University instructors learn about fingertip resources

As part of PETAL, workshops in the Institutional Academy for Teaching Excellence are organized throughout the semester to help acclimate new instructors to the campus and give them resources to bolster their teaching skills. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami
By Janette Neuwahl Tannen

As part of PETAL, workshops in the Institutional Academy for Teaching Excellence are organized throughout the semester to help acclimate new instructors to the campus and give them resources to bolster their teaching skills. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

University instructors learn about fingertip resources

By Janette Neuwahl Tannen
In a virtual coffee hour, new faculty members got the chance to meet and discover ways they can enhance their teaching.

When Jessica Bashline, assistant professor, decided to teach at the University of Miami, she was unclear about what it might look like to teach theater online.

But after finishing up the spring semester at New York University virtually and directing theatrical productions all summer with videoconferencing software, Bashline is comfortable teaching online. So comfortable, that she is teaching three remote courses this fall.

“For what I do as an acting teacher, it’s often better to see my students online than in person with masks on,” she said, adding that even though in-person rehearsals are more ideal, not being able to see facial expressions is difficult for coaching actors.

Still, she is curious to learn more about the University and the culture in her new home city. That led Bashline, and close to 30 other new faculty members, to attend a coffee hour Friday sponsored by the Platform for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (PETAL), an initiative of the University’s Roadmap to Our New Century designed to elevate the art of teaching and enhance learning experiences for students. As part of PETAL, workshops in the Institutional Academy for Teaching Excellence (I-ATE) are organized throughout the semester to help acclimate new instructors to the campus and give them resources to bolster their teaching skills.

“From the top down and ground up, we made a commitment that we were going to pay attention to teaching as a matrix of our excellence,” said Laura Kohn-Wood, dean of the School of Education and Human Development and co-chair of the PETAL Committee, in describing the initiative to the new instructors. “PETAL represents the idea that as a major research institution, we recognize that we should pay as much attention to teaching as we do to research.”

Rebecca MacMillan Fox, dean of the Division of Continuing and International Education and a member of the PETAL committee also welcomed new instructors and implored them to help the University enrich its online teaching presence. MacMillan Fox oversees all the University’s fully online courses, even before the pandemic. Therefore, her staff, along with the University’s information technology professionals, helped train faculty members this summer to convert many of their in-person classes to hybrid or online platforms.

“In helping faculty construct courses for this more online environment, we found that it helped faculty members to rethink how they teach,” she said. “We must be much more intentional about how we’re putting a course together...we are going to learn from the challenges about how to make this a more seamless process. And you’re going to be an integral part of that.”

The beginning of the coffee hour allowed instructors to meet each other virtually and discuss the hurdles of teaching in a pandemic, while the second portion allowed administrators, such as PETAL co-chair Allan Gyorke, the University’s academic technology officer, to share other teaching resources.

For example:

  • Faculty were given a guide to teaching hybrid instruction created by Matthew Acevedo, director of learning innovation and faculty engagement: https://academictechnologies.it.miami.edu/_assets/pdf/preparing-to-teach-a-hybrid-course.pdf
  • Miriam Lipsky, assistant provost for institutional culture, spoke about the Intergroup Dialogue program for fostering acceptance and empathy across the University and the One Book One U program, which works toward the same goal.
  • There were highlights of six upcoming teaching workshops designed for new instructors through the Institutional Academy for Teaching Excellence from Ahjane Billingsley, a postdoctoral student organizing the programs.
  • Gyorke spoke about the Quality Enhancement Plan, or a push across the institution since 2018 to foster more discussion-based learning. Through this initiative, faculty members can sign up for training cohorts in strategies like the Harkness Method and problem-based learning.
  • Gyorke also offered extra help for instructors navigating the Blackboard platform, which is used to post class information and grades, and he directed instructors to e-mail blackboardhelp@miami.edu.
  • Rik Bair, associate dean of the distance learning institute (DLI), explained that he leads a monthly technology hour called Ed Tech Café, where educators can learn more about new technology tools for the classroom. In addition, the DLI offers training to new instructors through online courses listed on their website.

To learn more about the Institutional Academy for Teaching Excellence, contact Ahjane Billingsley at abillingsley@umiami.edu.