Turning Experts into Educators: WilmU Equips Its Newest Faculty Members with Skills to Succeed in the Classroom

university faculty members
Image via Wilmington University.
From left: Dr. Terri G. Trent, Tara Fridley, Dr. Nancy Doody, Dr. C. Joshua Simpson, Taquana Woodards, Dr. Adrienne Bey, and Patti Winter.

Teachers have to learn how to teach. If they want to be effective teachers, if they want to have a positive impact on their students, each must spend some time studying how education works before they set foot in a classroom.

This doesn’t always happen, though, especially at the college level.

“Most of the people who join our faculty are not yet educators — and we recognize this as a strength,” said Wilmington University assistant professor Dr. C. Joshua Simpson. “They’re great nurses, police officers, and cyber security technicians. Our students will absolutely benefit from their knowledge and experience. But they’ve never taught a class, kept students engaged, or graded an exam.”

As the faculty development manager for the Wilmington University Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE), Simpson helps to hire and train these industry experts into classroom-ready instructors. He and his colleagues provide workshops, mentoring, feedback, and other professional resources to equip WilmU’s newest faculty members with the skills they need to succeed as educators.

But that’s not their only audience. The CTE was created to serve WilmU’s academics at any stage of their careers.

“We’re here for all of our faculty — our adjuncts and our full-timers — with a variety of training opportunities so they can be more effective in the classroom,” said Dr. Adrienne Bey, the CTE’s director since 2018. “It’s an on-the-job training program for educators. We help faculty help students achieve their goals.”

While the concept of higher education is thousands of years old, faculty development is a relatively new idea. Members of WilmU’s Office of Academic Affairs began hearing other colleges’ proposals for in-house continuing education efforts at professional conferences they’d attended in the 2000s.The Center for Teaching Excellence was launched toward the end of that decade.

“The center was formed in part because we have a large adjunct faculty,” said Dr. Nancy Doody, associate director of the CTE. “It helps us stay in touch with them, make them part of the community, ensure they’re integrated into the university, and become a part of who we are.”

“Who we are is rather important, and a career-focused university sees great importance in keeping its real-world, experienced instructors sharp,” said Bey. “We needed a way to develop our faculty in line with our unique mission, and the center offers them the opportunity to take their expertise and translate it into teaching.”

Toward that end, the center’s staff organizes Faculty Development Day, a twice-annual event each fall and spring semester at which WilmU educators can learn about and discuss best practices and current trends while networking with their teaching peers.

Also, the CTE distributes, reviews, and communicates the results of the university’s Course and Teaching Survey, the questionnaire through which students provide feedback on their learning experience — and a user’s-eye view of faculty effectiveness — at the end of each term.

Maureen Shockley has been an adjunct instructor in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at WilmU for some time.

“I’ve learned some blind spots that I didn’t even know that I had, even after being an instructor for so long,” she said. “The Center for Teaching Excellence is a win for everybody.”

The CTE is also open in between initiatives, offering personalized workshops, classroom observations, and one-on-one coaching sessions. The staff teaches teachers in grading students’ work and measuring their progress, problem solving and decision making, team building, and diversity. They spread the word about teaching strategies, student interaction, and classroom effectiveness.

“With the Center for Teaching Excellence, I was able to self-evaluate,” said Dr. Michael Blair, adjunct instructor in WilmU’s College of Technology. “I’m able to look at my current teaching methods and see ways for improving those in the classroom. Being a technology guy, I never really learned how to be a teacher. But being able to network and learn from others’ experiences helped me tremendously.”

According to Bey, “Our faculty development training was developed in collaboration with WilmU’s Office of Educational Technology and Online Learning and the university’s library.” Together, they developed a curriculum called Pathways to Instructional Excellence, which guides WilmU instructors from basic understanding of technology and instructional strategies to mastery of these tools, with the aim of broadening and strengthening their ability to communicate with, engage, and assess students.

It’s been an award-winning combination. Pathways to Instructional Excellence won the Instructional Technology Council’s 2019 Outstanding eLearning Support for Faculty Award. It also received the University Professional and Continuing Education Association’s Mid-Atlantic Region Faculty and Staff Development Award that same year.

For the CTE’s staff, however, the real honor has been working with the faculty, seeing the results within WilmU’s faculty and those they teach.

“We provide our instructors with a home base for professional development in the classroom,” said Doody, “and this in turn leads to student retention and greater academic success.”

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