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Provost's Academy addresses student engagement

June 6, 2014

Colorado State may be one of the nation's foremost research institutions, but it also takes its land-grant responsibilities to undergraduate education seriously.

Two dozen faculty members who teach core and gateway courses – the foundational courses that every CSU undergraduate must take – explored ways to challenge and engage students in those courses during the first Provost’s Academy for Instructional Innovation, May 21-23.

The workshop, sponsored by the Office of the Provost, TILT, and the Advisory Committee on Undergraduate Affairs, was led by 15 campus experts who covered topics such as how students learn in gateway courses; coordinating lectures, labs, instructors and tutors; introducing more writing into core courses; and using technology to “flip” classrooms.

Step away from the day-to-day

The Provost’s Academy gave participants the chance to step away from the day-to-day routine and talk about teaching, according to Kathleen Pickering, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs.

“It was two days of pleasurable discussion,” she said. “There are huge challenges in teaching huge freshman classes, and I was very impressed by how very committed our faculty are to the students and how much they want to make these courses a positive experience for students.”

Some of the biggest challenges are for those teaching STEM courses to non-majors. This is one area where flipping the classroom – allowing students to watch the standard lecture on video as “homework,” leaving class time free for questions or group activities that reinforce understanding the lesson.

Energizing courses

This inaugural workshop grew out of the TILT course redesign initiative, and the final morning session was devoted to drafting course plans for each of the seven courses represented. These aren’t complete redesigns, Pickering explained, but ideas for energizing the presentation and what resources would be needed to implement those ideas.

“I look forward to the conversation continuing over the next few months, and expect to see great things happen,” Pickering said, adding that some of the course innovations that grow out of the Provost’s Academy could be implemented as early as this fall semester.

The Provost’s Academy will be presenting at least one event focused on teaching every semester, Pickering said, with a new cohort of instructors invited to each.

“In the fall, we’d like to invite faculty who teach the courses that require the foundational courses for the major,” she said. “The discussion could focus on what they expect students to accomplish in the foundational course. How can our upper division courses can be better aligned with the prerequisites so they can be meaningful for students, not just something they have to do to get to what they want to study?”