University News

English Professors Create Program to Enhance Teaching and Enrich Student Engagement

Jenna Sheffield, Ph.D., and Mary Isbell, Ph.D., want students to be active learners, and their initiative to foster student and faculty collaboration during course development has recently received funding from a leading educational foundation.

August 25, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Dr. Mary Isbell and Dr. Jenna Sheffield
Dr. Mary Isbell (left) and Dr. Jenna Sheffield at the Johnson Family Writing Awards, a program they initiated with Peter Johnson '81.

Jenna Sheffield, Ph.D., is passionate about helping University of New Haven faculty members enrich their teaching, and she believes students can play a meaningful role in designing courses, enhancing pedagogy, and promoting inclusiveness. The University’s transition to remote learning amid the global coronavirus pandemic inspired Dr. Sheffield and Mary Isbell, Ph.D., to take even more steps to bring students and faculty together.

Teaching and learning remotely illuminated faculty and student needs – at the University and at schools across the country – Sheffield said. For example, students expressed a desire to have a say in how their learning might be shaped by online courses, and faculty members expressed a desire for information about how to best support students’ remote learning.

Drs. Sheffield and Isbell are leading “Transforming Courses Through Open Pedagogy,” a new faculty development initiative at the University, for which they recently received a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation.

“We have amazing teachers at the University who truly care about their students, and this grant will allow us to further support them as they continue to innovate based on students’ interests and needs,” said Dr. Sheffield, assistant provost for curriculum innovation and an assistant professor of English. “Dr. Isbell and I see the grant funds as a way to jumpstart pedagogical development and innovation.”

'Many students will benefit from the high-quality course content'
Dr. Mary Isbell holding award
Dr. Mary Isbell received the 2019 Bucknall Excellence in Teaching Award.

The grant was received from the Davis Educational Foundation established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc. the University will receive more than $230,000 over the three years of the initiative, which the Trustees described as “interesting, well presented, and enjoying clear administrative support.

Drs. Sheffield and Isbell designed the program to enhance teaching by involving students in the process of course design before, during, and after a semester. They hope it will enable faculty to create and adapt high-quality open educational resources – freely accessible text, media, and other digital assets that are useful for teaching, learning, and research – and foster a culture of inclusiveness by, for example, helping professors be more flexible with students’ learning preferences.

The creation of an Open Pedagogy Fellowship is the primary feature of the initiative, and it will support faculty in developing open educational resources while using student input to transform courses. Participating faculty members will receive training and a stipend to support their endeavors.

“We have developed a structure to involve students in the process as faculty create new resources for their courses,” explains Dr. Isbell, an assistant professor of English. “Select students will be invited to partner with a faculty member making enhancements to their course – and offered a stipend for their work. Many students will benefit from the high-quality course content that faculty fellows will be producing.”

'We feel strongly that the process ... will benefit students’ learning in the long run'
Dr. Jenna Sheffield teaching in Italy
Dr. Jenna Sheffield teaching travel writing at the University’s campus in Prato, Italy.

The initiative brings together both professors’ interests and expertise. Regularly involved in faculty training, Dr. Sheffield is passionate about collaborating with fellow instructors on teaching and sharing ideas. She enjoys sharing how she includes students’ input in course development and how she uses technology to engage students. Dr. Isbell, the recipient of the 2019 Bucknall Excellence in Teaching Award, has experience in open educational resources and an interest in bringing together students and faculty to enhance courses.

“Transforming Courses Through Open Pedagogy” will enable faculty members to learn how to create open educational resources and to be involved in a process for students to give input on course materials. Drs. Isbell and Sheffield will initially lead the training, but they have designed the program so that other faculty members will also become trainers.

“As the University adopts and creates open educational resources, we can offer our students instructional materials that are more tailored to their needs and interests,” said Dr. Sheffield. “We feel strongly that the process we’ve developed for faculty to receive student input on their course materials will benefit students’ learning in the long run.”

Drs. Sheffield and Isbell are hoping to invite the first round of faculty fellows to get involved late this fall, and they are hoping that faculty members from each of the University’s colleges and schools will take part in the program.

“We were thrilled to receive the grant, and we know that faculty on campus are going to be eager to participate in the fellowship program,” said Dr. Isbell. “We have faculty doing truly extraordinary things in the classroom. With this funding, we will be able to equip enthusiastic faculty with the resources they need to expand on the exciting things they're already doing.”