by Tracy W. Smith
Before becoming an assistant professor at Appalachian State University, Bob Eskridge was an accounting systems analyst for a major oil company, a city finance director, a city manager and an international advisor to the South African National Treasury. He had a wealth of real-world experience to offer his graduate students in public administration, but he had little experience teaching. Eskridge has experienced success in his career, and he has always been willing to work for it. When he saw an opportunity to enhance his teaching and contribute to the growth of his program, he seized the chance and became part of the second cohort of Appalachian’s Scholarly Teaching Academy.
Eskridge and nine other Appalachian faculty have spent the last two years studying, reflecting on and improving their teaching within a faculty learning community. The second cohort of the Scholarly Teaching Academy has completed its two-year commitment, and participants were recognized with a celebration and showcase on Oct. 27.
Scholars have documented a consistent theme of isolation among academics invested in scholarly teaching. An initiative of Appalachian’s Faculty and Academic Development office, the Academy aims to diminish the isolation for Appalachian faculty who want to continue their pursuit of teaching excellence.
These individuals commit two years to studying, reflecting on and improving their teaching within a faculty learning community. Academy participants work during the first semester of the program to set goals and develop an individualized Teaching Excellence Plan. This personalized plan, based on participants’ specific teaching context, provides an opportunity for them to articulate goals and objectives, activities to be completed, and resources needed as well as how to evaluate and disseminate their work. During the second year, participants implement their plans.
As faculty consultant for the Academy, Tracy W. Smith of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction plans Academy meetings, develops programming based on participant needs, observes participants teaching and consults with participants on course, assignment or research design. She said, “It’s inspiring to see the commitment and enthusiasm among the teachers in the Academy. I often want to be a student in their courses. I know we have wonderful examples of teaching excellence all over our campus.”
Kate Brinko, director of Faculty and Academic Development, said the university benefits from the diversity of Academy participants. “What is truly amazing is that our Academy participants represent all ranks of faculty – adjunct non-tenure track to full professor,” she said. “And, they teach students in all parts of the curriculum – from First Year Seminar and general education to students in their major and online courses. These faculty are touching a multitude of students across campus.”
This cohort consists of 10 teaching faculty from seven different departments:
Kim Becnel from the Department of Leadership and Educational Studies in the Reich College of Education described the Academy experience as inspirational “as I have become increasingly interested in and involved with the scholarship of teaching and learning. Our group has discussed a variety of topics… and every bit of it has been helpful to me.”
More importantly for her, however, is the sense of community and support she said she has received.
“To hear others discuss pedagogical goals and challenges, openly revealing both their successes and failures, helped to free up my thinking, encouraging me to look carefully at my own pedagogy and engage in some creative problem-solving,” she said. “My peers in the Academy have given me wonderful memories, concrete ideas to implement in my own classes, the inspiration to continue my journey toward more effective teaching and learning, and the promise of future collaborations and continued friendships. I am so grateful for this experience.”
As evidence of the long-lasting impact of the Academy, Geri Miller from Cohort 1 and the Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling called the Academy “an oasis of professionals who have a love for and devotion to teaching.” She noted that the “encouraging philosophy of the Academy” has sustained her during difficult times as a professor both in and out of the classroom.
Faculty and Academic Development plans to open applications for a third cohort of the Scholarly Teaching Academy in Spring 2016 to begin in Fall 2016.
The collective work of the group has resulted in the following:
“Our Academy participants represent all ranks of faculty… and they teach students in all parts of the curriculum – from First Year Seminar and general education to students in their major and online courses.”
– Kate Brinko, director of Appalachian’s Faculty and Academic Development