Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement


Spring 2021-Fall 2021

Letter from the Director

When I first accepted the role of Director of Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement in 2017, one of the first things I wanted to do was to find a way for us to reflect upon and share the team’s successes and accomplishments with the University of Miami community and beyond. The 2017 Annual Report was the outcome of that goal, and it’s hard to imagine that five years have already passed since. Much has changed since then – I never would’ve imagined I’d be penning this in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic – but much has stayed the same. Our team continues to partner with faculty members and other university partners to find new and creative (or tried and true!) ways to provide the best possible learning experiences for our students. Sometimes these collaborations are small (“how do I put my syllabus in Blackboard?”) and sometimes they’re huge (“how do I re-imagine my approach as a teacher to use democratic discussion methods?”). This report features some of the snapshots and highlights of these efforts as we continue to advance the culture of teaching at the U.

I extend my sincerest gratitude to the readers of this report for your interest in our work. If you’re interested in exploring new ways to engage your students, whether through student-centered and active learning pedagogies or through innovative new technologies, I hope that you’ll consider collaborating with us!

Matt Acevedo, Ph.D.
Director, Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement

About the Team

The Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement team partners with faculty members, academic units, and other university stakeholders to advance the culture of teaching and learning at the U. Our goal is to empower faculty members and others to create innovative, effective, and meaningful learning experiences through learner-centered and active learning pedagogies, various teaching and learning platforms, and emerging educational technologies. 

Who We Are

Matthew Acevedo

All UM Campuses

Renee Evans
Senior Instructional Designer

College of Engineering

Aaron Royer
Senior Instructional Designer

Quality Enhancement Plan

Amanda Valdespino
Instructional Designer

All UM Campuses

Meet Our New Instructional Designer!


Solsiree Skarlinsky

Solsiree Skarinsky, Instructional Designer, has six years of experience as an educator and uses that background to develop one-on-one consultations, workshops, and small group learning circles for faculty members. In her role, Solsiree collaborates with faculty to integrate learner-centered approaches in the classroom. Before joining the University of Miami, Solsiree was an accomplished educator in an array of diverse academic settings. Her experience includes teaching Writing and Rhetoric at Florida International University and English at the high school level. During that time, Solsiree led Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to enhance student learning and streamline departmental practices. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and a Master of Arts in English from FIU.

View Our Report

Our Year in Review

Annual Faculty Showcase

QEP: Dialogue & Discussion

Partnerships & Projects

Teaching & Learning Resources

Scholarly Engagement

Our Year in Review

During Spring, Summer, and Fall 2021 semesters, the Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement team engaged in teaching and learning projects across the University of Miami. A summary of our engagements is shared below.

Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement Stats

The Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement team has continued to expand its impact on the University of Miami in calendar year 2021, engaging in 201 distinct projects, consultations, workshops, and other engagements with faculty members across the institution. 




Projects per Team Member


Academic Units partnered with

How do we define our projects?

Our “Projects” primarily include individual and group consultations, department or group workshops, and outreach to other departments within the university. Other categories include serving in university committees, scholarly activities/professional development opportunities (e.g. attending conferences, publishing articles, etc.), and conducting various other programs and services such as our annual faculty showcase, faculty reading groups, and generating online resources. 

What is the scope of our projects? 

In 2021, we started cataloging our projects with an indicator of project scope (see below). This helps gives us a birds-eye view of the kinds of engagements we have with our faculty partners and others as well as how we spend our time as a team. We don’t see “major” as more important than “minor” - all of our efforts contribute to our aim of promoting a culture of teaching at UM.

Who do we collaborate with?

Most of our projects have involved partners in the College of Engineering, as we have a dedicated Senior Instructional Designer in the College who leads faculty development programs, active learning initiatives, and teaching research and evaluation projects. The next largest University partner is the College of Arts and Sciences, and projects listed under “Office of the Provost." Projects in this category  include university-wide projects with multiple faculty members from different schools and colleges carried out in support of the Office of the Provost (Quality Enhancement Plan Faculty Learning Communities, academic continuity-related projects, PETAL Course Mentors, etc.) . Projects listed under “University of Miami Information Technology” include our own internal projects as well as collaborations with other UMIT teams. 

