By Joanna Banks
Students in Professor Wendy McCredie’s literature classes this past year used analytical skills to compare diverse works in a historical context. Thanks to an online professional development course McCredie was enrolled in, “Career Readiness and 21st Century Skills,” the seasoned English and humanities faculty member was inspired to help students connect the higher-order skills her courses demand with life outside academia.
Since many of McCredie’s students are returning adults, the new strategies McCredie tested helped students bridge learning objectives with marketable “transferrable” skills that employers seek. McCredie says one of her students used skill-set wording from a class to highlight competencies on her resumé. She landed a choice job.
“In the humanities, the direct connection to the workplace is not necessarily obvious to the students,” McCredie says. “The course helped me think about how to talk about the objectives, and gave me the idea of involving the students, getting them to participate in developing course outcomes, and then owning them.”
The spotlight was on excellence in teaching as 16 Mount Saint Mary’s University faculty members across undergraduate and graduate disciplines completed the course through the Council of Independent Colleges in partnership with the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE). Faculty spent hours each week reviewing videos of instructors using strategies to boost active learning, help underprepared students, connect learning to a student’s desired career path, and more. They answered questions about strategies for student success, and decided how to implement techniques in classes.
“The course was affirmation for those of us who had been teaching for two to three decades that we were doing the right thing, and it showed us some places we could update our skills,” says Melissa Berry ’11 MA, ’17 MFA, an English instructor in the graduate humanities program and English Department, who applied new techniques to engage students in her English 1A class.
Faculty shared feedback about their experiences and student progress with each other, an ACUE facilitator and Kim Middleton, former director of the University’s Center for Academic Innovation and Creativity. Middleton says the University is looking at ways to study student persistence and years to graduation over time with some of the teaching strategies introduced in the course. This fall, faculty who completed the ACUE course will share how the strategies work in practice with colleagues. The Nursing Department is planning to bring a similar course to its faculty.
“It is such a testament to how seriously the faculty at this institution take their teaching,” Middleton says. “Faculty went above and beyond every time.” On average, every Mount Saint Mary’s faculty participant learned 78 new effective teaching practices, with an average of three learned per session of the course. They implemented 50 new teaching practices with students, which was double what the course required.
“I loved the course,” says Shani Habibi, associate psychology professor and director of the Graduate Psychology Program. “Most of the changes were minor, but I think they made a huge difference in my classes. Overall, this just made me a better professor.”
The course came about when Mount Saint Mary’s was selected to join 26 institutions in the national Consortium for Instructional Excellence and Career Guidance. The initiative aims to prepare faculty members to use evidence-based teaching practices shown to promote student success while embedding career guidance into their existing courses. The program is made possible by a $1.2 million grant from Strada Education Network, a national nonprofit dedicated to strengthening America’s pathways between education and employment.