With the pandemic prompting the move to remote teaching and learning at NIU this semester, necessity became the mother of innovation.
And, like flowers in springtime, innovation bloomed everywhere.
Video laboratories sprung up. Mirroring world realities, pre-service teachers tackled assignments on how they would move their classes to e-learning. Students participating in Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day presented their work virtually.
Faculty in the visual and performing arts found creative ways to use media, from conferencing tools to Instagram, to critique student performances and artistry. A foreign languages professor conducted audio assessments by incorporating recorded Spanish phrases into a Blackboard quiz. In engineering, 90 teams of seniors will participate May 8 in a virtual Senior Design Demonstration Day, when students will engage with visitors online, show their presentations and answer questions.
Now the NIU center that led the remote teaching and learning charge is changing its name to more accurately reflect its mission. Moving forward, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center will be known as the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL).
“We’re changing our name to more clearly reflect our mission and services focused on supporting effective and innovative teaching in pursuit of transformative learning experiences,” said Jason Rhode, executive director of extended learning and chief online officer.
“This semester underscored the incredible efforts of our faculty, students and staff to use technology in new ways to stay connected and keep teaching and learning,” he added.
Rhode and his staff unveiled some innovations of their own in recent months. As the pandemic swept the nation, CITL created both the Keep Teaching and Keep Learning websites to support faculty and students in the transition to remote learning for the spring and summer.
The sites were built and went live within a matter of days, evolved and expanded over time, and attracted thousands of visitors from across campus—and across the country as other institutions of higher learning navigated the pandemic.
Additionally, the center’s Online Course Design Academy, usually held twice a year, slated sessions for April, May and June, while CITL held about 60 virtual workshops.
“Many faculty have told us that in some ways the transition to remote teaching and learning has opened new opportunities and options for them, having gained an intense amount of skill and experience in a short time,” said Jason Underwood, director of instructional design and development. “It’s opened doors to new innovations in online, hybrid and even face-to-face settings going forward.”
Despite the name change, CITL’s mission remains the same. It will continue to provide comprehensive services to support all aspects of excellent teaching and learning.
The center’s staff have broad and diverse backgrounds, including many with years of teaching experience in university and K-12 settings, and experience designing and developing online, face-to-face and blended courses in consultation with faculty. Staff members regularly present at conferences and actively seek out meaningful and effective practices that can benefit NIU.
“The successes we’ve had this semester really required a collaborative effort,” said Stephanie Richter, director of faculty development and instructional support for CITL. “We’ve been absolutely blown away by the innovation and creativity of faculty during this process.
“However, while we saw a lot of innovation related to technology, our mission has never been specifically about technology,” she added. “It’s important to remember that innovation takes a lot of different forms.”
CITL will continue to help faculty present material effectively, develop active-learning strategies and plan and deliver face-to-face courses, from writing a syllabus to preparing for a specific class session.
“Regardless of occasional bumps in the road, it’s the sense of caring and being connected—to their teachers and peers—that students value most,” Richter said. “Those are important principles to keep in mind.”