The 6 most innovative colleges to watch in 2019

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The 6 most innovative colleges to watch in 2019

The most innovative colleges are challenging how we teach and share ideas on campus

The Chronicle of Higher Education recognized six colleges and universities for their work towards classroom and teaching innovation. To choose the top six, the Chronicle sought nominations from their colleagues, social media, and newsletter subscribers.

Their choices reflect how colleges are making campus-wide changes and smaller tweaks to drive innovation among faculty and campus leaders. Here are the Chronicle‘s six most innovative colleges in 2018.

1: University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)

UAB’s Center for Teaching and Learning gamified faculty development to boost participation in teaching workshops. Scott Phillips, the center’s director, designed a system to let faculty members earn points and badges for attending workshops. Each workshop counts as 10,000 points; faculty who accumulate 100,000 points earn a certificate.

Since UAB started this program, faculty attendance to teaching workshops has nearly quadrupled, from 98 in fall 2015 to almost 400 this past spring. According to the latest round of teaching evaluations, the program seems to be improving the teaching quality. “This is more than just stickers and badges,” Phillips says. “They’re actually becoming better teachers. And that’s really our ultimate goal.”

2: Simmons University

In February, Dana Grossman Leeman, a faculty fellow for online education at Simmons, began offering a daily online faculty-development workshop. Already, more than 400 of roughly 1,000 people who teach online have taken part.

Leeman teaches online instructors how to use technology to engage their class, build relationships with students, and cultivate a sense of community. “Learning online can feel isolating. You have to engage your students in the process of community building… it’s important that every class become a cohesive group and feel tethered to the program,” says Leeman.

3: Rice University

Rice has eliminated administrative barriers around research on teaching to encourage faculty to study and experiment with classroom innovation. Under the streamlined process, faculty fill out a two-page application to conduct or join a study, and they hear back within five days. The fast turnaround means that professors can submit an idea a few weeks into the term and get permission to run a study that same semester.

This new protocol will ease the burden on faculty who already study their teaching and offer incentives for those who haven’t done this kind of research before, says Josh Eyler, the director of Rice’s Center of Teaching Excellence. The first year the process was introduced (2017-18), 14 principal investigators and six other professors undertook 16 studies. The investigators came from STEM, social sciences, and the humanities.

Related: 6 strategies to find—and support—your most innovative instructors

4: Ohio University

Ohio’s Academic Innovation Accelerator gives faculty and administrators an opportunity to pitch and pursue new ideas. The accelerator starts with an annual ideation event where anyone can bring an idea for discussion. Then, “[w]e have a conversation about what’s the next step that we can take that can sharpen this idea, test this idea, help us advance it in some way,” says Bradley Cohen, senior vice provost for instructional innovation.

The accelerator not only surfaces new ideas, it also identifies barriers to innovation on campus. “All the deans and vice presidents are institutional stakeholders, so when barriers emerge that are institutional structures, we ask them to help. We’re trying to innovate from within and be very intentional about it,” says Cohen.

5: Baldwin Wallace University (BW)

To get more students to study abroad, BW partnered with faculty members to create new international programs. For their now-popular Zambia program, BW hired Chisomo Selemani, an alumna and Zambian native, in 2014 to design a study abroad program in the southern African nation.

In 2017, Selemani took her first group of 20 master’s students to Zambia. While abroad, students gave presentations to health workers on treating autism-spectrum disorders and conducted screenings for speech and language delays among elementary students. By the 2016-17 academic year, BW had doubled the proportion of students who study abroad to 32%, up from 15% in 2014.

6: Purdue University

How 3 colleges are innovating on gen ed

Purdue’s Impact program teaches faculty how to create more active and engaged classrooms. Across 13 weeks, program participants learn from technology and curricular-design experts, study research on effective learning, share experiences, and test out new teaching tactics.

Since it began in 2011, the program has trained more than 300 faculty members and has redesigned an estimated 528 courses. According to an outside review, students in Impact-affected courses earn higher final grades, report greater satisfaction, and have lower DFW rates (Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/21).

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