September 3rd, 2008

Improving Instruction Through a Faculty-Driven Initiative


During the 2000-2001 academic year, a group of faculty from the School of Physical Activity and Educational Services in Ohio State University’s College of Education began meeting regularly with the school’s director to find ways to enhance instruction. From these meetings came the idea for the PAES Instructional Enhancement Initiative, a faculty-driven series of instruction-related activities, which includes workshops, a book club, a quarterly newsletter, and seminars.

PAES director Michael Sherman decided to appoint a faculty coordinator rather than leading the initiative himself so that the faculty felt a sense of ownership of it. He decided to support the initiative with start-up funding, an annual budget, release time from one course for the faculty coordinator, graduate associate support, and some summer support. The initiative has also been made a standing committee within the school. “We do not pursue unfunded initiatives; the faculty firmly believes that initiatives should be supported,” Sherman says.

Other resources come from the Office of Faculty & TA Development (FTAD), which provides consulting, event coordination, and access to other instruction-related resources. “One of the reasons why we don’t want just a central center of support is because when people feel like talking about teaching, they would have to go outside their department, which says that the department doesn’t value it,” says Kathryn M. Plank, FTAD associate director. “Having some of this happen within the department really sends a message that the department cares.”

Since each department has a different culture with different way of operating, Plank and PAES Instructional Enhancement Initiative faculty coordinator Darcy Haag Granello used focus groups to better understand the faculty’s needs and interests.

“We used focus groups instead of surveys because we wanted [the faculty] to hear each other as well as for us to hear them,” Plank says.

These focus groups were particularly important because of the school’s diversity. Created in 1996, the PAES is one of three schools in the College of Education. It consists of four sections: Sport and Exercise Education, Management, Humanities, and Science; Special Education; Counselor Education, Rehabilitation Services, and School Psychology; and Workforce Development and Education. The school currently has 42 faculty members.

“Everything we’ve done has emerged from what the faculty have said they wanted, and I think that’s been really important,” Granello says. “We haven’t imposed anything, and we’re very clear at each step to go back to the faculty and say, ‘This is what we’re thinking of doing,’ or ‘You say you want more informal time to talk about instruction. Here’s one method we came up with. Does this make sense? Is there something we could do differently?’”


Initiative activities are informal, and faculty participation is optional. Meetings connected to the initiative are usually longer than typical PAES meetings to encourage discussion and reflection.

“Our school in general is a very safe environment. Untenured folks feel comfortable speaking up, but they engage at a different level when something is sponsored by the Instructional Enhancement Committee. We try to create an environment where if someone who has some authority in another realm speaks, he or she speaks as a faculty member and not as an authority,” Granello says.

In one type of workshop, faculty have the opportunity to give a brief presentation about what they do in the classroom followed by a discussion about how these techniques might relate to other classes. It gives the faculty something to think about and perhaps something they could adapt to their teaching. “I don’t facilitate that at all. We just move from person to person,” Granello says. “The less I put myself in the middle of it, the better our faculty do.”

“We have faculty make presentations because it’s an excellent way to see where they are making changes and not just that they went to workshop or book discussion group. The things people write for the newsletter, the things people do for that workshop, the fact that some of them have gotten articles on teaching and learning published in different places — those are some of things we’ve looked at to see some actual concrete change,” Plank says.

Faculty also can share their instructional techniques through a quarterly internal newsletter. Granello invites faculty to submit brief articles that illustrate a technique that has worked in the classroom. As the initiative becomes a bigger part of the school’s culture, convincing faculty to submit newsletter articles has become easier. “I really scrambled to fill the first couple of issues. Now I have a backlog of articles to put in the newsletter because other faculty are writing things and suggesting things. As more and more faculty get involved at a deeper level, it involves less from me,” Granello says.

So far faculty have written articles on guided notes, reflective instruction, web-enhanced instruction, and precision teaching. After writing an article on technology in the classroom, a PAES professor presented the idea at a national conference, received positive feedback, and subsequently wrote two journal articles based on the idea.

Another activity that came from discussions with faculty is a book club that reads and discusses a book on teaching over a four-week period each winter.

“When this initiative started, nobody said, ‘We’re going to do these workshops every quarter and put out this newsletter. When the faculty talk about instruction, the next steps just emerge from that,” Granello says.

In addition to offering faculty many opportunities to improve their teaching and share their ideas, the initiative also offers learning opportunities for graduate students. This year the school approved The School of PAES Certificate of Professional Development in College Teaching for graduate students who complete a set of activities, such as participating in workshops, writing papers, and videotaping and reviewing their teaching. The idea for the certificate came out of discussions with faculty who said they wanted to formally recognize their students’ extra effort to improve their teaching.

Keeping formative and evaluative assessment separate

The school’s promotion and tenure documents have always stressed the importance of good instruction, and in 2001 the school created a new stand-alone document on peer review of teaching to further emphasize its importance.

In spring 2003, the Instruction Enhancement Committee and the Personnel Committee held a joint meeting to discuss peer review. “This was an example where because of the culture that exists around the Instruction Enhancement Initiative — which is a very safe place where faculty feel comfortable speaking their minds — we had untenured faculty speaking up about what they thought about peer review,” Granello says.

From that meeting the committees determined that the peer review document contained two incompatible elements: One was evaluative, which is in the realm of promotion and tenure, and the other was formative, which is in the realm of instructional improvement. So the school divided the document into two parts.

“We’re not the teaching police,” Granello says of the Instructional Enhancement Committee. “I had one faculty member who said, ‘You know, so and so needs to go to the book club. He is really struggling with his teaching. You should tell him he should go.’ Well, I’m not in the position to tell a faculty member he or she needs to go to this book club. The minute we are perceived as going after people who are poorer or less invested teachers, I think, is the minute we shut our doors.”


Although PAES faculty have always had an interest in instruction, Granello points to several indicators that the culture within the school has become more engaged in improving its teaching:

  • Evidence that teaching is valued: “I think at research institutions, some departments might not talk about teaching, but we talk about it the day faculty candidates come to campus for their interviews. They do a teaching workshop as well as a research one,” Granello says.
  • Evidence that faculty make changes to their teaching: Faculty often say things like, “I tried the thing you were talking about at the book club,” Granello says. Or they will give a presentation on how they adapted something they learned from a workshop for use in their class.
  • Evidence that the process is valued as well as the outcomes: Last fall when the committee brought up the topic of rethinking how the school does doctoral exams, one faculty member said, “Doctoral exams work fine. We’ve never had a problem with them,” Granello says. “And immediately 10 people said, ‘Well, that’s not what we’re doing here. We don’t believe that if things are fine that there’s no room for improvement or discussion.’ People want to talk this thing through and engage in the process, even if at the end of the day we say we’re happy with what we have.”
  • Evidence that the faculty take ownership of their teaching: “Most of our initiatives are run by faculty. Although the director gives me a lot of support, he leaves me alone to interact with faculty and to decide with what we’re going to do.”
  • Evidence that faculty are conducting research on instruction: As of last spring, 31 of 40 faculty members had published peer-reviewed journal articles or books about instruction, a total of more than 200 publications, including 37 textbooks.

For more information about OSU’s School of Physical Activity & Educational Services Instructional Enhancement Initiative, visit Contact Darcy Haag Granello at and Kathryn M. Plank at