Equity-Minded Teaching & Learning at Simmons

The CFE provides a wide array of programs and services to support Simmons University’s long-standing dedication to effective, inclusive, and transformative teaching across modalities. Our support of excellence in teaching includes pedagogy and learning science, course and instructional design, assessing student learning, teaching for inclusive excellence, online education, instructional design, and improving teaching with technology. We also support curriculum development and program-level assessment. CFE staff design programs and services to build a teaching community across disciplines, facilitate the sharing of ideas and resources, encourage collaboration, and provide a space for innovation and experimentation.

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice are foundational principles in all of our work, but we also regularly offer DEIJ-specific programming.

Inclusive Excellence Goals & Metrics

Goal 1: Provide evidence-based professional development opportunities for faculty on equitable, inclusive pedagogy, including creating a supportive course climate, diversifying course content, and incorporating equitable teaching strategies.

Metrics: CFE offers professional development that centers these topics; we also track participation in these programs. When there are opportunities to do so, we also gather data to evaluate the impact of these programs on course design quality, the use of equitable teaching strategies, course climate, and/or student learning.

Goal 2: Support the development of sustainable policies and procedures that lead to structural change around the use of inclusive course/curriculum design and inclusive teaching practices.

Metrics: In collaboration with faculty and academic leadership, CFE staff conduct research and provide recommendations for evidence-based policies and procedures that promote inclusive course/curriculum design and inclusive teaching. CFE also provides faculty professional development as requested to support the adoption and sustainability of this work.

Key Professional Development Programs

Several times each semester, the CFE hosts dialogues for faculty and staff on a variety of topics related to teaching and learning. Typically led by a CFE staff member along with one or more faculty facilitators, each session includes a brief overview of research related to the topic, examples of application to practice, and a seminar-style roundtable discussion. Dialogues are held at varying times to accommodate different teaching schedules. These conversations happen both in a virtual format on Zoom and a hybrid format (on-site with refreshments with the option to join remotely via Zoom), depending on the needs and preferences of the facilitators and target audience.. In both instances, we record the session for future viewing on faculty’s own time. Recent LTTs have included a “fireside chat” on supporting student mental health, a presentation from our Instruction Design team on 7 ways to host better online discussions, and a workshop on reducing faculty burnout by teaching your pedagogical values.

The STAR Scholars program is a structured professional development program focused on improving equitable learning and student persistence through applying research and best teaching practices related to a specific topic. The STAR Scholars form a cohort of up to eight full-time faculty members with representatives from across the colleges who form a learning community that meets regularly over either one semester or one academic year. .STAR Scholars also serve as a resource for Simmons on the topic, including designing and delivering professional development programs for their peers. The program includes initial training on the topic, books, ongoing support, opportunities to publish, a stipend, and administrative and financial support for the spring workshops. Recent STAR learning communities have worked on assignment redesigns, innovating grading, and completing an inclusive teaching online course together.

The Center for Faculty Excellence brings in keynote speakers on excellence in teaching once a year, sometimes in partnership with other groups (e.g., Colleges of the Fenway, grant-funded scholars on campus). Each keynote features a nationally-recognized expert who presents on topics related to innovative pedagogy, cutting-edge research, DEIJ, and/or best practices in college teaching and learning. The keynote presentation is often paired with other opportunities for the Simmons community to engage with the topic, such as an interactive workshop and/or book discussion. Recent keynote speakers have included Drs. Tracie Marcella Addy (2022; on inclusive teaching practices), Joshua Eyler (2023; on innovating grading for better effectiveness and equity), and Chavella Pittman (2024; on addressing micro- and macro- aggressions and incivilities in the classroom).

The Food for Thought series is aimed at discussing effective teaching practices while building in-person community across disciplines.

About the Institute

Each summer, the Center for Faculty Excellence partners with the Office for Postdoctoral Fellows at Harvard Medical School to host a four-day Summer Teaching Institute. Through this partnership, the Institute is open to both faculty from Simmons University as well as Postdoctoral Fellows from Harvard Medical School. The Institute is designed to equip new and aspiring faculty in any discipline to teach courses effectively at the post-secondary level. While the Institute is oriented toward those newer to teaching, all Simmons faculty are welcome to attend.