Faculty Rank 

When it comes to our one-on-one consultations we collaborate with faculty members from all three campuses and from every academic rank, demonstrating that teaching enhancement and innovation remain priorities among a broad faculty audience.

Faculty Showcase: Annual Teaching and Learning Conference

The Faculty Showcase is the University of Miami’s premiere teaching and learning conference – an annual gathering where faculty share, network, and discover how their colleagues are enriching student experiences through innovative pedagogies and learning technologies. Led by faculty for faculty, this one-day conference aims to support faculty development and enhance student learning.

2021 Faculty Showcase

🕘 NOV 4 2021: 3:00PM - 6:00PM 📍 Online

The 2021 Faculty Showcase took place on Thursday, November 4, 2021. Given the university’s ongoing commitment to ensuring safe events with the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Faculty Showcase was held on Zoom once again, with one general session and 14 breakout sessions. We welcomed 73 attendees, including faculty and staff across the institution and a number of external guests. This year’s event had select faculty present on a variety of topics related to teaching and learning. All recordings were made available for viewing. 

From the responses to a short 5-question feedback survey sent after the event; 100% of respondents reported either being 'very satisfied' or 'satisfied' by the Faculty Showcase.


“Good, thought provoking sessions and opportunities to reflect with peers to strengthen teaching. Got new ideas.”

“The event was well-organized and tech was seamless. Thank you for all your hard work!” 

“Thank you so much for all your efforts in putting together this event. Through the faculty showcases over the years, I've been able to meet people in other departments who I would not have met otherwise. The event is extremely valuable! Thank you!”

“I liked hearing about the great pedagogical work being done at our University. It was inspirational, organized and diverse.”






Live Sessions

QEP: Learning Through Dialogue and Discussion 

The University’s Quality Enhancement Plan seeks to promote discussion-based teaching and learning across the undergraduate curriculum by increasing the visibility of this pedagogy around campus, providing support to participating faculty, and reshaping learning spaces. To achieve the objectives of the QEP, the University has identified three teaching methods -Harkness, Flipped Learning, and Problem-Based Learning- chosen to support the QEP’s theme of Learning through Dialogue and Discussion. Senior Instructional Designer, Aaron Royer, works on faculty development initiatives related to the QEP. 

2021 QEP Programming

Spring Faculty Development Series

The QEP Faculty Development Series is part of an effort to provide ongoing support to faculty as they continue to develop and teach their QEP courses. In addition to fostering discussions around important issues relevant to the QEP teaching methods, these activities give participants an opportunity to meet with current and former FLC participants to share and discuss successes and challenges. In the Spring 2021 semester, Aaron Royer hosted a series of events, including workshops and a faculty reading group

Summer Institute

On August 18, 2021, QEP faculty and staff came together to share and discuss their experiences in recent semesters, reflect on and discuss preliminary QEP data, share resources, and welcome and network with the new cohort of QEP faculty, who participated in the FLCs in Fall 2021. 

Faculty Learning Communities

The Faculty Learning Community (FLC) is a trans-disciplinary community of practice where faculty are actively engaged with peers from across the university to share expertise, experiment with technologies, and develop transformative learning experiences within their courses.


Aaron Royer facilitated three FLC’s in Fall 2021, each centering on one of three QEP teaching methods. Participants explored, through bi-weekly discussions based on selected readings, various facets of their chosen method, as they took concrete steps toward the development of a pilot lesson and the transformation of a course.

