The 2017 Teaching Assistant Orientation Hosted over 225 Participants

posted in: Newsletter, Teaching | 0

TA orientation people at tables

This year’s Teaching Assistant Orientation, on August 22, 2017, was a full house with over 225 new and returning graduate assistants and presenters. Faculty and staff from across the university presented on supporting students, teaching and teaching with technology, and managing teaching-related tasks. Although this is a general orientation, and many departments have their own specialized orientation for teaching assistants, over 35 different departments were represented at this large event. Graduate teaching assistants from across campus gathered to learn from the presenters, but also to learn from each other. This year, the majority of the participants were pursuing a master’s degree, however approximately 25% were pursuing a doctorate degree.

Each year new graduate teaching assistants are encouraged to attend the orientation by their departments. This year almost 30 GTAs returned to the orientation for a second time, with a broad range of experience levels. Some had only taught one or two semesters, while some had taught over 10. There were a lot of engaging conversations happening around the room.

Initial feedback from the participant survey suggests graduate teaching assistants wanted more! “I wish could attend more than one choice from Breakout Sessions A & B” said one participant and “Each topic should have its own specific program” said another. The good news is the orientation is just the start. Graduate teaching assistants can attend many of the monthly events offered by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. In the 2016-2017 academic year over 620 Graduate Teaching Assistant attended the center’s programs. To find out more about TA workshops, look for our monthly calendar of programs. All TAs receive the schedule via their NIU student email.


Fall Teaching Effectiveness Institute Energizes Faculty for 2017-2018 Academic Year

Ritu Subramony, Director, Accreditation, Assessment and Evaluation
Ritu Subramony, Director of Accreditation, Assessment, and Evaluation

Energy was high at the Fall 2017 Teaching Effectiveness Institute held a week before students arrived on campus. Over 40 faculty and instructors from 21 departments across campus attended Day One, Fundamental Principles of Effective Instruction. Twelve speakers representing a variety of NIU departments and offices shared insights and strategies on topics ranging from Energizing the Classroom Experience, Managing Academic Integrity, Addressing Cultural Sensitivity in the Classroom, Getting Support from the University Libraries and Assessing Student Learning. Comments from participants indicated that they gained insights on the importance of making use of the many resources available for NIU faculty and students, as well as “energizing the classroom with varied activities” and “showing students your passion and humanity.”

The second day of the Institute, Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Strategy for Your Courses, featured David Matthes from the Department of Biology Teaching and Learning and the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

David Matthes, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
David Matthes, Professor at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

David explained techniques for harnessing the power of highly effective teams of students for broader, deeper, and longer-lasting learning gains. Sessions addressed the Readiness Assurance Process for Team-Based Learning (TBL), Stacking the Odds for the Success of Teams, Gathering Evidence of Engagement, Efficacy, and Transformation as well as other TBL concepts.

Forty-five participants from 23 different NIU departments attended Day Two of the institute. Feedback from faculty and staff indicated that the discussions related to developing a team-based syllabus, using pre and post-tests to measure learning and increasing student engagement through TBL techniques helped to extend their knowledge of pedagogy and instructional design to support students’ learning.

To continue our efforts to reduce printing and to support NIU’s sustainability initiatives, the session resources and presentations for both institute days are available on their respective web pages. The presentations and resources can be reviewed and downloaded.

To share ideas for new Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center Institute topics or if you would be interested in presenting at one of our Institutes, please contact Yvonne Johnson, Multimodal Teaching Coordinator at, 815-753-2690 or Janet Giesen, Instructional Design Coordinator at, 815-753-1085.

Tips for Those New to Teaching at Northern Illinois University

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classroom desksTeaching for the first time at a new university can be enjoyable and daunting at the same time. Whether you are an experienced teacher or new to the profession, being prepared to teach at a new institution will help you transition and succeed in your new work environment. The following information on course policies, teaching procedures, and teaching-related resources should help you start your teaching career at Northern Illinois University (NIU) successfully! This blog post is a condensed version of a more comprehensive guide that will be available later this semester.

Course Syllabus

Each course is required to have a syllabus that outlines course policies, learning outcomes, grading scheme, expectations, and basic information about content. The syllabus must be distributed in class or posted electronically on Blackboard on or before the first scheduled day of the class, whether the course meets face-to-face or online.

Course Policies

  • Academic Integrity and Student Behavior. Discuss with your students about academic integrity and classroom behavior and the consequences for students who do not take responsibility for these important concepts.
  • Attendance and Missed Classes. Class attendance policies can be course-specific and is completely at the discretion of the faculty member. Be specific about your attendance policy to ensure students understand the consequences for missing any portion of your course.
  • Late Work and Make-up Work. Explain to your students why you have deadlines and stress your expectations and consequences of late work. If you accept make-up work, provide a meaningful and realistic late work policy for your course.
  • Cell Phone Use. Have a conversation with your students about your classroom cell phone policy and whether you allow students to use cell phones during class. You may want to point out that unauthorized cell phone use is disruptive to classroom instruction – not only to the instructor but to fellow classmates as well.
  • Teaching Procedures

    Teaching procedures differ from course policies in that they are specific to you and your teaching practice. The following selected resources are particular to NIU but are applicable to any teaching experience.

