Ensuring educational excellence is a complex balancing act for universities. As the value of higher education, and who gets to set its agenda, has become the subject of national debate, there are growing expectations around the skills that students will gain through their coursework. The shift to digital-first and AI enabled modalities is providing new opportunities to expand access to education, but is also leading to new challenges to the core values of teaching and learning.

As a rhythm of disruption becomes the new normal for higher education, how can teaching and learning professionals be best positioned to work together and help students succeed?

Ithaka S+R is developing a new program for colleges and universities to take stock of the services they provide to support those who provide instruction on a regular basis at their institutions. Together we will gather evidence that will allow schools to create a coordinated, cross-campus strategy for instructional support, including the capacity to track their instructors’ evolving practices and needs to ensure maximum responsiveness in the long term.

Taking an institution-wide approach to assessment

Colleges and universities provide a variety of services to support teaching, but the extent to which those services leverage evidence-based approaches to systematically improve their offerings varies widely from institution to institution. It can also be challenging for units with mandates to support instructional practices—such as the library, teaching and learning center, accessibility services, and academic integrity—to coordinate and collaborate on their shared goals. Currently available third-party tools for gathering user perspectives focus on a discrete subset of services, such as the institution’s library or the institution’s IT environment. None of these tools offer a comprehensive view of instructor engagement across all the teaching support services on offer at their school.

We aim to change that. We are seeking 15-20 colleges and universities who are committed to dynamically responding to the support needs of its instructors to join our Instructional Support Assessment Institute. Each participating institution will each gather real-time evidence of how instructional practices are evolving and use the findings to iterate on their instructional support strategies and services.

Our new program reflects the expertise Ithaka S+R has developed through over 20 years of  collaborative study on teaching and research practices with universities, scholarly societies, and publishers. The Institute’s activities will coincide with Ithaka S+R fielding the latest national survey of instructors, which will give participants the unique opportunity to work with our research experts to adapt this finely honed instrument for their local use and benchmark their results to our best-of-its-kind national dataset far ahead of its public release. The survey will ask instructors across the US about three issues essential to university-wide strategies for supporting pedagogical excellence:

  1. Their perspectives on the full breadth of instructional support services currently available at their campus
  2. Their experiences discovering, accessing, and designing course content in priority formats such as open educational resources (OERs), streamed audio/visual content, and big data(sets)
  3. Their needs related to teaching priority skills, including those emerging priority like AI literacies

How will the Instructional Support Assessment Institute work?

Drawing from units responsible for providing instructional support such as the library, teaching and learning centers, information technology, accessibility services, and faculty development offices, the participating colleges and universities will appoint two to four staff members to serve on a team. Each team will review and update its institution’s approach to assessing instructional support needs, with scaffolding, instruments and training by Ithaka S+R.

The institute will feature four distinct phases of activities over a twelve month period. In the first phase each team will use a framework developed by Ithaka S+R to systematically review their institution’s instructional support strategy, including previous approaches to, and data resulting from, gathering feedback from instructors including bespoke assessments conducted locally as well as through use of third-party instruments. The teams will use the findings to identify gaps in understanding related to instructor practices that warrant priority for a future assessment, which they will design and implement in phase two and three of the project, leveraging Ithaka S+R instruments available for customization. In phase four the teams will work with Ithaka S+R research experts to interpret their findings towards refining their institution’s instructional support strategies. This will include access to Ithaka S+R’s national survey data on instructor perspectives prior to public release.

Along the way participants will also come together to learn alongside and from their peers at the  institutions in the cohort, all of whom will share a strong commitment to using evidence to inform university-wide instructional support strategies.

How to get involved

We are launching our first cohorts for the Instructional Support Assessment Institute in Fall 2023 and Winter 2024. If your institution is interested in learning more about participating in one of the inaugural cohorts, please send me (danielle.cooper@ithaka.org) an expression of interest by June 15, 2023, and I will provide a prospectus detailing the timeline, staff capacity expectations, and cost.