Barbara Millet, Assistant Professor, Interactive Media
Mohamad 'Hammam' Alsafrjalani, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Nadia Gal, Lecturer, Mathematics
Stephen Zdzinski, Professor, Music Education
Zahra Azadi, Assistant Professor, Management
Yanfang Wu, Assistant Professor, Journalism and Media Management

Jyotika Ramaprasad, Professor, Journalism and Media Management
Alexandra Wilson, Professor, Biology
Allison Schifani, Assistant Professor, Modern Language and Literature
Barbara Whitlock, Associate Professor, Biology
Jaswinder Bolina, Assistant Professor, English
Joanna Johnson, Associate Professor, Writing
Kathryn Nowotny, Assistant Professor, Sociology
Richard Chappell, Assistant Professor, Philosophy

 Shouraseni Roy, Professor, Geography and Regional Studies
Andrew Porter, Assistant Professor of Clinical, Nursing and Health Studies
Ashley Falcon, Assistant Professor, Nursing and Health Studies
Ines Basalo, Assistant Professor in Practice, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Luis Ruiz Pestana, Assistant Professor, Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering
Michelle Seelig, Associate Professor, Interactive Media

Partnerships & Projects

Some programming and services involve partnering on special projects that exemplify and characterize the kind of impactful work that we do alongside faculty members and other university partners.

Faculty Development at the College of Engineering

As the dedicated Senior Instructional Designer for the College of Engineering, Renee Evans provides instructional design guidance to faculty members in workshops and one-on-one consultations. She supports the college’s Active Learning Initiative and participates in strategic planning and evaluation of educational efforts.


Teaching and Learning Innovation in STEAM

On March 26th, 2021,  the College of Engineering hosted the 3rd annual teaching and learning innovation in S.T.E.A.M. day. Due to Covid-19 restrictions the event this year was held remotely over Zoom. The event consisted of a keynote presentation, outstanding faculty presentations from Dr. Diana Arboleda, Dr. James Giancaspro, Dr. Ines Basalo, Dr. Ashutosh Agarwal, Dr. Yanqiu Wang, Mr. Lokesh Ramamoorthi, Dr. Miriam Lipsky, Dr. Matthew Acevedo and Ms. Renee Evans and a panel discussion with Provost Duerk, Dean Biswas and engineering student leaders Maisy Lam, David Oliver and Mohammad Ghiasian. The Keynote speaker, Dr. Mo Jamshidi, National Academy of Engineering member, and Lutcher Brown Endowed Distinguished Chaired Professor from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering University of Texas at San Antonio presented “The VI-P c Engineering Education Model for America’s Ethnic Minorities." The recordings of the sessions are available on the CoE TALIS day website.


Faculty Development Programs 

In Spring 2021, CoE faculty had the opportunity to engage in faculty development programs facilitated by Renee Evans. Topics included communication and collaboration with students, self-directed course design, course feedback program, and how to use educational technologies to enhance course experience. 


This year, members of LIFE hosted and co-hosted a variety of workshops based on faculty interests and requests from the university community. If you would like to access these workshops or request one for your department, please email us at life@miami.edu

2021 Workshop Series


College of Engineering Faculty Development 

Educational Technology Tools

Creative Production for STEM Virtual Workshop Series

COE Graduate Student Training

Maintaining Academic Integrity Among Students


QEP Faculty Development

Using Collaborative Annotation Tools to Increase Student Engagement

Evaluating Discussion, Group Work, and Participation

Series Finale: QEP Lessons Learned, Part II


Other Requested Workshops 

Blackboard Training for Arts and Sciences Faculty

Trauma-Informed Teaching for Public Health Sciences Faculty

I-ATE Innovative Technologies Session

I-ATE Active Learning: Engaging Students in the Classroom

Faculty Reading Groups

Faculty reading groups provide an opportunity for educators from across disciplines and departments to discuss common teaching & learning interests. This year, members of LIFE hosted/co-facilitated two faculty reading groups.


Spring 2021: Teaching for Critical Thinking

This faculty reading group was part of the Spring 2021 QEP Faculty Development Series. The book selected was Teaching for Critical Thinking: Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions by Stephen Brookfield. Participants met four times throughout the semester to discuss key questions such as how can instructors be more intentional about helping students to develop these skills in our classrooms? and In what ways does learning through dialogue and discussion relate to critical thinking?
LIFE Facilitator - Aaron Royer


Fall 2021: Evicted (One Book One U)

Instructor Reading Group
In support of One Book, One U, the University’s common reading program, Matt from LIFE co-facilitated (alongside partners from UM Libraries and the Office of Institutional Culture) the instructor reading group on the new book selection, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. UM instructors were able to discuss the book, its potential application in the classroom, as well as hear from other faculty members who are addressing relevant themes in the classroom.
LIFE Facilitator - Matt Acevedo

One Book One U Program
Instructor's Resource Guide

Educational Leadership and Mentorship

Over the last year, members of the LIFE team served as instructors, mentors, and members of committees.

