that faculty members who are enrolled in the course are sharing ideas with their colleagues, sometimes with entire departments or programs. The result is transformation and improvement of teaching on both campuses, resulting in increased student engagement and performance.

The TUN and TUC faculty enrolled in this course receive a “badge” for each unit they complete. In early June, these same faculty members will receive a certificate in “Effective Teaching in Higher Education”, a pin, and a modest stipend. I congratulate each of them for their effort and performance. They have been a wonderful group in every way.

Let me leave you with the words of one of the faculty members, Johnny Rider, Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy at TUN, “Thanks to ACUE, I now see my responsibilities and opportunities as an educator with a different lens. I recognize the abundant evidence that I can implement to become a more effective instructor. I have also been inspired to look for ways to conduct research in my own classroom. ACUE has positively impacted every aspect of my teaching and guided me on a path of professional development that will shape the rest of my career”.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s