Faculty Development and Student Success

March 15, 2016

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“The results are in, folks. Faculty development does have an incredible effect on student success.”

That takeaway came from Linda Nilson, a panelist on Sunday afternoon’s lively panel on the role faculty development can play in improving student success in higher education.

The session, Student Success Through Faculty Development: Is a Scalable Solution on The Horizon? also featured William Covino, president of California State University, Los Angeles; Matthew Goldstein, chancellor emeritus of the University of New York; and Penny MacCormack, chief academic officer at the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) and was moderated by Deborah Seymour, ACE’s chief academic innovation officer.

Nilson, founding director of Clemson University’s Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation, said there is plenty of research to confirm that good teaching improves student learning at the college level. She pointed to John Hattie’s 2009 synthesis of 800 meta-analyses, which found that certain teaching strategies—such as encouraging metacognitive practices, providing effective feedback, and communicating clearly—have strong impacts on student learning.

Less attention has been paid to the impact faculty development has on student outcomes, Nilson said. That changed in February with an Inside Higher Ed article that reported the findings of a multi-year study that found high-quality faculty development had a demonstrable effect on student outcomes.

Last week, ACE and ACUE announced a major collaboration to advance effective instruction in higher education through ACUE’s Course in Effective Teaching Practices. ACE has endorsed ACUE’s Effective Practice Framework and will co-endorse a Certificate in Effective College Instruction for all faculty members who complete course requirements.

MacCormack took the audience on a customized tour of one of ACUE’s new course modules, which included dynamic video clips of classroom demonstrations, animated tutorials and interviews with college educators and subject-matter experts. She said the course is designed to ensure faculty implement new teaching practices in their own classrooms.

“If student classroom experiences are good, if students feel they belong, that they are challenged and supported, that they are actively engaged in the learning, and the expectations are clear,” MacCormack said, “then students do persist to the next semester, learn more and ultimately graduate.”

Covino said that part of what led Cal State LA to partner with ACUE was the challenges of a changing student population and faculty workforce. More than 80 percent of students at Cal State LA are first-generation college-goers, and the number of contingent faculty has grown from 600 to 900 in recent years, he said.

“Faculty are excited and engaged,” Covino said of the initiative. “That sense of engagement in teaching seems to make all the difference for us.”

Both Goldstein and Nilson said a big challenge for institutions is scaling their existing faculty development programs. Goldstein said he believed that ACUE’s online offerings could help teaching and learning centers reach more instructors on campus.

“We need to maximize this opportunity and help as many faculty as we can,” Goldstein said. “I think that in order to do that we have to scale the capacity of each institution.”

By Geoff Decker, communications manager for the Association of College and University Educators.

Also see Mastering the Art of Teaching

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