First-Year Program

professor with student in classroom

Even if you value and support excellence in teaching, it is often difficult to capture the intellectual work of your teaching in a form that can be conveyed easily to others. Some questions you might ask include the following:

  • How does one document, make visible, and assess the careful, difficult, and intentional scholarly work entailed in planning and teaching a course?
  • How can I show the intellectual work of teaching that takes place inside and outside my classroom?
  • How can I systematically investigate, analyze, and document my students’ learning in relation to my teaching?
  • How can I communicate this analysis and documentation of my teaching to campus or disciplinary audiences?

Whether you are a successful teacher who seeks to document the impact of your teaching more visibly, you desire to improve your teaching of a particular course, or you want to investigate a particular issue in your teaching, Faculty-Led Inquiry into Reflective and Scholarly Teaching is designed for you.FIRST provides a model for how you can document, assess, and make visible your teaching and your students’ learning. A faculty member's experience consists of a year-long fellowship that supports the writing of three short essays on different aspects of teaching (intellectual content, teaching practices, and student understanding). Faculty combine these essays into a reflective document (a course portfolio) that illustrates inquiry into the success of a course in helping students learn. Previous participants have used their portfolios as evidence of teaching effectiveness for teaching awards, promotion and tenure files, and accreditation reviews.

What about my course?

In order to accommodate the widest variety of participants, we have a Fall start program which begins in August and ends in June, and a Spring start program which begins in March and ends in December. A key requirement is that you must be actively involved in teaching a course during the second semester of whichever project you sign up for. Preference in selection is given to having a mix of faculty members from different disciplines and for courses focused on teaching undergraduate students, although graduate classes will be eligible.

What financial support Is provided?

You will receive a $500 salary stipend for time devoted to FIRST activities (e.g., writing essays, completing the course portfolio, and participating in FIRST meetings) upon the completion of the workshop and the posting of a completed course portfolio by early June for the Fall-Start cohort and January for the Spring-Start cohort.

What exactly do I have to do?

Writing a portfolio for your target course involves composing three memos about your course.The first memo, Reflections on Course Content, asks you to discuss your course syllabus and reflect on the course goals and the intellectual rationale for these goals. The second memo, Teaching Practices, asks you to reflect on the teaching methods, course assignments, and course materials. The third memo, Student Learning, asks you to reflect on teaching in terms of student learning. Once the three memos are completed, you integrate them into a reflective document (a course portfolio) that will potentially be made available to selected external reviewers at participating universities. You also need to participate in and attend these key meetings, as well as complete asynchronous online content over the course of the year. 

Dates for the 2024 Spring-Start Cohort:

  • Saturday, March 2, 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
  • Tuesday, May 21, 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM
  • Friday, August 23, 11:00 AM to 1 PM
  • Saturday, October 26, 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM
  • Tuesday, December 17, 9:00 AM-1:00 PM

What is the time commitment?

Our experience says that it takes about 50 hours of your time over the 9-10 months of the program – an average of 5 to 6 hours a month. Therefore, we structure the program over the entire year versus an intensive one-week session. This estimate includes all the time you will spend writing and participating in group meetings.

Any final thoughts?

Most UNL faculty who have completed the FIRST process speak very highly about their experiences. Many have indicated that it has had a positive impact on their approach to teaching and being able to document their students’ learning. Hopefully, your participation will have a measurable impact on your teaching abilities, teaching philosophies, and understanding of the teaching profession and faculty peer review.Below are the results of a recent survey of former project participants:

QuestionFaculty Participant Response
(1=strongly disagree, 5=strongly agree)
As a result of my project participation, I am better at defining course goals4.56
As a result of my project participation, I am better at identifying, articulating, and revising student learning objectives4.56
As a result of my project participation, I have changed the design of my course(s)4.26
As a result of my project participation, my expectations for my own teaching have increased4.26
As a result of my project participation, my expectations for my students' learning have increased3.94
As a result of my project participation, I have improved the assessments I use in my courses4.29
As a result of my project participation, I have questions about my students' learning that I would like to explore4.32
Even after my project participation, I have continued to frame and investigate questions about teaching and learning within my own classroom4.35
As a result of my project participation, I have documented improvements in my students' learning4.15
As a result of my project participation, I am more familiar with the vocabulary used for discussing and evaluating teaching as intellectual work4.12
As a result of my project participation, I feel more capable of reading and assessing others’ teaching materials4.15
As a result of my project participation, I have benefited from learning about teaching issues in other academic areas/departments/programs4.42
As a result of my project participation, I have taken on a leadership role related to teaching and/or student learning in my department/college/campus4.03

How do I find out more or apply?

If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact Jody Koenig Kellas ( or Eve Brank (

To apply for the program, please complete this short questionnaire.  

The deadline to apply for the 2023 Spring-Start cohort was February 10, 2023. The deadline to apply for the 2023 Fall-Start cohort will be in July 2023.