Revamped Center for Faculty Excellence welcomes faculty

BOWLING GREEN, O.—There’s a friendly energy in the air at the Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) as the team members greet the start of the academic year. A number of new services and events are planned to make the center more accessible, responsive and useful to anyone who teaches at BGSU.

Now under the leadership of Dr. Paul Cesarini, the reorganized center comprises the services of the former Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), directed by Karen Meyers; former Center for Online and Blended Learning, directed by Connie Molnar; and former Office of Online Programs.

The staff also includes Mike Kudela, Ginny Minnick, Terence Armentano, director of the former Office of Online Programs, and Pam Potter, plus several undergraduate and graduate students.

The University community is invited to an open house from 2-4 p.m. Sept. 17 in the CFE offices at 202 University Hall. A move to Olscamp Hall is planned for next summer.

“It’s a vibrant community,” Cesarini said. The founding director of the Student Technology Center, he was program coordinator for the first online degree-completion program at the University and has been a facilitator or co-facilitator of the longest-running faculty learning community at the former CTL.

The CFE team represents a storehouse of expertise and experience in teaching, learning and educational technology. In addition, the center is a home for faculty wishing to explore ideas and methods through faculty learning communities.

With its continual exploration of new ideas in teaching and technology, the center is a great resource for networking, Cesarini said.

“It’s bringing colleagues together to meet teaching challenges,” said Dr. Tim Brackenbury, communication studies, who has been involved with the center almost since its inception. “The CFE’s the place for folks who want to make changes, it’s a central resource.”

As part of its mission to improve student learning by expanding faculty’s teaching skills and their repertoire of teaching tools, the center provides a range of technical training and pedagogical support.

“We’re definitely getting the ‘T’ back into the CTL,” Meyers said in reference to the office’s original name, the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology.

As a former chair of the Department of Visual Communication and Technology Education, Cesarini understands that it can be inconvenient for faculty to come to the center for help.  To make it easier, the team is now offering webinars and “Road Shows,” taking customized workshops and training to the departments.

“We’ll come to you with whatever kind of faculty services you need,” Meyers said. “We want to remove any accessibility barriers.”

Faculty can individually or in groups request on-site training in any educational technology. “We’ve worked with everyone from grad TA’s (teaching assistants) to full professors,” Meyers said.

Brackenbury first became engaged with the former CTLT when he joined BGSU in 2000 and wanted to learn how to incorporate a focus on critical thinking into his teaching. “I got pulled in further and further,” he joked, eventually serving on the advisory board, teaching workshops, participating in learning communities and even spending a Faculty Improvement Year at the center researching the scholarship of teaching and learning. He has published four articles on the subject.

“It’s completely transformed my teaching and many of my views about teaching,” he said. “Now, active- and learner-centered teaching are central to my teaching.”

However, he added, the CFE is also “a valuable resource for small changes, too. Faculty can ask Karen (Meyers) about a CFE program detail or Mike Kudela about Canvas. You can go to them for major or little piddly things.”

“They’re always accessible. They answer emails,” said Dr. Ewart Skinner, telecommunications, who has used the CFE for assistance in teaching online courses and has been a longstanding member of various learning communities.

The center will also provide webinars on various topics, and plans to keep campus up to date with commonly used applications. For example, a “What’s New with Canvas?” session once a semester will share information on the University’s online learning management system.

Another important CFE mission is fostering increased distance-learning programs, to make education available to more students.  The center has been a godsend for faculty teaching online courses, according to its faculty clients.

Molnar and Kudela help design online courses and assist faculty in conducting them so they become comfortable with the process. Molnar is a leader in the statewide Quality Matters review process that ensures the effectiveness of online classes; her efforts have helped BGSU achieve a state award for excellence in online education.

“They are extremely helpful in a number of ways,” Skinner said, “from discussions about the philosophy of online learning and how it can be helpful to students and where it’s going, to the technical part of online strategies and navigation possibilities to get students involved in it.

“I’ve worked a lot with Mike (Kudela) on how to get the simplicity into online learning and maintain the fundamentals of teaching without the technology overwhelming the experience.”

The CFE is not only for faculty, it is also somewhat “by” faculty, Cesarini said.

“We go to where the experts are,” Meyers noted. The Boot Camp for Teaching Large Classes, for example, is taught by faculty with experience in that format. The center will draw upon faculty expertise whenever possible to improve its services, as when Meyers offers Teaching Math with Tablets in collaboration with math faculty.

Cesarini noted that the center has a strong working relationship with Information Technology Services. “(Chief Information Officer) John Ellinger and his staff have been very supportive of our efforts,” he said.

Incoming faculty were introduced to the center at the New Faculty Conference on Aug. 13, where the emphasis was on teaching as an important aspect of retention.

The annual Teaching and Learning Fair will take the form of a conference this year, with peer-reviewed presentations.

Ultimately, “it’s the students for whom we exist and for whom we do everything we do,” Meyers said.