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Members of the Bruning Teaching Academy engage in discussion during a meeting.
History of the Bruning Teaching Academy

History of the Bruning Teaching Academy

The Bruning Teaching Academy (BTA) provides a developmental, peer-to-peer approach for continuous improvement and implementation of evidence-based best practices. The program seeks faculty who have demonstrated teaching excellence and considers overall years of teaching experience as well as years at OHIO. Participants come together throughout the academic year to discuss instructional strategies, provide constructive feedback and work toward one common goal — improving teaching.

The Beginnings of the BTA

The BTA traces its roots to a generous gift from Dr. James Bruning, who began his career at Ohio University as a psychology professor and then became the University’s provost during President Ping’s tenure. Dr. Bruning was among the first group of faculty who received the University Professor award in the early 1970s. This award is unique in that students nominate faculty and select each year’s recipients. Dr. Bruning made the gift to University College, which then housed the award, with the idea that University Professors should be encouraged to share their pedagogical knowledge and insights with their faculty colleagues.

Dr. Bruning proposed that an interested University Professor would be named to a faculty fellowship with the understanding that they would be available in a central office to help faculty in their efforts to become better teachers. In 2011, Bruning asked Linda Rice, professor of English and the director of the Master of Arts in English Online, to serve as the James Bruning Teaching Fellow. Rice held this role for two years and met individually with faculty who were looking for support with teaching and learning strategies. Tom Carpenter, distinguished professor emeritus in classics, and Rice both were interested in providing larger scale support for effective teaching and simply wanted to engage interested faculty in meaningful discussions about teaching and learning, so they came up with a plan for the first communally-driven and peer-coached Faculty Learning Community focused on the humanities.

Rice and Carpenter facilitated this Faculty Learning Community, made possible by an 1804 Grant they received. After the first year, interdisciplinary arts professor William Condee joined them and the three leaders came up with a plan for the James Bruning Teaching Academy, in which all participants would become known as Bruning Teaching Fellows.

Carpenter, Rice, and Condee planned a group that would reach a broader audience while still focusing on improving undergraduate teaching and learning. The three collaborated to write a Konnecker grant that was awarded approximately $40,000 for use in 2014–15 academic year. This became the current-day BTA, pairing non-tenured and tenured professors for a yearlong program (first run in the 2015–16 academic year). Drawing faculty from five colleges, the BTA caught the attention of deans who provided an additional year of funding (2016–17 academic year).

The deans so readily wanted to fund it because it’s not top-down. It’s not a program being pushed by the deans to help professors improve their teaching, but it’s faculty-driven. In 2016–17, Brad Cohen, chief strategy and innovation officer in the Strategy and Innovation Office, agreed to fund the group on an ongoing basis. The Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment now administers and supports the Bruning Teaching Academy.

Funding History of the Bruning Teaching Academy

  • 2013-2016

    In 2013-14, a pilot FLC focused on the humanities and was funded by 1804 grant. From 2014-16, Carpenter, Rice, and Condee built the program and worked on a Konnecker grant. They were awarded the Konnecker and ran the first iteration of BTA.

  • 2016-2020

    In 2016-17, the deans funded BTA, then the Office of Instructional Innovation took over sponsorship.

  • 2021-2024

    Fall 2021 to spring 2024 was a haitus for the Bruning Academy as higher education broadly responded to and returned from the COVID pandemic.

  • 2024-2025

    BTA returns as a signature program of the newly launched CTLA.

Bruning Teaching Academy Structure

BTA is a yearlong program with fall semester focused on backward design and alignment and spring semester focused on special topics. At the beginning of the experience, the leaders assign faculty partners. Faculty are grouped into cross-disciplinary pairs to work together throughout the academic year. Faculty are coupled across disciplines intentionally. Since the faculty are paired so as not to be familiar with their partner’s discipline area, they won’t spend time disagreeing about techniques or details in their field. Instead, they approach each other as novices in the other’s discipline. A core concept in BTA is that all instructors have room to improve their teaching and can learn from one another. The relationship is not mentor-mentee but of partners learning, growing, and discovering together. 

There are typically four or five whole group meetings each semester. Between meetings the participants have homework in the form of reading assignments, posts on Canvas, and an activity with their partner. During fall semester, each participant chooses one of their undergraduate courses to focus on. With that course in mind the academy moves through a series of activities geared to strengthen the alignment of learning outcomes, classroom activities, and assessments and to identify relevant strategies to maximize student participation. 

