ACE2018: Innovation-Driven Approaches to Teaching Effectiveness

March 14, 2018

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By Steven Taylor

Efforts to improve the quality of instruction surface very differently across institutions based on mission, structure, approach, and population served. During a packed session at ACE2018, presenters delivered three 20-minute micro-sessions to thread the needle of technology-enhanced teaching and learning through the institutional, research, and instructional practice perspectives.

To set the stage for the discussion, I first shared important outcomes from two of ACE’s recent publications—Institutional Commitment to Teaching Excellence and Effective Teaching: A Foundational Aspect of Practices That Support Student Learning. Notably, better teaching leads to better student outcomes through increased retention, decreased course retakes, and faster time to completion, and, good teaching is in itself a high impact practice necessary to support students through completion. Institutions can enable better teaching when they embrace innovative approaches to pedagogy and implement evidence-based teaching practices.

There is mounting pressure on college and university leaders to improve institutional efficiency and improve their core business of teaching. Marni Baker Stein, provost and chief academic officer at Western Governors University (WGU), shared how the university uses an innovative team-based approach to optimize student learning through a faculty model that focuses on professionals engaged in design, teaching, mentoring, and evaluation. Regarding WGU’s disaggregated faculty model, Stein remarked that it is “the most incredible and powerful tool” they have to ensure faculty and student success. From the bottom up, WGU was designed with students in mind, using dashboards and a team approach to continuously assess student and course performance and make changes in real time.

Next up, Joel Smith, distinguished career teaching professor and former chief information officer, and Lauren Herckis, anthropologist and research faculty, both from Carnegie Mellon University’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, shared information about their soon to be published research on overcoming the barriers to adoption of technology-enhanced learning techniques. A key outcome of their research identifies three different and often competing definitions of instructional quality and its importance—individual faculty, institution’s mission or strategic commitment, and quality instruction as assessed by the institution. One key recommendation to leaders: Make sure policies around quality instruction create alignment among the various definitions. The full research report will be available through Carnegie Mellon University in late March.

Rounding out the presentations, Penny MacCormack, chief academic officer of the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE), remarked how critical it is to prepare instructors with evidence-based teaching practices that are known to improve instructional quality and student outcomes. In discussing how ACUE has partnered with colleges and universities across the country to offer its innovative online, cohort-based Course in Effective Teaching Practices, MacCormack shared the outcomes of a recent study of Miami Dade College (MDC) faculty. The study conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that MDC students’ perceptions of their instruction were stronger across 14 out of 15 indicators when instructors were credentialed by ACUE and implemented evidence-based teaching practices.

This session and the opportunity to engage ACE2018 attendees in dialogue about instruction that supports student and faculty success was made possible by Western Governors University, which sponsored this session on Innovation-Driven Approaches to Teaching Effectiveness. WGU is an online nonprofit university established in 1997. With over 95,000 students and over 102,000 alumni from all 50 states, WGU is a national model in competency-based, student-focused education.

Further information on this topic and ACE’s resources on effective teaching and approaches that support faculty, student, and institutional success are available at

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