Inspiring Faculty: Improving Student Outcomes through Increased Faculty-Student Engagement

Concurrent Session 8
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

How do institutions enculturate and empower faculty to leverage proactive outreach strategies to address student performance gaps? This session will provide an overview of how a large online institution partnered their faculty, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and student success teams to implement University-wide programming of instructional strategies, such targeted outreach to struggling students, that encourage faculty-student engagement. Attendees will learn about technology support solutions, program details, and student outcomes. Reflection and Q&A will focus on a cross-institutional discussion on how universities and solution providers are attempting to address this question.


Morgan Johnson is the Vice President of Faculty Affairs at The University of Arizona Global Campus. In her role she leads the University’s faculty development and support team, academic operations team, and teaching and learning innovation lab, which support nearly 2,500 online faculty. Morgan is currently pursuing a PhD in Organizational Development and Leadership. Her research focuses on teaching practices in online classrooms. As a passionate educator, Morgan has taught over 60 online courses during her career. Her research and consulting have focused on faculty management, teaching and learning, and academic operations.
Mr. Cole McFarren received his bachelor’s degree from Illinois College where he double majored in Communication and Rhetorical Studies in addition to Theatre. Shortly after graduation, he began working for Ashford University (now University of Arizona Global Campus) in 2010 as a writing instructional specialist and teaching assistant, where he also received his master’s degree in organizational management. He was later promoted to manager of Writing Services. Cole worked on Ashford’s campus in Iowa as an academic technology administrator supporting faculty and students with both onground classroom and online classroom technology. Cole served as a manager in UAGC’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning from 2016 to 2021, where he has been dedicated to classroom innovation and building professional development opportunities for faculty. In his role as a manager, Cole supported major initiatives such as a learning management system transition, implementation of classroom technology such as Civitas Inspire for Faculty, professional development and badging initiatives for faculty, and he daily champions the faculty classroom experience. Recently, Cole transitioned from his previous managerial role to the newly created title of Teaching and Learning Innovation Project Manager. As a passionate educator, Cole has been an associate faculty member since 2015 teaching first year students. Cole was also a member of the Online Learning Consortium’s 2020 cohort of the Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning.

Extended Abstract

While traditional measures of student retention are tied to program level student retention rates, retention is a lagging measure of student performance. Student performance at the assignment and course level is a leading measure of student success (American Association of Community Colleges, 2013). The critical role of faculty in achieving college completion goals has become evident (Rhodes, 2012). The online retention literature indicates that (a) faculty play a critical role in student retention (Betts, 2009), (b) students may not persist in their program[s] without effective faculty support (Morrow & Ackerman, 2012), and (c) faculty must possess the competencies to meet learners’ needs in an online environment (Franklin, 2015).

In this session, presenters will discuss how faculty, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning staff and leadership, and student success teams at Ashford University partnered to implement a University-wide initative focused on increasing faculty-student engagement and improving student performance in the online environment.

Ashford University began this work in 2017, launching Civitas Inspire for Faculty (IFF) for faculty within the learning management system in June 2018. Civitas IFF provides visualization of student behaviors and performance to faculty via an easy to access heat map that quickly summarizes student engagement and success factors.  With this unique perspective on student engagement, faculty have the ability to direct specific interventions through email outreach and support resources to students.  The tool also allows faculty the ability to quickly target subpopulations of students and include student advisors on messaging when their support may be necessary.

This session will discuss faculty development and support programming to prepare faculty for the cultural shift this tool introduced to daily teaching and learning practices. This includes discussion of training opportunities including quick-start guides, live webinars, email campaigns encouraging usage, an example intervention calendar, and numerous templates to give faculty starting points and examples of how to engage students at various levels of engagement.  In the first year following IFF implementation, Ashford experienced a 70% adoption of IFF by faculty who sent over 375,000 interventions via email to students. Initial outcomes of these interventions will be discussed along with lessons learned.

Questions that will be posed to attendees throughout the session:

  1. What instructional strategies do you utilize in your classrooms that have a positive impact on student course completion?
  2. Why do these instructional strategies have a positive impact on student course completion?
  3. What instructional strategies do not have a positive impact on student course completion?
  4. Why don’t these instructional strategies have a positive impact on student course completion?
  5. What are the critical teaching competencies that you believe prepare faculty to engage students and improve in-course completion rates?
  6. What training and development strategies help faculty develop these competencies?

This session will culminate in a 10 minute Q&A session with attendees to learn how faculty driven intervention programs are being structured and promoted, what tools will support these instructional best practices, and the student outcomes institutions are experiencing.


American Association of Community Colleges. (2013). Principles and plans: A voluntary framework of accountability (VFA) for community colleges. Retrieved from

Betts, K. (2009). Online human touch (OHT) training & support: A conceptual framework to increase faculty and adjunct faculty engagement, connectivity, and retention in online education, Part 2. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(1), 29-48. Retrieved from

Franklin, M. (2015). Keys to success in the online accounting classroom to maximize student retention. Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice, 15(5), 36-44. Available from

Morrow, J. A., & Ackermann, M. E. (2012). Intention to persist and retention of first-year students: The importance of motivation and sense of belonging. College Student Journal, 46(3), 483-491. Available from

Rhoades, G. (2012). Faculty engagement to enhance student attainment. Retrieved from