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Bethel Faculty Focus on Improving Classroom Experiences

Bethel Faculty Focus on Improving Classroom Experiences

Faculty gather for a lunch discussion group to share stories and resources about high-quality instruction.

With a faculty-to-student ratio of just 11:1, the classroom experience and close relationships with professors—as both teachers and mentors—has long been a source of pride for Bethel students and alumni.

“Bethel is known as an institution that highly values teaching,” Professor of Education Jay Rasmussen says. “But even though all faculty are content experts, some don’t have the advantage of formal teacher education. They tend to teach as they were taught. Because Bethel distinguishes itself by providing high-quality instruction, we invest heavily in faculty development.”

Rasmussen gets a front-row seat in the process as coordinator of the Faculty Development Team. The collaborative group has created an extensive collection of teaching resources and supports, including a robust mentoring program and summer workshops for first-year professors—plus ongoing feedback on instruction.

Dean of Professional Programs Pamela Erwin recalls one professor who had a fresh Ph.D. and an incredible academic track record when he began at Bethel. But he had never taught before, and it showed in his course evaluations from students. Mentors quickly came around him, providing detailed feedback on his classroom teaching style and demeanor. He improved dramatically, became a favorite of his students, and now mentors newer professors. “He can do that because he’s now a phenomenal teacher,” Erwin says.

Erwin is still in regular contact with most of the faculty cohort that began at Bethel with her. She notes that they remain close friends and resources to one another, and that supportive faculty relationships and ongoing discussion on current topics—like the integration of faith in learning, incorporating new technologies, and classroom inclusivity—are a foundationally important part of Bethel’s culture.

“Teaching is a fascinating blend of art and science but ultimately everything we do is about the students and their success.” Rasmussen adds, “Often the key to creating a powerful learning experience hinges on the instructor’s ability to build meaningful student relationships.”

That’s why—for new and experienced professors alike—Bethel encourages resource-sharing and continual improvement. A “Talk about Teaching” series, offered through presentations at the Bethel University Library, recently featured faculty voices sharing tactics for developing and sustaining their vibrancy as artists in the classroom. There are also regular discussion groups—hosted in an informal setting, in the Dining Center—for faculty to share experiences and resources that have helped them personally navigate tough situations. “Teaching During Changing Times” was a spring series focused on fostering inclusive classroom environments that encourage participation from students of different cultures, backgrounds, genders, and personality types.

“Good teaching is still good teaching…but the ‘how’ is dramatically different today,” Erwin says. “A good teacher can create an experiential setting that levels the playing field for all styles of learners and incorporates technology to create a context for experiential learning. That’s the goal.”

The Faculty Development Team is made up of representatives of multiple departments across the university, including:

  • Pam Erwin, dean of professional programs
  • Kent Gerber, digital library manager
  • Carol Hargate, nursing
  • Kathy Nevins, psychology
  • Molly Noble, teaching and learning technology
  • Christine Osgood, psychology, director of wellbeing
  • Amy Poppinga, history
  • Jay Rasmussen, education
  • Paula Soneral, biology
  • Dan Swensen, education
  • April Vinding, English
  • Amy White, social work
  • Sara Wyse, biology

“The motivation for all this grows out of Bethel's mission. We can't claim to prepare our graduates to serve in strategic capacities if we do not, as a faculty, continue to grow ourselves,” Dean of Natural and Behavioral Sciences Carole Young says. “We must understand our changing student population, our changing culture, and our changing academic fields in order to be strategic.”

Find out more about faculty development initiatives at Bethel.