In October 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Andrea Aebersold found herself looking for a more meaningful way to connect with colleagues. As the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation’s (DTEI) Director of Faculty Development, she wanted a way to offer much-needed support to UCI faculty as they adapted to the remote teaching and learning environment. While she and the rest of the DTEI team were doing their best to distribute helpful information and advice through Zoom meetings, calls, and online consultations, Andrea wanted another way to reach out.
It was this desire that saw the launch of Andrea’s Director’s Blog. Almost a year later, Director’s Blog has become a trusted resource, with UCI faculty eagerly awaiting each monthly update. The below Q&A highlights the success of the blog,and where it’s headed in the future.
Q: Director’s Blog launched in the middle of the pandemic at a time when I’m sure you had a lot on your plate. What made you decide to take on the responsibility of writing a blog?
A: I launched the blog during the pandemic because I needed another way to support faculty. They had to learn a new way of teaching overnight, and it was incredibly stressful. Many faculty felt more isolated without seeing their colleagues regularly on campus. I thought a blog would be a good way to reach faculty to offer help and support without taking up much of their time. Plus, I also enjoy writing. My Ph.D. is in English, so I get to practice something I used to do very regularly.
Q: Let’s talk about the blog in more detail. What do you want readers to take away from your blog, and what are some of the topics you’ve discussed so far?
A: The blog is a place for faculty to hear about teaching-related topics at UCI. Not everyone is able to attend our workshops and programs, so I wanted to make myself available outside of formal events. My goal with the blog is to connect with faculty and help them improve their teaching with bite-sized blog posts that are quick and easy to understand.
Right now, everything relates to teaching during a pandemic. This is a truly unique time for higher education, so I’m trying to help faculty navigate it by offering advice on course design, technology, student engagement, and inclusive teaching. But I have also been writing more about self-care. Faculty stress levels are through the roof, and some are dealing with trauma as well. To keep teaching through all of this takes an enormous mental and physical toll, so I want to remind faculty that they can design their teaching in a way that serves them, not just the students.
Q: Speaking of self-care and other more personal topics, one of the unique aspects of Director’s Blog is that it goes beyond technical advice on teaching and course design. As a reader, I appreciate how relatable the posts are, especially how you end each post by sharing what you’re reading and even what you’re drinking! When developing the blog, was creating this comfortable relationship with your readers something that you focused on from the start?
A: The blog is more than just teaching advice—it’s also a chance for faculty to get to know me. A huge part of being a successful faculty developer is the ability to gain trust. If they don’t know you and trust you, they are less likely to take your advice and implement changes to their teaching. So I try to share personal anecdotes related to teaching as well as some non-teaching related things, such as what books I’m currently reading. I’m a HUGE reader—my goal is to read 100 books this year, and I’m on track to do it!
Q: Do you feel like your posts resonate with readers? Why do you think the blog has been so successful on that front?
A: After each post, I always get a handful of emails from faculty who enjoyed reading it. The feedback I get often points to me addressing how they are currently feeling or what challenges they are currently facing. I try as much as possible to show that I am plugged into the current atmosphere and use that to craft my advice. Right now, there’s a lot of fear and frustration related to teaching in the fall quarter, so I recently wrote about that alongside some advice to help manage it. If I tried to pretend that teaching isn’t hard right now, NO ONE would be reading the blog.
Q: Since we’re on the topic of feedback, what’s the best way for readers to reach out to you, and is there a way for readers to be featured in your blog or suggest potential topics?
A: That is something I hope to do in the future! Readers can certainly email me with feedback or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: For people who aren’t subscribed to the blog, how can they read your previous posts, and how can they get notified when you post a new update?
Once again, you can reach out to Andrea with feedback or suggestions by sending an email at email@example.com. For the latest Director’s Blog updates, sign up here. To read older posts, click here. Finally, to learn more about the DTEI’s resources and services, click here.