04:30 AM

New university initiative will foster individualized approach to teaching

Students in this communications course taught by Nicole Kraft use iPads in the classroom

Simulations. Podcasts. Videos. Engaging lectures. Interactive media. Case studies. Judgment-free discussions.

These are just some of the techniques noted by nominators of the 10 Ohio State University faculty members who received the Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2016. Winners of this annual award are honored for their superior teaching.

The establishment of a new institute dedicated to encouraging faculty be the best teachers they can be will help instructors share their most successful teaching techniques and lead to increased adoption of modern methods that in turn enhance student learning.

University Senate approved the Institute for Teaching and Learning on April 21. The approval followed a year of advisory committee work that shaped the institute proposal first imagined during a Teaching and Learning Summit held in May 2015.

The summit was the answer to a call President Michael V. Drake made during his investiture address in March 2015 to make Ohio State as highly regarded for teaching and learning as it is for research.

“Educational excellence … contributes directly to access and affordability,” Drake said in his address. “A collaboration between faculty and staff and students across the university, this campus-wide institute will enhance support for excellent teaching, expand teaching and learning scholarship and apply student-centered analytics to improve learning outcomes.”

While virtual in nature, the institute will coordinate and serve as the front-door access to teaching activities across the university, all directed at improving the learning experience for students.

At the summit, about 50 faculty of all ranks held “honest conversations about where we are with the teaching and learning mission,” said Randy Smith, vice provost for academic programs, one of two Office of Academic Affairs leaders shepherding the institute development effort.

That first event spurred almost a year of meetings with many constituency groups to keep the conversation going. Along the way, it became clear that students needed to be involved. Student participation “provided us with tremendous feedback in developing an institute of this type,” Smith said.

Just what type of institute is it? One that will allow instructors to develop an individualized plan for innovative teaching that suits them and their students best, said Jennifer Evans-Cowley, vice provost for capital planning and regional campuses who co-led the effort with Smith.

The institute will focus on four key areas: instructional development support; research to measure the effectiveness of teaching outcomes; policy development concerning faculty roles, review and rewards; and communication to share success stories and learn from other institutions.

“What we learned in talking to various groups is that there are highly individualized needs. We have lots of services and resources, but what people need is an individualized plan. They want to set goals, figure out how to meet them and have access to resources that will help them get there,” Evans-Cowley said.

Connecting with the human resource of experienced and successful teachers will be an important component of the institute’s offerings. The institute is establishing a mentorship program that will be piloted for new faculty before autumn semester begins.

“This way, we’ll get new faculty connected to individualized programs and with faculty mentors who will coach them,” Evans-Cowley said. “We’re excited about the mentorship program. By design, we hope to have graduates of the program become future mentors.”

Directors of existing teaching-related centers “have been at the table since the beginning,” Smith said, and will have enhanced roles that integrate their services more completely across the university as part of this institute. The institute administration will include a still-to-be-hired director and faculty fellows occupying space in the Office of Academic Affairs. An internal advisory committee will be composed of faculty, students and academic advisers.

Drake told the Board of Trustees during a discussion about the institute in early April that proceeds from a $10 million endowment from Nike will fund the Institute for Teaching and Learning. The university agreement with Nike announced in January created a more comprehensive partnership that Drake described at the time as “a win for all Ohio State students.”

“We talk about being the best we can be, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t be the best public research institution in the world in teaching,” he said. “So we are putting our best effort to being No. 1.”