What You’ll Learn

Broadly, the Institute focuses on four themes: learning theory, teaching methodologies, course design, and application to practice. During the Institute, participants:

  • Read and discuss key ideas in teaching and learning, focusing on three themes: learning and cognitive science, DEIJ and belongingness, and active, engaged pedagogy.
  • Experience and reflect on a variety of evidence-based, student-centered teaching methodologies
  • Discuss the application of these theories and practices to the discipline
  • Engage in metacognition and reflective practice
  • Apply the backward course design model to lesson development
  • As a team, design and deliver a sample lesson in their discipline based on best practices

What to Expect

The Institute is carefully designed to model effective, evidence-based, inclusive, engaging teaching practices that are applicable across disciplines. Participants can expect a hands-on, collaborative, and experiential learning environment that includes small and large group discussion, demonstrations of active learning techniques, project-based learning, interactive lecture, and reflection. The first three days also include guest spots from facilitators on the topics of DEIJ, accessibility and universal design for learning, and scholarship of teaching and learning within the disciplines. Simmons faculty facilitators from a variety of disciplines will guide small group discussion and disciplinary breakout sessions throughout the Institute. On the last day of the Institute, participants in disciplinary groups will design and deliver a short lesson, incorporating best practices learned during the Institute. Participants will leave with a “teaching toolkit” binder full of practical ideas, teaching methods, insights, and research.

History and Gratitude

The Institute began as a STEM Teaching Institute for Harvard Medical School’s Postdoctoral Fellows in 2015. In 2016 and 2017, the Institute was supported through a generous grant by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. This grant ensured the continuation and further development of the program and enabled the addition of a Navigating STEM career component and a year-long mentoring program. In 2018, the Institute was expanded and redesigned to prepare faculty to teach in all disciplines and to serve both Simmons faculty and Postdoctoral Fellows.

Thank you to Elizabeth Scott (Biology, Public Health), Judah Axe (Education, Behavior Analysis), and James Gould (HMS) for their leadership, their ongoing partnership with CFE on this project, and their ongoing dedication to the success of this Institute. Thank you as well to the many faculty and staff who have served on planning committees, served as table facilitators, presented techniques, served on a panel, provided administrative support, or played another role in the success of this initiative.

Funded by a Davis Educational Foundation grant led by Kelly Hager and Jennifer Herman, this two-year project aims to greatly enhance course design and instructional quality for Simmons undergraduate students in numerous key courses. The project involves in-person programming for cohorts of faculty to pursue these aims over a week’s time in June (2023; 2024) and follow-up on these conversations through learning communities and workshops held during the academic year.

Teaching conferences are an excellent opportunity for Simmons faculty to network, learn from, and engage with peers from other institutions and fields around best practices in teaching. Attendees gain practical, evidence-based ideas from across disciplines that they can then apply to their own teaching. CFE also offers this program to encourage engagement in the scholarship of teaching and learning and allow opportunities for Simmons faculty to present on their own innovative teaching.

CFE currently funds registration fees for faculty participation in the in-person annual regional conference and spring webinar series of the New England Faculty Development Conference (NEFDC). The one-day fall conference is typically held at the College of the Holy Cross and includes a keynote, concurrent sessions, and a networking breakfast and lunch. The spring webinar series features presenters from across New England. CFE emails the call for applications to all faculty and funds registration fees on a rolling basis as funds allow. This opportunity is open to any full-time faculty and any current part-time faculty who have taught at least four courses at Simmons. Please contact us with questions about this program.

CFE helps to plan the annual COF Teaching & Learning Conference, which provides a forum for faculty across the Colleges of the Fenway to come together to discuss issues of importance related to teaching and learning as well as to network, learn from, and engage with COF peers. Simmons faculty also have the opportunity to present on their own innovative teaching. Each conference explores a theme through workshops, teaching demos, roundtable discussions, eposters, and more. Past topics have included teaching in a racialized environment and teaching in the age of AI.

The Center for Faculty Excellence creates a variety of customized professional development programs on a wide range of topics. Recent offerings have included a session on facilitating “courageous conversations” and managing incivilities for faculty teaching SIM101 and a half-day program for STEM faculty to explore building consensus across programs in terms of policies like attendance and deadlines. Please contact us if you are interested in collaborating with us or in having us develop or offer a new program or workshop for your department, college, or for all Simmons faculty.

Individual Teaching Consultations

The CFE offers individual consultation services to all full-time and part-time faculty members on a wide range of topics related to teaching. Consultations are always initiated by the faculty member and are kept completely confidential.

