Course Syllabus

SyllabusAspirational Teaching Institute:
Striving for Student Success in Gateway Courses

Spring 2022

The Aspirational Teaching Institute brings faculty to the Center for Transformative Teaching for a semester-long program designed to help them tackle a major teaching challenge. The institute is designed as if it were a course, with bi-weekly synchronous sessions, instructional materials, and targeted support and feedback. Topics may vary from semester to semester. Our first offering, for the Spring 2022 semester, is “Striving for Student Success in Gateway Courses.”

Why Participate?

This program will not revolutionize your life nor your teaching. It will not rescue your students from debt, despair, or immaturity. But if we do our job well and you do yours well, it might still be among the most impactful faculty development programming you participate in. This is because we are aiming straight at a big problem. We might miss the center of the target, but we hope to do some damage regardless. The big problem is that far too many students struggle in their courses and in their degree programs, and high-enrollment, gateway courses make an outsized contribution to these struggles. You, we, and the rest of the institution care about teaching and learning. You, we, and the rest of the institution care about diversity and inclusion. Why, then, do we often see DFW rates of 25% or greater in gateway courses? Why are underrepresented students over-represented in those DFW figures? Most important, and most relevant to the programming we have in store, how can you design your gateway course in a way that takes steps to close equity gaps and helps as many students succeed as possible?

If you want to answer that question, then we invite you to join us. Please read on. If you are uninterested in that question, or if anything in the above paragraph does not work for you, then do not feel any obligation to continue in this program.

Detailed Program Overview

The unifying questions we will tackle in the “Striving for Student Success in Gateway Courses” program are:

  • Why do so many students struggle to succeed in their courses?
  • What can you do to help? More specifically, how can you design your gateway course in a way that helps as many students succeed as possible?

The program facilitators from the CTT, with help from relevant campus leaders, will take a lead on answering the first question. Your primary job as a participant of this program will be to develop answers to the second question. We will offer ideas and guidance to get you started with this – but, ultimately, teaching is a personal endeavor, and the right ways of addressing these problems will need to be highly individualized. What works well for one instructor, or for one course, may work less well for another. You will need to consider which ideas make sense to you, which seem to fit with your own personality and style of teaching, and which seem to fit with the course you are teaching and the specific challenges you and your students are experiencing. While designing your distinct approaches, you will have robust help along the way from fellow participants and the CTT.

The first of our eight instructional sessions will feature CTT Director Nick Monk and the two program facilitators setting the table for the program. All subsequent sessions will involve an asynchronous guest lecture (posted to Canvas the week before the group meeting) in which a campus leader whose work is relevant to the challenge of the week will address the issue from their vantage point. At our group meeting, representatives from the CTT will follow up on the campus leader’s presentation by providing a few initial thoughts on how you could address the specific challenge in your teaching. Following that, we will have an opportunity for questions and an open discussion.

After each session, you will have an opportunity to prepare – and, if you like, share with other participants – a reflection, in which you:

  • provide observations about how the given challenge plays out in your own course;
  • summarize what steps (if any) you already take to try addressing the challenge; and
  • identify steps you would like to consider taking in the future.

Time will be reserved at the beginning of the following session for debriefing: you may want to share any observations you made in your class(es) since the previous session or reflect on things from the previous session that remain on your mind.

As a final deliverable for this program, we invite you to prepare detailed plans for each of the changes or interventions you identify as being worthwhile. We encourage you, as you design these plans, to take abundant advantage of opportunities to consult with peers in the program, with the program facilitators, with your students, and/or with the instructional designer who supports your college or department.

Your Facilitators

Eric and Steven are both instructional designers with the Center for Transformative Teaching, and both support the College of Business. Below is more information about them and their backgrounds.

Eric Michael French - Instructional Designer

Prior to joining the CTT, Eric was an assistant professor of political science at Oklahoma State University, where he taught high- and very high-enrollment gateway courses for several years. He is an alumnus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, having earned B.A. and M.A. degrees here, before going to Indiana University to complete his Ph.D. His primary areas of interest and expertise include high-enrollment teaching, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and working with teaching assistants.

Steven Cain - Senior Instructional Designer

Steven joined the Instructional Design team in 2016. Previously, Steven worked as a page designer for Lee Enterprises and taught visual literacy courses for the College of Journalism. Steven earned his bachelor's degree in news-editorial and broadcast journalism in 2011 and his master's in teaching, learning, and teacher education in 2014, both from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Professional areas of interest include feedback culture, alternative grading, and inclusive teaching practices.

