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CETL Teaching and Learning Grants available to teams

Fri Feb 11, 2022 at 11:28 AM

The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning is accepting applications for the CETL Teaching and Learning Grant, which is designed to enhance courses and teaching while focusing on inclusive practices. New this year, departments, programs and larger teams are encouraged to apply. Last year, journalism faculty members Holly Gilbert and Kate Roff applied as a team and their work established a new capstone in solutions journalism, a growing area in the field of journalism. Through their research, course design and creativity, the course was designed with inclusivity and accessibility in mind. 

The CETL grants of up to $3,000 are awarded annually to fund the development, implementation and evaluation of evidence-based teaching practices that will improve teaching  learning. It supports the faculty’s time to research, develop and assess the project outside of expected course preparation. This year, CETL is encouraging departments, programs and larger teams to submit proposals, not just individuals. 

Solutions journalism course meets a need

Roff and Gilbert’s grant proposal said because of the negative news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, politics and civil unrest, nearly 41 percent of people were actually avoiding the news. 

“The dangers of news avoidance have, however, prompted the rise of ‘solutions journalism,’ an approach that offers rigorous coverage of community issues from a problem-solving lens,” the pair wrote in their proposal last year.  

As this style of journalism is being used by major publications, Roff and Gilbert wanted to redesign JRN 4120 OU Student News Bureau into a solutions journalism capstone course, to address the industry’s need for trained journalists. Through the course, students learn to research, report, edit and package multimedia news stories in areas of social, environmental, economic, justice, health and equality. This course is an alternative to an internship, which is helpful to students who can’t afford to participate in an internship, which is often unpaid. 

According to Roff, the grant application focused a lot on inclusion and accessibility. 

“Solutions journalism lends itself nicely to being inclusive as it is community-based journalism, which often focuses on minority groups. It naturally looks for a response-based approach,” said Roff. 

This program is the first full course to focus solely on Solutions Journalism in Michigan. 

Working as a team

Gilbert said working with Roff to design the course and also co-teach it this semester, has allowed each of them to use their strengths in specific areas as well as learn from each other.

“When we started working on the grant, we hadn’t worked closely together. It was our first time working as a team,” said Gilbert. “She came into it as the solutions expert, journalist and wonderful professor and she taught me about the solutions aspect. She did a lot of the writing for the proposal and I worked on the scholarship of teaching and the research for that.”

Roff said as the two began researching, writing the grant proposal and co-teaching, they learned they complement each other.  

“There are things I can bring to the table and there are things I struggle with, but Holly, especially with her teaching background, brings her expertise” said Roff. 

According to Gilbert and Roff, co-teaching does not necessarily reduce wor load, especially in the development stages of a course. It’s still a full-time job for both of them to develop the course, prepare for classes and teach the material to the students. They said there is, however, enormous benefit.

“I wish co-teaching was part of the norm rather than part of the exception. It’s such a great thing for the students. They email us and we both respond. We’re on the same page, but the students often have the benefit of both of our perspectives,” said Gilbert. “We had this great pairing of expertise and energy.”

Gilbert and Roff meet regularly and encourage anyone applying as a team to communicate constantly so work isn’t duplicated and to work through challenges as they arise. 

Taking accessibility to the next level

The solutions journalism class began in the Winter 2022 semester with 11 students enrolled. The course is partially online, with in-person meetings on Mondays and Wednesday and Friday content is asynchronous. 

“When we designed the course, we thought ‘how do we make this more accessible and inclusive for everyone,” said Gilbert. 

Both Roff and Gilbert, have experience with online teaching and set out to create a course that was fully accessible. They used the resources available from e-Learning and Instructional Support to educate themselves on the best practices of developing a Moodle course. 

“We made our course as approachable and dynamic as we can with the idea of having students engage with the content in multiple ways and through different mediums,” said Roff. 

Using the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning recommended Universal Design for Learning, they formatted the course without a textbook, using the Open Education Resources program.

“We’re not going to require texts that you have to pay for, unless they want to support journalism by paying for some of the news sites that we use,” said Gilbert. 

Additionally, knowing that COVID was going to interrupt class for students throughout the semester, they made everyone accessible online, recording each class and making the materials available so students weren’t disadvantaged because they have an out-of-class obstacle. 

Feedback for students and the course

To make sure the course is addressing the needs of the students and meeting the goals Gilbert and Roff set for it, there are many opportunities for feedback and evaluation. 

The students aren’t just graded on assignments, but also in-class contributions, peer-reviewing skills and a self-reflection process. Students will work individually and as groups with various mediums including writing, video, audio and digital design. 

“This will allow students to tap into pre-existing knowledge and strength, while self-evaluation surveys will encourage them to identify challenges, encouraging them to work towards measurable improvement,” the pair wrote in their grant application. 

Students will learn to have difficult conversations on controversial topics, focus on social and environmental reporting. 

By evaluating student success, the instructors can make immediate modifications to the course structure. Using a reflective letter-writing baseline exercise, intermittent surveys, mid-semester progress reports and students self-evaluations, Gilbert and Roff can evaluate student growth. They will also monitor website traffic, reader comments and feedback from community members on published work. 

This feedback will allow Roff and Gilbert to look at students' engagement, not just final grades and course evaluations to compare it to the previous course that filled this role. 

Gilbert said the grant covered this semester of the class, and while the grant will conclude, the course will continue to run and is scheduled again for the Winter 2023 semester.

For more information on the journalism program at Oakland University, visit the Communications, Journalism and Public Relations website. 

For more information on the CETL Teaching and Learning grant, visit the grant website. It’s open to full-time faculty and part-time faculty (who have taught at least 24 credits at OU).  Grant proposals are due March 7.