“Our deliberate focus on backward design and alignment can be very eye opening, even to the most seasoned professors,” said Rice. “We unpack major components of effective course design, such as ‘the big idea’ or an essential question that drives a course and then work to align activities and assessment so there is a clarity of structure, learning, and feedback that positively affects student learning.” 

Spring semester is topics based, and the topics vary year to year. Topics have included confronting implicit bias, teaching with a global perspective, the flipped classroom, first five minutes (focused learning strategies), Team Based Learning, online and blended learning, teaching portfolios, and “The Teaching Checklist.”


BTA leaders Linda Rice and Raymond Frost engage faculty in a discussion about learning during a BTA meeting.
BTA leaders Linda Rice and Raymond Frost engage faculty in a discussion about learning during a BTA meeting.

A Focus on Peer Coaching

Whole group BTA meetings are held every three to four weeks for an hour and a half. The structure of each meeting is influenced by a reading called “The First and Last Five Minutes,” which notes that the first and last five minutes of every class tend to be thrown away with announcements and questions. Each meeting typically begins with an activity, followed by a fifteen-minute presentation, after which participants break up into groups and work on another activity. The group activity may be with partners, a randomly chosen participant, or sometimes two pairs together. These groups then come back together and share what they have learned during the last ten minutes of their time together.

A goal for participants is for each partner pair to get together in between every whole group meeting. They can discuss problems they’ve encountered with something they are teaching, or simply get together and have coffee with one another. Pairs are also required to observe each other’s classes to provide feedback on each other’s teaching. Starting in 2024 BTA will utilize the OHIO’s new PTOP (Peer Observation of Teaching) protocol that includes a pre-observation meeting, full scripting the observation, filling out a Post-Meeting Form, sharing these materials with the faculty who was observed, and then conducting a post-observation meeting. The PTOP materials are aligned with the eight Teaching Excellence Criteria

Working with a partner and looking at course materials with fresh eyes has the effect of helping participants to see anew what’s working and what can be strengthened. This analytical process, in tandem with the peer observations of teaching, is instrumental in a process of course revision and refinement aimed to maximize student learning.

A study by Atul Gawande found that if someone simply attends a workshop on how to do something, the adoption rate is only about ten percent. However, if someone works with another person over the course of a year, the adoption rate is 80–90 percent. This was essentially the goal of the BTA — create a yearlong conversation among a group of people who trust each other.


Faculty discuss topics during a BTA meeting
Faculty often go to deep, vulnerable places during BTA meetings. There is a shared trust among the group participants.

A Unique Experience

The Bruning Teaching Academy is seemingly the only group of its kind; BTA leaders are not aware of any similar practice at another institution, even after researching other teaching academies around the country. The idea for the BTA originated from Athens native Atul Gawande, a surgeon and staff writer for The New Yorker. He watched a professional tennis match and wondered why a professional tennis player has a coach, and why does he, as a surgeon, not have a coach? After doing some research on coaching, he asked a retired surgeon to coach him; the surgeon watched Gawande do surgeries and gave him simple advice that only someone experienced in that field could have. For example, Gawande received tips about holding his arms differently during certain procedures to give him more room — things that only an experienced person in that field would know.

BTA co-founders William Condee and Linda Rice were so struck by this particular article by Gawande that it stayed with them until the BTA was hatched. The contents resonated because of the parallels they saw with their lives as university faculty. “Once we get our university jobs, so much seems to become private in terms of the classroom — we plan our classes, go in and teach, may self-reflect, but otherwise teach as a mainly private endeavor,” said Rice. “We don’t tend to talk about teaching as much as research, especially in the sense of a shared community.”

Another rare trait of this group is that it is low-cost. Each participant involved receives a $1250 stipend; the only other cost is a couple books and some refreshments.

“What we’re doing is unique,” said Condee. “This is a model that could be replicable at other universities with limited resources devoted to teaching and learning. This is something you can do — here is a model you can replicate, and it’s cheap.”

“The BTA was a valuable pedagogical experience for me,” said Lysa Burnier, professor of political science and past participant in the BTA. “It was a treat to gather monthly with faculty and the BTA team leaders — all of whom care deeply about teaching — and share with each other our classroom experiences and teaching practices as informed by that month’s assigned readings and exercises. Being partnered with another professor was especially fruitful. We watched each other teach, shared feedback and generally immersed ourselves in each other’s classrooms.”


Tenured faculty having discussions with non-tenured faculty at a BTA meeting
Faculty in the BTA learn from each other’s experiences through a combination of partner activities and whole group meetings. Each faculty is paired with another faculty to observe each other’s classes and discuss teaching. The pairings are intentionally across discipline areas to keep the focus on teaching and to offer fresh perspectives.