Outline of Topics

Below is our outline of topics for the program, centered around a variety of obstacles to student success.

Theme I: Pedagogy

1/19 & 26 ~ Topic 1: Students struggle when their instructors use unhelpful pedagogies.

  • Guest presenter: Nick Monk, Director of the CTT, will introduce the downsides of pedagogies that do not include students as active participants in their learning.
  • CTT presenters: Steven Cain and Eric French will present an abbreviated version of their workshop “How to Excel at Teaching in 1,317 Easy Steps.”

2/2 ~ Topic 2: In their larger classes, students often lack the level of instructional support they need.

  • Guest presenter: Kasey Linde, Associate Director of the College of Business Teaching and Learning Center, will discuss the types of instructional support students need (and how they often struggle to have these needs met in large courses).”
  • CTT presenters: Robert Vavala & Eric French will present about the promise of learning assistants for supporting large courses.

2/16 ~ Topic 3: Often, instructors do not know that their students are struggling.

  • Guest presenter: Chad Brassil, Faculty Director of Undergraduate Analytics, will discuss what we can learn about student success challenges by looking at analytics.
  • CTT presenters: Amy Ort & Brian Wilson will discuss ways of adjusting one’s instruction around insights gained from institutional analytics.

Theme II: Inequity

3/2 ~ Topic 4: Many students experience inequities inside and outside of the classroom.

  • Guest presenter: Gwen Combs, Director for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion, will discuss the many ways that inequities can make their way into the instructional environment.
  • CTT presenters: Amy Ort & Steven Cain will discuss essential inclusive teaching practices.

3/23 ~ Topic 5: Students with disabilities struggle when courses and course materials are not accessible.

  • Guest presenter: Barbara Woodhead, Assistant Director of Services for Students with Disabilities, will discuss the types of problems students with disabilities commonly experience in their courses.
  • CTT presenters: Julia Remsik-Larsen & Grace Troupe will discuss a few initial steps people can take to make their course materials more accessible.

Theme III: Preparation

4/6 ~ Topic 6: Many students (especially those who are first-generation) are unfamiliar with the unwritten rules of college and do not have well-developed academic habits.

  • Guest presenters:
    • Amy Goodburn, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Undergraduate Education, will discuss challenges that first-generation students face, compared to their continuing-generation peers.
    • Lori Romano, Director of the Center for Academic Success and Transition, will discuss the student habits and behaviors that most interfere with learning.
  • CTT presenters: Eric French and Steven Cain will lead a discussion about strategies and resources for supporting students who are first-generation or who seem to lack the preparation they need to succeed. 

Theme IV: Life

4/20 ~ Topic 7: Students often struggle because of resource insecurity, substance abuse, or mental health challenges – or because their coursework must compete with important outside priorities, such as employment, medical treatment, or caregiving.

  • Guest presenters:
    • Connie Boehm, Director of Big Red Resilience, will discuss the various dimensions of well-being and the outside factors that most often impact student well-being and educational performance.
  • CTT presenters: Grace Troupe & Eric French will discuss outreach planning, how to approach sensitive consultations with students, and how to build flexibility into course policies and requirements.

Theme V: Belonging

5/4 ~ Topic 8: Students struggle when they lack a sense of academic and social belonging.

  • Guest presenter: Bill Watts, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Advising and Career Development will discuss the importance of advising for ensuring that students experience academic direction and belonging.
  • CTT presenters: Nate Pindell & Steven Cain will discuss ways of building community in one’s course.

Program Schedule

Throughout the term, we will meet every other week for an instructional session. The intervening weeks will be reserved for open discussion sessions among participants or open office hours with instructional designers, who can help you review new ideas you are considering or persistent challenges you are grappling with.

