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Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Achieving Inclusive Excellence

  • 5 Min Read

A nationally ranked research university, Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) began a transformative journey to enhance its international teaching assistant onboarding process, aligning with its commitment to inclusivity and innovation. The Center for Teaching Excellence leveraged D2L Brightspace and Bongo to alleviate the logistical challenges faced by faculty and ITAs and provide a welcoming experience. The results were profound, with significant efficiency gains, reduced stress levels among ITAs and enhanced satisfaction among faculty and staff. SIUC is a recipient of D2L’s 2024 Excellence Awards for fostering inclusive excellence within its community.


Southern Illinois University Carbondale



  • Brightspace Core
  • Bongo
  • Intelligent Agents
  • Gradebook


Dr. Craig Engstrom, director, SIU Center for Teaching Excellence


  • Successfully developed and piloted a more inclusive onboarding process for ITAs in just a month, with ongoing improvement implemented in under six months
  • ITA stress levels decreased by 64%, fostering a more supportive environment
  • Dramatically reduced oral proficiency evaluation time by 55%, personnel hours by 80% and personnel costs by 74%
  • Elevated student learning experience and instructor communication by 34% and 43%, respectively, while securing a 41% increase in staff and faculty satisfaction with the new onboarding process
  • Contributed to a 4% increase in fall to spring retention for the Graduate School


Redefining ITA onboarding

In the realm of higher education, the onboarding process for international teaching assistants (ITAs) is influenced by tight visa timelines and language proficiency requirements. Effective onboarding is essential for maintaining academic excellence and ensuring positive student learning outcomes. However, course evaluations at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) reveal that ITAs often score lower than native speakers in teaching effectiveness and communication as rated by learners.

“ITAs often find themselves landing on campus merely days before the start of the semester, with little to no cushion for formal training, onboarding, and time to acclimatize to unfamiliar teaching contexts and classroom cultures,” said Dr. Craig Engstrom, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE). “Intensive mandatory English proficiency interviews conducted upon their arrival create added stress and an unwelcoming atmosphere, which contradicts SIUC’s vision of inclusive excellence.”

A thorough review of the current process revealed that CTE faced a burdensome 120-hour logistical effort to manage evaluations. This included scheduling coordination, time-intensive interviews and paper-based processes, creating inefficiencies and frustrations for faculty and ITAs alike.

Diven by a commitement to inclusivity, innovation and academic excellence, Southern Illinois University Cabondale overhauled its onboarding process. The significant improvement in operational effiency has led to enhanced satisfaction among faculty and ITAs, while elevating the quality of learning experience for students.


In September 2022, CTE began a yearlong journey of strategic planning, stakeholder engagement, and feedback and survey analysis, employing the ADDIE model of instructional design for a structured and effective revamp.

In response, a new, empathetic and efficient approach in a tailored Brightspace course was quickly developed and piloted in just a month, with ongoing improvements successfully implemented in under six months.

The revamped process introduced:

  • Early Access to Resources: ITAs are provided access to a tailored Brightspace course pre-arrival.
  • Welcoming and Instructional Course Design: The course features a welcoming message, comprehensive resources and instructions for completing the oral proficiency interview, using how-to guides and videos for a stress-free experience.
  • Practice and Formal Interviews: ITAs engage in practice sessions before their formal asynchronous interviews, utilizing Bongo for an interactive and supportive process.
  • Automated Review and Remediation Process: Intelligent Agents automate notifications and reviews with a rubric-based gradebook, streamlining scoring and certification of completion. Remediation needs trigger support notifications and redirection.
Sample Welcome Message in Brightspace
Sample Welcome Message in Brightspace


The transformation of the ITA onboarding process at SIUC has yielded significant improvements in efficiency, satisfaction and the learning experience.

As an ITA from Ghana observed: “The new onboarding process was seamless and considerate, acknowledging the challenges of relocating to a new country. It not only assessed my English proficiency but also allowed me to express my enthusiasm for teaching and learn more about the campus culture. This thoughtful approach made a significant impact on my transition and excitement to contribute to the academic community.”

Fostering a supportive environment

The adoption of Bongo for pre-arrival, asynchronous interviews transformed the oral assessments into low-stakes, interactive conversations.

“A staggering 86% of ITAs reported high levels of stress associated with the previous onboarding process. By leveraging Brightspace and Bongo, this figure plummeted to 22%,” shared Dr. Engstrom. “We are delighted with the 41% jump in satisfaction with the new ITA process from our feedback survey with staff and faculty.”

This sentiment was echoed by an ITA, who shared: “Completing my English proficiency a month before arriving in the U.S. eased my anxieties and made me feel valued and respected. It feels like a warm welcome to the university community, even from thousands of miles away in Bangladesh.”

Creating an inclusive onboarding experience also had positive impacts on teaching effectiveness. Course evaluations reflected a 34% improvement in the quality of the learning experience and a 43% increase in effective communication by instructors, narrowing the performance gap between ITAs and other teaching assistants.

Improved operation efficiency through automation

Automation of the evaluation process via Brightspace not only streamlined record-keeping, eliminating the need for additional paperwork, but also reduced evaluation time by 55%.

“Our faculty members dedicate substantial portions of their schedules—up to 18 interviews per day—which extends into the semester when remediation is required to better support ITAs,” added Dr. Engstrom. “Now, we’ve cut the necessary personnel hours from 120 to just 24—an 80% reduction. This not only optimized the process but also resulted in a 74% savings in personnel costs.”

Enhanced support and remediation

The new approach also increased remediation referrals, ensuring thorough assessments and upholding higher standards of excellence. It offered academic programs the flexibility to provide preemptive support, such as English as a second language instruction and mock classroom sessions, boosting classroom readiness and confidence.

University-wide impact

The provision of resources and training to stakeholders for more effective use of Brightspace has had a ripple effect, positively impacting student retention efforts.

CTE’s contributions have not only enhanced the onboarding experience for international teaching assistants but have also set a new standard for inclusive excellence in higher education, contributing to a 4% increase in spring enrollment.

Karen Jones, associate dean and director of the Graduate School, SIUC

The transformation at SIUC serves as a testament to the power of empathy-driven innovation, significantly transforming the onboarding process for ITAs and enhancing the educational environment for all members of the university community.

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