DKU Faculty Team Win Teaching and Learning Award

The DKU first year common core course, China in the World (CITW), has won the 2020 Apereo Teaching and Learning Award (ATLAS), an international award for teaching innovation. The course is taught by a team of six faculty led by Associate Dean James Miller.  

CITW is taught by a team of professors, including Zach Fredman, Bryce Beemer, Kolleen Guy, Ben Van Overmeire, Qian Zhu, and James Miller.

The ATLAS committee praised the application of the CITW course’s “stunning submission,” which was put together by Professor Ben Van Overmeire in collaboration with DKU’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). The committee was very impressed with the course organization and documentation, and praised the critical adjustments made for the remote delivery, including the attractive Sakai site and lecture recordings with closed captions and transcripts. These adjustments led to a high degree of student engagement.

“We’re very glad that DKU faculty have been recognized globally for their innovative pedagogical practices and for the resilience they have shown in the face of this worldwide health crisis,” said Scott MacEachern, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. 


CITW is the first of three common core courses at DKU, and aims to create a shared experience for all DKU students with diverse cultural and demographic backgrounds. It was first designed in 2018 during a three-month Learning Innovation Fellowship (LIF) led by DKU CTL and Duke Learning Innovation (DLI). Approximately 160 students at a time take the course, which is divided into three two-week sessions covering China’s engagement with the world in terms of science, trade and war. The final seventh week invites students to work in teams to re-imagine the course if they were teaching it in the year 2040. 

CITW Weekly Schedule


Following the COVID-19 outbreak, the faculty team shifted from using Sakai as an add-on to being central to the learning experience. Besides improving Lessons page design, the team integrated Zoom and VoiceThread into Sakai, recorded close-captioned lectures with Zoom, redesigned the asynchronous forum discussions, and created a new format for a weekly synchronous plenary meeting that brought together all the students and faculty who were scattered far and wide across the world.


After the shift to online teaching, the faculty team continued bonding with students through various activities:

Group activities were redesigned to fit the online setting. The teaching team assigned smaller groups to lead a 30-minute seminar discussion and larger groups to work together in the end-of-module role-play activities and the final project. The groups were divided with an emphasis on gender and home country diversity.

The role-playing games worked well to build community. Students had a chance to show a different side of themselves, and assumed roles they had been unable to perform in class thus far. Suddenly, students with acting backgrounds burst onto the stage, while previously shy students spoke to a large audience of their peers. 

The Sakai forums offered asynchronous ways of engagement. One question in the Sakai Forums asking students about their family histories during World War II, the Chinese Civil War, or other twentieth-century conflicts was particularly successful in achieving this goal. Students whose grandparents had been on different sides in the Second World War or the Cold War could find common ground in the suffering that was endured by all.

The final project, Voicethread presentation using the PechaKucha method, allowed students to share vastly different visions of the future of China. Each team’s presentation was shared with the whole class, and students had a 24-hour time window to listen to and comment on their colleagues’ presentations. They also voted on the best presentation in different categories.


In previous face-to-face version of the class, faculty take turns to lecture on a topic during the plenary session each week and host the discussion sessions of their own sections. But in Session 4, this had to change. All lectures were recorded with captions and transcripts, for students to view at their own pace, but the class regularly met as a whole for a plenary session chaired by Dean Miller. During this time together, the professors followed an outline that was partially scripted and partly spontaneous, each emphasizing their own interpretation of the topic under discussion. This distributed lecturing created a collective effort atmosphere for the plenary session. Consequently, students felt they were truly forming a community led by a team of faculty, instead of belonging to one professor of a certain section who happened to sit with others in the same room twice a week. 

This new format for the plenary sessions offered faculty the opportunity to model intellectual excitement and mutual respect (Anderson & Speck, 1998). Students commented that the lecture set up an example of how academics work and work with each other in reality. They enjoyed watching professors argue with each other, and at the same time, they came to realize disagreements commonly existed and how to make a disagreement is important to articulate critical thinking of the readings and the other’s opinions. Starting from Week 3, the team saw students argue with each other more on the forum posts and develop oppositional arguments in the essay writings as well.


Looking back at the adventurous spring term, the team found the modified mechanisms for online teaching helped them to enhance communication and technology integration for future classes.

Multiple channels for interactions. After the shift to online mode, students could reach their professors beyond regular email and office hours. During optional synchronous Zoom sessions, they could either use the text chat function or speak into the microphone. Some found the text chat function gave them more courage to start a conversation. This could be replicated when we are back to classroom teaching. 

Clear expectations in participation responsiveness and availability. From the beginning of the course, faculty need to list clear deadlines for every assignment, for example, articulating online discussion forum response time via the Lessons tool.

Formative assessment and timely feedback. All assignments, except for the final assignment, had a low-stake feedback mechanism. Participation and essay grades were given out bi-weekly, and the quality of team-led discussion assignments was discussed in class. Essay feedback was recorded via Turnitin and accessible to students. As for the final assignments, the suspension of regular class meetings during the final 7th week was designed to allow student groups to have at least one 30-minute meeting with their recitation professor and peers in Zoom breakout rooms for feedback on drafts. The small groups acted as one continuous formative feedback mechanism throughout the course, especially in reviewing essay drafts.  

Academic and technical support throughout the course. It takes a village to support a large course like this. DKU’s CTL team, IT, specialized peer tutors, Writing and Language Studio and faculty self-made course orientation and how-to videos all contributed to this course’s achievement.  

This story is a collaborative work by Luisa Li from CTL and the China in the World Teaching Team.  


Anderson, R. S., & Speck, B. W. (1998). Oh what a difference a team makes: Why team teaching makes a difference. Teaching and Teacher Education14, 671–686. 

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