    • Faculty have different approaches to teaching and learning that can be expressed in a teaching philosophy. Develop your personalized teaching philosophy by reflecting on how you teach and how students learn effectively in your field. Share your philosophy with your students to familiarize them about your approach to teaching and your willingness to guide their learning.
    • Confidentiality of Student Records and Saving Instructional Records. Directory information pertaining to students of NIU is never knowingly provided to any requester for a commercial purpose. Graded materials such as exams and assignments not returned to students, syllabi with grading policy, and grade books or spreadsheets, should be retained for a period of not less than 13 months from completion of the course.
    • Grading System at NIU. The plus/minus grading system is the official grading system approved by the university for undergraduate and graduate students. The way you assign grades is your responsibility and should be outlined in your course syllabi. The plus/minus system provides more grade options, but how those options are utilized is the decision of the faculty member.
    • NIU’s Intellectual Property Policy. This policy states the relevant University policies, as well as the nature of the responsibilities, privileges, and options held by faculty, staff, and students pertaining to the creation of intellectual properties.
    • Statement of Professional Ethics for Faculty. This statement refers to faculty as teachers, colleagues, members of an academic institution, and members of their community and their personal and professional ethics.

    Teaching-related Resources

    NIU has many services and resources that support teaching and learning. Here are a few to help you improve both classroom and online teaching experiences.

    • Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center supports faculty, academic supportive professional staff, and graduate teaching assistants through a variety of programs, resources, and services.
    • Teaching with Blackboard support website that includes details about getting started, building your course, using Bb tools & its other resources. This site also includes top Blackboard FAQs where you can quickly find answers to many of your Bb questions.
    • Disability Resource Center (DRC) works with students who have documented disabilities to determine the appropriate accommodations for them. When a student presents you with an approved DRC accommodation request form, you must provide the accommodation as stated. Consult with the DRC for more information about meeting student accommodations.
    • Counseling and Consultation Services (CCS) provides comprehensive mental health support for currently enrolled students at NIU. CCS offers walk-in hours, appointments, and crisis services during office hours and after office hours. If you have concerns about a student, you can refer them to CCS.
    • NIU Writing Center is a support system for the entire NIU community. The Center provides one-on-one support for all students and faculty to brainstorm, draft, revise, and perfect their work.

    For more information about teaching at NIU, contact Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

    Share your thoughts! What questions do you have about teaching at NIU? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Please post them in the comments area below.

    Establish Social Presence with a Welcome Message Video

    One great way to begin a new year/semester is to prepare and share a welcome message video for students enrolled in your course(s). Whether the course format is face-to-face or online, posting a welcome message online can facilitate the establishment of social presence, and thus begin the process of creating a sense of community. This initial effort to connect with students can provide opportunities to orient students to a course, where an instructor discusses course expectations/organization and encourages students to obtain course materials and assigned textbooks early. In addition, students may have an opportunity to observe an instructor’s passion for their field. The welcome message can also work to set a student’s mind at ease, as they perceive their instructor as a real person.

    While providing a welcome message video can be especially important for students of online courses, it is also relevant for face-to-face courses. Instructors can send a welcome message in advance of the start of the semester, and provide an introduction to the course before the first day of class regardless of the course format.

    Faculty can create videos with their smart phone or tablet, or with a webcam on a desktop workstation or from a laptop. A welcome message video can be added to a Blackboard course through MEDIAL or YouTube.

    Considerations for Creating Your Own Welcome Message Video

    When planning the creation a welcome message video, here are a number of considerations that faculty and instructors should keep in mind:

    • Although the expression of a welcome message can be heart-felt and spontaneous, consider using a script or outline. Captions derived from a script can be added to the video to enhance accessibility, benefiting students with a range of abilities and disabilities.
    • Think about the setting where you would want to record the video. Lighting and sound quality can enhance or compromise the quality of the recording.
    • What image do you want to project to your students? Formal or informal. Will you be recording inside your office, or outside in front of an iconic landmark or well-known university building.  Or perhaps inside you automobile.
    • How long should the video be? It is recommended that welcome messages be brief and to the point, rather than extended descriptions of each aspect of the course. Remember, you are establishing social presence in advance of the first class session, not just giving a shorter version of your initial lecture.

    For more information or tips on creating your own welcome videos for your students, please contact Dan Cabrera, Multimedia Coordinator ( or 815-753-0613).

    Spring 2017 Teaching Effectiveness Institute Featured Tips for Energizing the College Classroom

    posted in: Newsletter, Teaching | 0
    Sarah Cavanagh
    Sarah Cavanagh, Assumption College

    Energy was high for the NIU faculty and staff who participated in the Spring 2017 Teaching Effectiveness Institute, The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotions. The event featured Sarah Cavanagh from the Laboratory for Cognitive and Affective Science at Assumption College, and author of the recent book The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion. Dr. Cavanagh explained her research in Cognitive Psychology as well as connections between emotions and learning. She also explained techniques for stimulating curiosity, strategies for low-stakes assessments, and methods for incorporating choice of assignments in the syllabus. Sarah guided participants through a variety of engaged learning activities that provided opportunities to apply Cognitive Psychology concepts to teaching and learning in the college classroom. Workshop participants actively engaged throughout the day-long event while carefully considering the impact of emotions on the teaching and learning processes.

    NIU faculty and instructors from 23 colleges and departments across campus attended the engaging, day-long event. Participants were excited to learn techniques that could be applied immediately in their courses.

    Plans are underway for the Fall 2017 Teaching Effectiveness Institute scheduled for Friday, August 18th. The event will feature David Matthes of the University of Minnesota and will focus on team-based learning.

    To share ideas for new Institute topics or if you would be interested in presenting at one of our Institutes, please contact Yvonne Johnson, Multimodal Teaching Coordinator at, 815-753-2690 or Janet Giesen, Instructional Design Coordinator at, 815-753-1085. We look forward to hearing from you!

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