Click each header to view a summary of on university-wide initiatives LIFE members have participated in this past year.

The Graduate School Teaching Academy is the University of Miami Graduate School’s initiative to equip a number of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows with the basic teaching skills they will need in anticipation of pursuing a faculty role with teaching responsibilities.

Led by Associate Provost for Faculty Development, Tatiana Perrino, members of the LIFE team – Renee Evans, Gemma Henderson, Aaron Royer, and Matt Acevedo – served as instructors for Teaching Academy sessions on active learning, learning assessment and feedback, and educational technology in the Fall 2021 iteration of the academy. 

First Year Directions is a UM seminar course that equips incoming first-year students with the skills and promotes the attitudes needed to transition into the academic community and to be successful in their higher education journey at the University of Miami. This one-hour seminar includes topics and themes including navigating and utilizing campus resources, promoting health and wellness, growing as a student and a leader, implementing study skills and goal setting strategies, and embracing diversity and inclusion.

Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement team members continue to be involved in this critical program. Matt serves behind-the-scenes on the curriculum and faculty development committee, Amanda Valdespino develops the Blackboard course that provides materials to FYD students, and Aaron Royer and Renee Evans each serve as instructors of the course. 

The Course Mentors program, part of the Platform for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, is designed to help faculty improve and develop quality teaching in the form of small group discussions and support. Each Course Mentors group, led by an exemplary faculty member and assisted by an instructional design expert, focuses on a specific teaching challenge, such as teaching and managing a class with large enrollment, engaging students with the literature, and having difficult conversations in the classroom.

Two members of the team, Amanda Valdespino and Matt Acevedo, served as instructional design experts, partnering with exemplary faculty Claire Ouselati-Porter and Miriam Lipsky, on two Course Mentors program cohorts: “Having Difficult Conversations” and “Engaging Students with the Literature.” 

To better understand the needs of University of Miami (UM) faculty and students when it comes to classroom design, Classroom Management and Academic Technologies conducted 12 focus groups with a total of 41 participants (faculty and students) between April and June 2021. These focus groups discussed current strengths and challenges of instructional spaces located at UM; reviewed active classroom configurations located on campus and at other universities; and had faculty and students discuss recommendations on how to improve classroom spaces based on educational goals. This initiative also included a survey that was sent to all UM faculty and a Classrooms of the Future committee that met during the fall semester.  

Focus groups were led and conducted by:
Instructional Designer, LIFE- Amanda Valdespino
Office of Classroom Management, Director- Dacia Simpson
Office of Classroom Management, Support Technician- Dale Deas

Teaching & Learning Resources

Throughout the year, we focus on developing online articles and resources addressing a wide range of learning and teaching topics, based on the needs of the University community.

Hot Teams

Through rapid investigative “Hot Teams,” LIFE seeks to explore emerging pedagogical techniques and educational technologies that support both faculty development and student learning. In collaboration with key faculty, university stakeholders, and domain experts, our team led an investigation on three emerging topics: Object-Based Learning, Role-Play and Simulations, and Digital Annotation Tools. Our team produced three white papers based on our findings, which are meant to inform the community about these topics, as well as highlight usage scenarios from faculty who are employing them in their courses.


Collaborative Digital Whiteboards

View the white paper >

Collaborative digital whiteboards are visual communication platforms which enable students and instructors to aggregate, display and comment on related course content in-real time.


Interactive Video Tools

View the white paper >

Interactive video tools allow instructors to annotate and embed questions into videos, resulting in a more active, engaging learning experience which yields important formative assessment data.