The schedule of meetings will be as follows:

  • Week 1 – Introductory session: Pedagogy, Part I
  • Week 2 – Introductory session: Pedagogy, Part I (Repeat – join only Week 1 or Week 2)
  • Week 3 – Instructional session: Pedagogy, Part II
  • Week 4 – Open discussion session among participants
  • Week 5 – Instructional session: Pedagogy, Part III
  • Week 6 – Open office hours with instructional designers
  • Week 7 – Instructional session: Inequity, Part I
  • Week 8 – Open discussion session among participants
  • Week 9 – No session (Spring Break)
  • Week 10 – Instructional session: Inequity, Part II
  • Week 11 – Open office hours with instructional designers
  • Week 12 – Instructional session: Preparation
  • Week 13 – Open discussion session among participants
  • Week 14 – Instructional session: Life
  • Week 15 – Open office hours with instructional designers
  • Week 16 – Instructional session: Belonging

Modes of Participation

If your availability permits, we hope you will commit fully to this program. But we know that level of commitment is not realistic for most people most of the time. If you are still interested but may need to miss out on some (or all) sessions or some of the work, then we offer two other ways of thinking about your participation. Unless you are part of the Reflective Practitioner Program (more on this below), these categories are generally fluid. We asked you to express your intent during initial registration, but we understand that your availability may change along the way. You are not locked into that choice – it was just for information gathering. Modify your participation as needed, and chat with us if you need us to consider making any adjustments to accommodate your individual situation.

Committed Engagement: Institute

Institute participants will attend all eight topics (or coordinate an alternate type of engagement with the program facilitators should complications arise), write a brief reflection after each one, and complete the final deliverable. Those who complete all these activities will be issued a certificate of completion for the Aspirational Teaching Institute. (Please note that if you would like for your participation in this program to count as an institute for the Reflective Practitioner Program, this is the only level of participation that will count.)

Curious Lurking: Workshops

If you are interested in some or all of the topics but do not have the time to commit to fully completing this as a program, you are welcome to join us as a "lurker" and attend individual topics that you are interested in without taking on an obligation to complete reflections or attend every session. You will still be added to the Canvas site, included in relevant updates, and welcome to submit reflections and to join office hours or open discussions.

Interested but Unavailable: Asynchronous Materials

If the Wednesdays at 1:30 time does not work in your schedule, but you are interested in these topics, then we do not want you to be left out entirely. We will add you to the Canvas site so you can browse the resources from this institute entirely at your own convenience. Feel free to submit reflections, contribute to asynchronous discussions, or participate in any other way that makes sense to you. We will do our best to make sure that the synchronous sessions are only one part of this institute.

Program Expectations

Please view the program expectations in this section as a default. We want you to modify these expectations in any way that works for you. This is your program, so we want it to suit your needs. And what we certainly want to avoid is a situation in which you cannot see yourself completing these expectations, so you cut off your participation and do nothing. With this in mind, please figure out what type and level of work would be best in your situation – viewing the below as a starting point for your consideration. If you can take on more than this and want to go further – perhaps redesigning your course from scratch – great! We are happy to support that effort in whatever way would help. If you are extremely busy and cannot accomplish everything spelled out below but can do some fraction of it – good for you for going that far! If you find a reflection prompt uninspiring, then answer the question we should have asked. And so on. In all of these ways and others, modify your participation as needed. 

Here is what we generally expect your participation in this program to look like:

  • Watch guest speaker video. For each of our sessions/topics, we will begin by hearing from a campus leader whose work is relevant to that topic. In a recorded video (typically 10-15 minutes), they will offer insights into the student success challenge that will be our focus for the upcoming session. We will release the video about two weeks before the scheduled session on that topic.
  • Begin observing your own class(es). With the guest speaker’s insights in hand, begin looking to see what you find in your own course(s). If they summarized a challenge that students face, can you find evidence of your students struggling with this challenge? If they made recommendations for how to approach the challenge, begin thinking about what you currently do and don’t currently do to address this challenge.
  • Attend synchronous session. Every other Wednesday at 1:30pm, we will meet over Zoom to discuss the challenge of that week. One or more instructional designers from the CTT will join us to recommend a few concrete strategies and to help guide our discussion. Join the session ready to ask clarifying questions or contribute your own ideas.
  • Reflect on which changes you would like to be making. After the session, we ask that you take time to reflect on what was discussed and to try identifying any steps you would personally like to take. Are there any changes (large or small) that you would like to try making? How might you begin implementing those? We ask that you complete a reflection after each session. In our Canvas site, you will find prompts and a place to submit your reflection after each session. The program facilitators, and perhaps other participants (if you share your reflections), will offer whatever helpful thoughts they might have on your reflection.
  • Develop concrete plans. Before the end of the program, decide which ideas, among all of those you have considered during this program, you want to act on – and when and how you will do that. We encourage you to develop the most specific plans possible, and we will be available to provide guidance as needed. We will provide more details about how to approach this final deliverable later during the program.