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As the pandemic has brought an abrupt end to normal operations for universities nationwide, instructors have been asked to transition to online or blended environments. The problem isn’t purely a logistical one. Online instruction requires unique skills compared to teaching in the traditional classroom. Professors at UW-Parkside, however, have been committed to providing the best possible learning environment for their students, and have been actively pursuing developing the skill sets for quality online instruction and technology integration into their curriculum even before the pandemic had hit.
That incentive has proven especially beneficial now, given the current situation. The Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) offers programs for faculty to become more effective instructors, offering courses in effective in-class and online teaching practices. Jim Robinson, Director of the UW-Parkside Teaching & Learning Center, has spearheaded an initiative for Parkside instructors to engage with the ACUE curriculum. This is just one of many teaching development initiatives that UW-Parkside offers.
UW-Parkside has been actively offering professional development opportunities for faculty and staff. And with many courses shifting to an online environment, the skills and techniques gained from these opportunities are sure to come in handy. Several faculty and staff have engaged in other professional development opportunities provides by highly regarded experts in the field such as Quality Matters and the Online Learning Consortium. There are also in-house online professional development options through either one-on-one consultation with the UW-Parkside Innovations in Learning staff or through Online Course Development Workshops (of which there are three, the first being offered eleven years ago). The short of it is that UW-Parkside faculty and staff are always learning.
Robinson had originally facilitated the ACUE course for 30 UW-Parkside faculty and instructional staff during the 2018-2019 academic year as part of a UW system pilot.
“From that experience, I was aware that the online version of the ACUE curriculum had been under development since 2018-2019. The length of development time indicated that the online version would be of the same or higher quality, as it would as it would very likely include more recent updates in content,” said Robinson. “It is very comprehensive and requires, to the degree possible, a hands-on application of the curricular concepts being addressed into the participants’ own courses. Reflection is a major portion of the course and this dialogue and sharing of experience tends to be very beneficial.”
Currently, there are 37 UW-Parkside instructors enrolled in ACUE classes on facilitating online learning, representing 18 different disciplines/programs and ranging from full professors to associate lecturers, participating in a total of 85 courses. The disciplines/programs represented include a diverse range, from Physics, Mathematics, and Anthropology to Theatre Arts, Music, and Art, to name a few. That is not counting professors engaged in other professional development efforts, either.
Psychology Professor Dr. Sylvia Beyer is a particularly strong proponent of these professional development efforts. She is currently enrolled in several courses that will earn her an advanced certificate in online instruction during her sabbatical. She had also participated in the aforementioned year-long ACUE course Robinson had facilitated. Dr. Beyer had noticed that UW-Parkside was exceptionally well represented.
“A colleague at another university was asking me about the courses I’m taking. It occurred to me that Parkside really stands out in the number of instructors taking these ACUE courses, which really shows our commitment to teaching,” said Dr. Beyer.
Dr. Beyer in particular is eager to participate because she sees room to grow and appreciates that these kinds of opportunities exist.
“I have been teaching in higher education for over 30 years now, but I still learned a few new techniques in the year-long course, which I implemented in my own courses,” said Dr. Beyer.
Dr. Beyer has been teaching online for the past six years. So when the order came for campus to close down in March, moving her courses online wasn’t as difficult for her as it might have been for a novice. She stresses that now more than ever, it’s important to ensure that novice online instructors get the training they need. UW-Parkside faculty and staff were given the opportunity to take 3 ACUE courses focused on teaching online this summer:
- Promoting Active Learning Online
- Creating an Inclusive and Supportive Online Learning Environment
- Inspiring Inquiry and Preparing Lifelong Learners Online
Dr. Beyer enrolled in all three courses and many other UW-Parkside instructors did as well. The university’s goal is that all instructors teaching online in the fall semester will have participated in at least one of these three developmental experiences.
She added that the fact that the university is offering a stipend for individuals to take at least two courses focused on online teaching provides an excellent incentive and impetus for instructors. The UW-Parkside Teaching & Learning Center provides a stipend of $1,000 for successful completion of two courses. And as a result, UW-Parkside will be better prepared for serve its students come fall.
“I think this enticed a lot more people to take the courses. So, I think this will result in many instructors being a lot more prepared to teach online. Online teaching is a very different animal from face-to-face teaching. If you throw instructors with no online training into online courses, the results can be less than desirable. Administrators need to acknowledge that and provide the professional development opportunities required to transition instructors to teaching online. I think the training offered over the summer is a great step in that direction and demonstrates Parkside’s commitment to quality teaching,” said Dr. Beyer.
In partnership with institutions of higher education, ACUE prepares, credentials, and provides on-going support to faculty in the use of evidence-based teaching practices that promote student engagement, persistence to graduation, career readiness, and deeper levels of learning. Faculty who satisfy the requirements of ACUE’s courses through institutional partnerships or open enrollment courses earn certificates in effective college instruction endorsed by the American Council on Education. Through ACUE’s Community of Professional Practice, ACUE’s members enjoy ongoing support to refine their teaching, stay current on research, and advance the national conversation. Read more here: https://acue.org/programs/faculty/