LIFE Archive

The LIFE Archive features online articles, guides, and resources addressing a wide range of learning and teaching topics. Each article is brief, timely and represents a variety of diverse perspectives to ensure they remain accessible to a wide audience. This year LIFE produced two articles for the archives, Getting Organized for the Fall Semester and a guide on Preparing to Teach a Fall 2021 Course. We also collaborated with UMIT on creating a Zoom Live Captioning Tip Sheet based on Zoom’s recent live-caption feature.

Local and Inter-Institutional Initiatives

LIFE continues to collaborate with local or external organizations, educational researchers, and other faculty developers to advance efforts in teaching, learning, and educational development in higher education.

Miami Teaching, Learning, and Technology Collective (MTLTC)

The Miami Teaching, Learning, and Technology Collective is an inter-institutional initiative comprising faculty developers, instructional designers, and educational technology experts from the University of Miami (represented by LIFE), Florida International University (Center for the Advancement of Teaching), and Miami Dade College (Center for Institutional and Organizational Learning). The goal of the MTLTC is to promote collaboration and information sharing among the three participating institutions.

The MTLTC Annual Meeting took place on Friday, November 19 with 37 participants from the three institutions. The group shared institutional updates and discussed various topics such as academic rigor, alternatives to grading, tools for assessments, and how to implement UDL when creating assignments. 


Scholarly Engagement

The Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement team prides itself on scholarly engagement with the broader community in the areas of teaching and learning, faculty development, instructional design, learning sciences, and educational technology.

Click each header to view scholarly outputs by members of the LIFE team from the past academic year.

Rowell, C. & Acevedo, M. (2021). Critical digital pedagogy in higher education: Broadening theory, bridging theory and practice. Concurrent session presented at the Association for Learning Technology Annual Conference, Online. September 7-9.

Evans, R., Valdespino A. (2021) STEM into STEAM: Using Object-Based Learning to Develop Critical and Creative Thinking Among Students. Conference paper for the 2020 Faculty Resource Network Virtual National Symposium. Retrieved from: https://facultyresourcenetwork.org/publications/curriculum-innovation-for-transformative-learning/stem-into-steam-using-object-based-learning-to-develop-critical-creative-thinking-among-students/

Evans, R. (2021). Our Shifted Roles as Change Agents in Higher Education. Plenary session presented at the Faculty Resource Network Annual Symposium, Online. November 19.

Evans, R. (2021). Using Object-Based Learning to Build Community and Foster Engagement in Students across Disciplines and Modalities. Guest speaker at St. Peter’s University Faculty Day. January 26. 

Evans, R., Valdespino A. (2021) STEM into STEAM: Using Object-Based Learning to Develop Critical and Creative Thinking Among Students. Conference paper for the 2020 Faculty Resource Network Virtual National Symposium. Retrieved from: https://facultyresourcenetwork.org/publications/curriculum-innovation-for-transformative-learning/stem-into-steam-using-object-based-learning-to-develop-critical-creative-thinking-among-students/

Henderson, G., Valdespino A. (2021) The Privilege of Failure: Supporting Equitable Discussions of Pedagogical Failure. Roundtable session presented at the POD Network Annual Conference, Online. November 9.

Looking Forward

As highlighted in this report, the Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement team continued to make a meaningful and lasting impact with our partnerships and collaborations over the past year, and we look forward to building on our successes in the coming year. As part of our mission to promote a positive and innovative culture of teaching and learning at the University of Miami, we aspire to build our capacity to expand our reach across the institution, enabling us to forge new partnerships with faculty members, academic units, and other university stakeholders. If you’ve worked with us before, attended one of our events, or used one of our teaching and learning spaces, we hope that you will share the stories of your successes with your colleagues and peers.

Contact Us

Interested in working with us? The Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement team is available for one-on-one and small group consultations and workshops on impactful pedagogies and innovative educational technologies. Please feel free to contact us at life@miami.edu for more information. We look forward to collaborating with you! 

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Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement: Annual Report Spring 2021-Fall 2021

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