Empowering Faculty to Meet Students Where They Are: Introducing the Tenets Model for Online Classroom Facilitation

Concurrent Session 4
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

In a bold move, our university moved away from a prescribed faculty classroom performance approach in fully-online classes to a Tenets model. This model emerged to answer the question, “How do we empower faculty the freedom and flexibility to facilitate learning and provide instruction to their students’ when and how they need it?”


Dr. Kathleen Embry currently serves as the Online Program Chair for General Education at American InterContinental University. She holds a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education from Capella University and has presented and co-authored on the supervisory relationship with virtual faculty members. With more than 20 years’ experience in on-line and face-to-face higher education teaching and administration and an additional 15 years in marketing, management, and entrepreneurship, Dr. Embry brings a plethora of experience to her engagement with online faculty and students, and within the online classroom. Positions held in higher education include adjunct instructor, Program Chair, Dean of Design Studies, and Director of Education; with additional corporate experience in Regulatory Compliance.
Dr. Bhalla holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Virginia and has published and presented in the areas of spatial perception, body image, and the pedagogy of teaching and assessment, especially with regards to serving the non-traditional/post-traditional learner. She is active in the American Psychological Association's working group on Undergraduate Education in Psychology. For over two decades, she has served traditional and non-traditional students, both campus-based and online, in the capacity of faculty member, department chair, undergraduate dean, and vice-president of academic affairs. She currently serves as the Dean for General Education at American InterContinental University.

Extended Abstract

Our prescribed faculty classroom performance review system was a traditional weighting of quantitative classroom-level student performance metrics plus a qualitative evaluation of faculty classroom performance parameters. This process seemed at odds; faculty were focused on meeting a list of criteria related to grading and feedback, announcements, discussion board posts and responses, live and/or recorded lessons, and outreach; a somewhat ‘checking the box’ mentality. While ensuring compliance with the classroom performance parameters, faculty were largely unable to place attention to knowing exactly where and which students were succeeding or falling behind, thus a dive into classroom-level metrics was not on the faculty radar, so to speak.

Therefore, in early 2019 a classroom observation approach was devised based on a student-centered Tenets model focused on what we considered the most important elements of faculty engagement in the classroom. This approach focuses on the following five tenets:

  • Presence
  • Facilitation of learning
  • Connection with students
  • Instructional agility, and
  • Innovation.

The Tenets also have a strong connection to an institutional strategic initiative, “Deliver Excellence in Student Outcomes” which speaks to the high-quality student support and the expansion of a student-centric mindset across the university via relational interactions with students.

The Tenets model had been unofficially in use by faculty teaching a first session Academic & Professional Success course and showing improvements in student engagement, passing grades, and withdrawal rates. This encouraged the institution to move forward to pilot the Tenets classroom observation approach. Expected impacts for the transition to the Tenets model included improvements in student outcomes, faculty performance and satisfaction/morale, and improved communication between faculty and managers. Goals were identified as fostering academic freedom, encouraging innovation, promoting student-centered instruction, and leveraging faculty evaluation as a useful and meaningful tool for continuous improvement.

A 3-month pilot launched with several hundred instructors who embraced the opportunity to reconsider their classroom instructional practices and refresh their approach to online facilitation. During this time, improvements were seen in EOC survey results, lower F/W, and improved submission rates and retention. Such positive results lead to a full roll-out of the Tenets model by all AIU faculty by mid-2020. The gradual roll-out over a full 6 month period allowed faculty the time to understand and get comfortable with the Tenets by adjusting their instructional practices and trying out new best practices shared by faculty who had already entered the Tenets model. In addition, this allowed time for faculty manager to talk to the Tenets and frame their conversations with faculty around the Tenets; such as “...your presence is evident in the classroom by the way you…” and “…using the Announcements to share insights on the Unit 3 discussion board is evidence of facilitating learning…”, and so forth.

To assist with continuous improvement, managers provide regular feedback to faculty throughout the year, typically via email, phone calls and synchronous video sessions. At the start of the year, faculty are provided with a Tenets rubric which doubles as a worksheet for recording actions taken specific to each Tenet. In addition, faculty self-assess at least twice a year which leads to deeper conversations with managers around successes and areas for opportunity.

The Tenets approach does not come without any guardrails. Within the Tenets model, faculty must adhere to a set of ‘non-negotiables’ such as ensuring engagement in all areas of the classroom, communication with the highest risk students, as well as meeting dates and deadlines. Faculty report overall satisfaction with the move to a Tenets model. Some faculty still favor prescribed parameters and continue to closely follow such a model, though within the guidelines of the Tenets. What is most impactful, however is that our faculty are given the flexibility to approach their courses in the manner they deem most effective for their students.

The following questions will drive the focus of this session:

  1. Are you pleased with the direction you / your faculty take to address course facilitation and instruction?
  2. What would the Tenets model look like for you/ your program or course?
  3. What challenges would you/ your faculty struggle with? Why? What would you do about it?


  1. Participants will be placed in groups by Tenet and asked to discuss how they and/or their faculty address each in their current courses.
  2. Participants will be provided examples of classroom engagement, instructional activities, and student outreach and discuss which Tenet/s apply to the approach.


  1. Participants will examine an innovative approach to student-centered classroom facilitation and instruction.
  2. Participants will analyze an innovative process for classroom observation, faculty coaching and evaluation which encourages continuous improvement.
  3. Participants will compare two models of faculty performance parameters to determine a best fit for their own programs / courses.