ACUE program one year later: improving classroom engagement

Evidence-based course offers techniques to use in the classroom

The University has implemented a customized faculty development program in collaboration with the Association of College and University Educators.

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9/22/2017 | By: Anne McMillin |

The University of Nevada, Reno is at the forefront of a growing national initiative to dramatically expand the use of evidence-based teaching practices that have been shown to promote college student completion and success.

A year after piloting the Association of College and University Educators' (ACUE) online Course in Effective Teaching Practices as a scalable solution to train faculty in effective teaching, the University is implementing the program beyond the initial group of experienced faculty and offering it to junior faculty across campus.  

"We have 50 faculty taking the course this fall and another 50 or so in the spring semester," said Beth Leger, associate professor in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, who is a co-facilitator for the course. She added that the goal is to train faculty in these evidence-based techniques early in their career so they will carry them forward in the classroom in coming years.  

Nationwide, higher education employs more than one million college educators whose responsibility is to teach. These instructional faculty rarely receive comprehensive training in the evidence-based teaching practices that promote student retention, graduation and deeper levels of learning. The American Council on Education (ACE) and ACUE's collaboration to develop this course was born out of this recognition.  

According to Leger, University leadership, led by the Provost's office, heard that faculty wanted more professional development opportunities, so the ACUE program was brought to campus last year. The University was one of 14 higher education institutions across the country to pilot this program in its inaugural year.  

At the start of the 2016-2017 academic year, the University launched the new, national certificate program offered through ACUE and endorsed by the ACE. ACUE announced the partnership on the heels of the 2016 State of the University address in which University leaders emphasized the institution's deepening commitment to campus diversity and student achievement.

"Preparing students for global citizenship starts with instructional excellence," Kevin Carman, executive vice president and provost at the University, said. "This partnership with ACUE recognizes and supports the role that effective instruction plays in student success and is central to our University's mission."

The Course in Effective Teaching Practices provides instruction on research-based teaching techniques shown to make classrooms more engaging, civil and embracing of diversity. Research shows that students learn more, persist in their studies and complete their degrees with access to evidence-based instructional practices.

The University has implemented its customized faculty development program in collaboration with ACUE and has ambitiously challenged participating faculty to complete the online course modules in a semester, according to Leger.

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ACUE's comprehensive services include exclusive access to an online Community of Professional Practice designed to sustain development and connect educators from around the country who are taking the course.

Leger said the course allows professors to visualize, through short videos, effective techniques for engaging students and promote their learning. Online chat forums are available for participating faculty to discuss their successes and challenges with implementing course techniques and seek encouragement from participants at other institutions.

"We are asking faculty to slightly change the 'outside' of their curriculum, not revamp their entire course; it is a different way to do what professors already do," Leger said. "Techniques such as introducing themselves on the first day of class and showing students their passion for the subject matter can go a long way in connecting student and professor."

Juliana Lessa Sacoman, a second-year molecular biology lecturer has found the course very helpful and beneficial to her teaching.

"I really like the course; it resonates with things I encounter in lecture and in the lab," she said. "I am already using some of the techniques I'm learning about in the course, but I can also use what they suggest because it resonates with me. It is good to see that these techniques are research based."

One such technique is to use the opening and closing minutes of a lecture session to drill home the important points of the subject matter while leaving the middle section for interactive activities. This process keeps students engaged during the time in class when research shows they tend to get distracted. The course module describing this technique also offers suggestions for interactive student activities.

According to Lessa Sacoman, the course urges instructors to become more engaged with students individually by committing to memorizing their names and learning something about their passions, interests and career goals.

"I try and relate to my students on a human level and let them know I really care about them as people as well as their careers goals," she said.

As she is able, Lessa Sacoman allows students to select their own assignments in order to further engage them in the subject matter.

"There is better engagement among students and the topic is relatable to them if they can connect with it based on their own background and experiences."

Faculty members who complete the program earn a Certificate in Effective College Instruction endorsed by ACE. Current faculty who are interested in taking the ACUE course should contact their dean to inquire about availability.

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