A UAH College of Science student waters plants in the Science and Technology Greenhouse.
A UAH College of Science student waters plants in the Science and Technology Greenhouse.
Michael Mercier | UAH

The College of Science (COS) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of The University of Alabama System, has recently piloted a program that has achieved Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) certification.

UAH College of Science faculty teach more credit hours than any other UAH College. To support teaching excellence, the COS piloted an opportunity for comprehensive professional development on evidence-based teaching practices, leading up to the ACUE Certificate in Effective College Instruction. The program is endorsed by the American Council on Education and provides four ACUE microcredentials as well, including Promoting Active Learning; Inspiring Inquiry and Preparing Lifelong Learners; Creating an Inclusive and Supportive Learning Environment; and Designing Student-Centered Courses.

Eight COS faculty members have already been enrolled in the program, and Dr. Denise Niemiller, a lecturer in the department of biological sciences, recently was the first instructor to earn the full certificate.

“I chose to pursue the ACUE certificate because I wanted to learn more about current best practices in teaching at the university level,” says Dr. Niemiller. “I really want to engage students in the learning process and foster persistence in the courses I teach and coordinate. I am focusing on ACUE microcredentials that are directed toward online teaching given that we have recently transitioned to offering online modalities for many of our courses, including our large introductory courses in which the student population is very diverse.”


Courtesy ACUE

The ACUE partners with institutions of higher education to prepare, credential and provide on-going support to faculty in the use of evidence-based teaching practices that promote student engagement, persistence to graduation, career readiness and deeper levels of learning. Faculty who satisfy ACUE course requirements earn certificates in effective college instruction endorsed by the American Council on Education.

“One of the most beneficial aspects of the ACUE courses I have taken so far has been the discussions with faculty at other institutions and programs,” Dr. Niemiller says. “These discussions, in conjunction with the activities and resources, have enabled me to better understand how students may view and approach online learning. They have also provided me with insights into fostering inclusivity, collaboration and learning in an online environment.”

Anuradha Vadrevu, a lecturer in mathematical sciences at UAH, chose ACUE's microcredential Promoting Active Learning Online module as a way to learn more about evidence-based teaching practices and for her professional development to keep up with current practices in teaching and learning.

“Due to COVID, there has been a shift in both teaching and learning processes from both faculty and student perspective, Vadrevu says. “I wanted to make sure that I update my online asynchronous course to reflect these changes. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that some of the practices mentioned in the module can be tweaked to use for face-to-face classes as well. This prompted me to implement a few ideas, such as posting skeletal notes and providing opportunities to use notes on an exam. In my case, it was a formula sheet shared with students ahead of time. Providing the formula sheet took out some of the anxiety, and students were able to build upon the critical thinking skills of how and when to use the formulas provided on the sheet. It increased their confidence in learning and preparing for the exam.”

The instructor goes on to note, “I thoroughly enjoyed the course and look forward to continuing with the microcredentials. The opportunity presented in the course for faculty to apply and reflect on the implementation of new/revised teaching practices in the classroom or online course is very appropriate, as it helps to get student feedback right away. I am excited that I will be able to implement many of the proven practices that I learned in this course in my future classes. It is also helpful to know that I can brainstorm with my colleagues who are similarly engaged in this or other microcredentials.”

Dr. Terri Johnson, a senior lecturer in mathematical sciences at UAH, says she was excited to learn about the ACUE courses from COS Dean Dr. Rainer Steinwandt. “Improving my instruction could lead to more student engagement and higher student achievement,” Dr. Johnson says. “I chose for my first course Creating an Inclusive and Supporting Learning Environment, because I want to do everything in my power to make my students feel comfortable in the classroom and to motivate persistence. One technique I was able to apply right away was how to reduce students' non-academic use of technology devices in the classroom. If you can kindly redirect the student's attention from their phones to the lecture, they will get more out of the time they spend in class.”

Dr. Timothy Newman, a professor of computer science in the COS, has already worked through the course on Inspiring Inquiry and Preparing Lifelong Learners. “The lifelong learning part of that was of interest because of a challenge our unit has had in demonstrating student lifelong learning aptitude for our accrediting group,” he notes. “I used material from the course as a springboard to produce a new approach that we could use for such a demonstration. And the approach is based strongly on current knowledge about learning, which makes it quite robust. One of my professional themes the past year or so has been to strive to make even better what's already good, and this course really has meshed well with that theme.”

Janice Burrows, a lecturer in mathematical sciences, has been inspired to participate in ACUE training as a means of supporting her recent work on a new course that is asynchronous online and also the first course in the calculus series.

“Most of the students in this course are relatively inexperienced college students, so there are special concerns for this group,” she explains. “The first ACUE course I chose, Promoting Active Learning Online, provided tools and techniques for increasing engagement, nurturing student-to-student connections and improving collaborative tasks, all within the online environment. Some of the new tools I have implemented include student-centered note-taking guides, flexible discussion boards and chunking information in effective microlectures.

“The ACUE courses are set up so that I learn a new concept and apply it in my own course that same week,” Burrows says. “I then reflect and revise. This process helped me see the effectiveness of these research-based best practices and also gave me the opportunity to ask questions and gain insights from others in my cohort in a timely fashion.”

The instructor continued her studies this past summer with the ACUE course, Designing Learner-Centered and Equitable Courses. “I am looking forward to gaining new insights for improving both inclusivity and equity within all of my courses,” she says.

As a senior lecturer in chemistry in the UAH COS, Mary Snow decided to pursue ACUE certification as a means to seek new ways of improving her teaching methods.

“Continuous reassessment and refinement of my pedagogy and teaching practices are important parts of being an effective educator,” she says. “The courses provide so many ideas and opportunities to interface with other college educators from a variety of fields and institutions. It is refreshing to learn new techniques, to challenge myself to revitalize practices I have in use, and to have many of my current methods reinforced as effective tools.”