The University of New Mexico Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) recently hosted a one-day institute known as the Course Design Institute. It featured a handful of intriguing focus areas. These included an emphasis on constructing course-inclusive syllabi and assignments, and learning research-based approaches on facilitating student learning, all while cultivating the experience of a supportive, collegial environment focused on professional development.

The Course Design Institute was based on the principles of Backward Design and featured keynote speaker, Sushilla Knottenbelt, a senior lecturer III in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, undergraduate director of the Combined BA/MD Degree Program, and faculty lead on the Student Experience Project at UNM.

Sushilla Knottenbelt

Knottenbelt shared her teaching journey at UNM starting with her own attendance at the Course Design Institute organized by CTL (then called OSET) in 2010, and her most recent work with the Student Experience Project (SEP). 

“The SEP applies decades of research on how mindset and belonging impact student achievement and persistence,” Knottenbelt said. “The work has shown how faculty can improve student experience using a set of tested classroom practices and how improved student experience leads to improved academic outcomes and reduced equity gaps for students from historically marginalized groups.”

Knottenbelt noted that one key practice involves reconsidering the syllabus and using it as an opportunity to welcome students into the course. Another involves developing consistent course messaging using language to normalize challenge and use of academic resources, as well as making clear to students that the instructor believes that all students can succeed in their class. These practices have been tested across six different universities nationally and have led to reduced fail rates among other indicators.

The Institute also guides instructors in making choices to construct more inclusive syllabi and assignments and learn research-based approaches on how to best facilitate student learning. The Institute is thoughtfully designed to create a supportive, collegial environment focused on professional development for all instructors.

CTL offers the Course Design Institute each January and May. This May, there were 20 people in attendance. It is free and accessible to all UNM instructors, including part-time instructors, any and all staff who instruct, graduate student teachers and branch campus faculty.

CTL works with students, instructors, and staff to create a welcoming and inclusive community of UNM students by providing opportunities for discussion and reflection about effective teaching and learning methods that are based on research. The center believes in growth and aims to understand and support students and instructors. Its team offers various services to meet the educational needs of all UNM students.