A new approach to faculty development has empowered instructors to support students and student belonging through instructional practices.

How to cultivate student belonging on a community college campus

A comprehensive approach to faculty development has led to confident instructors who are empowered to support students through instructional practices

Key points:

  • Faculty felt demoralized as student mental health negatively impacted engagement and course completion
  • Increasing faculty confidence in designing effective online courses helped re-invigorate students

There are many reasons people come to our community college in north central Ohio. They seek to earn more money, accelerate careers, receive vocational training, or obtain technical certifications. Our youngest students want to get a head start on college.

Whatever the reason, they envision a better life through education–and see North Central State College as a way to get there. As the faculty and staff at a small-town community college like this, we take pride in doing our part. When students graduate, we know they’re likely to stay in the area, work jobs that sustain our region’s economy, and become leaders in the community.

COVID-19 disrupted this sense of mission and pushed us to reimagine our roles in helping students achieve their goals. More than 75 percent of our students attended college part-time–a group that was disproportionately affected by pandemic disruptions.

Even as we moved beyond the emergency transition to remote learning, student mental health continued to negatively affect engagement, participation, and course completion. Faculty bore the brunt of these challenges and felt demoralized. They were experienced, highly skilled practitioners whose long-held instructional approaches and beliefs were being turned upside down.

We worked with faculty to redesign courses for high-quality online learning environments, helping them rapidly adopt new technologies. It was often messy, and we worried about the impact this tumultuous period would have on faculty and students.

Fortunately, we weren’t alone. In our state, led by the Ohio Association of Community College (OACC) and OACC’s Success Center for Ohio Community Colleges, chief academic officers across the system’s 23 campuses were invited to help recruit and support faculty to join a statewide training and credentialing initiative. At the core of the initiative is a comprehensive year-long course offered by the Association of College and University Educations (ACUE), a rigorous national program working with faculty at more than 450 colleges and universities across the country.

In just two years, the initiative has engaged approximately 560 faculty from all 23 community colleges across the Ohio system have engaged in ACUE course since January of 2021.

North Central State College was one of the first in the OACC system to embrace the initiative, and among the fastest to take it to scale. To date, 100 faculty and staff have engaged with ACUE’s credentialing programs. More than 40 faculty have earned–or are on track to earn–ACUE’s full national online teaching certificates, which are endorsed by the American Council on Education (ACE).

Initially, there was a small but vocal resistance that included a few of our most experienced instructors. We engaged the biggest skeptics from the start and they have ended up being our best ambassadors for recruiting even more faculty for future cohorts. This isn’t just tips and tricks. This is about teaching–periodWhether it’s face to face, hybrid, or online, this is something that can be relevant in any kind of educational setting.

To see them go through the process of reinvention has been inspiring. For many faculty, it has validated that much of what they had been doing was evidence-based. But they have also learned a lot of new strategies. It has sparked excitement and has driven interest across campus.

It wasn’t just anecdotal. The transformation showed up in faculty survey data as well. Before ACUE, just 40 percent of faculty felt confident designing effective online courses; after, confidence rates increased to 95 percent. Confidence in other competencies, from active learning techniques to establishing a productive learning environment, shot up at similar rates.

OACC’s grant provided a spark, but we needed funding to sustain and scale this program. Having support from our college president and the leadership team was critical. Even after a promising federal grant opportunity fell through, they were undeterred. That support ensured more faculty could continue to participate until a second round of Title 3 federal grants became available last year. In September 2022, we received good news that NCSC was being awarded received $2.1 million in Title 3 grant funding to build capacity in student access and success through consistent instructional and technological practices.

With this momentum, we have embraced a comprehensive approach to faculty development, in which every single new faculty member is mentored during their first year of joining the institution. By the end of the second year, we expect everybody to have completed this year-long course and be fully ACUE certified.

That’s the expectation. OACC’s early grant money enabled us to build ACUE into our mentorship model. After two years, we now have a faculty-led community of practice in which instructors are working together, across disciplines, to discuss their instructional practice.

There is now a faculty culture of excellence when it comes to instructional practices. We celebrate ACUE Certified faculty at pinning ceremonies, and create videos with testimonials that help us generate more excitement.

This year, for the first time, we have extended this initiative to include all campus staff. It is a recognition that it takes a village to support students through their college journey on our campus and beyond.

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