During an individual consultation, the CFE staff member will seek to understand the faculty member’s goals, teaching context, and overall concerns or questions. During a consultation, the faculty member can “talk through” a tricky situation, brainstorm options, learn how other faculty members have responded to a similar situation, and/or review helpful scholarly literature on the topic. The CFE staff member may offer additional support through a confidential classroom observation, published resources, or a follow-up visit.

Common consultation topics include:

  • Course design and alignment
  • Syllabus development and review
  • Classroom management concerns
  • Integrating technology into teaching
  • Flipped classroom design
  • Equity-minded education practices
  • Managing “hot moments” and micro- and macro- aggressions in the classroom
  • Engaging students in large classes
  • Collaborative and project-based learning
  • Assessment and grading
  • Scholarship of teaching and classroom-based research
  • Assistance with peer and course evaluation

If you would like to schedule a teaching consultation or would just like to learn more, contact [email protected] to schedule an appointment.

Formative Classroom Observations and SGIDs

Complete this form to request an observation/SGID

The CFE offers voluntary, confidential services to allow faculty to get rich, detailed, timely, honest feedback on their teaching. We offer two primary services that can be used independently or in conjunction with each other.

Classroom Observation by a CFE staff member is completely confidential and voluntary and designed to be a tool to help faculty improve their teaching. Before the observation, the CFE staff member will ask for information about your course, such as the syllabus, and whether you’d like feedback on any specific area of your teaching or lesson. In a follow-up meeting, the CFE observer will provide feedback, insights, ideas, and suggestions on your teaching. While we typically follow our own processes for observation, we can also incorporate any instruments or processes used by your College or department, if you’d prefer.

Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID) is a professional development tool that often combines classroom observation with discussion-based student feedback. After a CFE staff member observes a portion of the class, the faculty member excuses themselves from the classroom. The CFE facilitator then invites students to discuss in small groups aspects of the course that enhance their learning experience, suggestions for strengthening the course, and what they, as students, can do to enhance their own learning. Feedback is compiled with emphasis on comments deemed most important collectively by the students. The CFE staff member later discusses the compiled, anonymous student feedback privately with the faculty member. Participants often report that student feedback gathered through this process tends to be more accurate, detailed, and useful than data from end-of-semester form evaluations.

There are a number of benefits to participating in a CFE classroom observation or SGID including:

  • Improving a course while it is still in progress;
  • Demonstrating to students that you are invested in their learning;
  • Uncovering and addressing hidden problems in a course;
  • Receiving feedback on teaching through a “practice run” before a formal evaluation by a peer, chair, or dean;
  • Documenting dedication to improving teaching for possible inclusion in a tenure and promotion portfolio.

New faculty, faculty preparing for tenure review, faculty who wish to improve student teaching evaluations, and those who are considering a course redesign or trying a new teaching strategy may find these services particularly helpful. Note: these observations, consultations, and SGIDs are provided for formative feedback on teaching; they are not appropriate for evaluative purposes.

Curriculum Development Support

The Center for Faculty Excellence offers customized services that support curriculum (program-level) design, facilitation, and assessment at multiple levels of the institution using evidence-based practices in curriculum development.

CFE can help faculty or administrators charged with curriculum development in many ways:

  • Helping you design an overall process and timeline, based on best practices, for creating a new program or revising an existing program
  • Provide guidance on forming and working with internal and external advisory committees or working groups
  • Assisting in the implementation of the design process, including designing and facilitating specialized meetings, workshops, or retreats for your department or committee
  • Designing and implementing a sustainable process for assessing student learning
  • Coaching you throughout the process

Topics for specialized meetings, workshops, or retreats could include:

  • Applying “backward design” to put learning first
  • Developing program learning outcomes
  • Curriculum mapping (creation and analysis)
  • Creating internal alignment across courses, including embedding “curricular threads” and creating cross-course scaffolding
  • Structuring multi-section courses for common learning goals and consistent quality
  • Incorporating high-impact practices
  • Designing individual courses within the program
  • Developing equitable, inclusive curricula (through both content and structures)
  • Designing a sustainable course-embedded assessment process
  • Using assessment data for ongoing curricular improvement
  • Integrating the review of assessment data into annual department processes

Each design process is unique and depends on the program’s specific needs and context. Most new programs involve support from multiple units at Simmons; CFE is one partner in a broader support team. If you are interested in CFE’s curriculum development support services, or you are interested in a stand-alone workshop on one of the topics listed above, please contact us for an initial consultation.