Faculty Development: From a Perspective of Reward

I decided to visit our archives for articles on faculty development as part of my exploration into how the field has evolved so I can gain a clearer picture of where it may be going. Why? I believe in developing programs that are firmly grounded on tried and true practices, but I also want to design programs that drive and help craft innovative practices in faculty development and higher education.

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Last week I blogged my initial conceptions of a rough framework that might help me think through the complex interconnections that characterize faculty development programs and actions. In it, I argued that in practice many faculty development programs, events and interactions fall in the “support” category. This is not necessarily due to the way centers for teaching and learning see their work; rather, it is a conception that is imposed upon them by way of academic hierarchies, power structures, compartmentalization and traditions.

After a conversation with a colleague and co-author, Lee Skallerup Bessette at the University of Kentucky (@readywriting), I realized that the notion of “support” needs to be distinguished from the notion of “service.” Lee pointed me to an article she co-authored at HybridPedagogy that framed faculty development as an occupation that is uniquely positioned to help institutions seriously reconsider institutional power structures that under value (albeit rarely explicitly) teaching and learning. Such orientations often position centers for teaching and learning as mere support suppliers, rather than collaborators and drivers of innovation and transformation, and thereby limit program options. Lee’s article is titled: Towards a Critical Approach to Faculty Development.

According to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to support is to:

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Relevant definitions for service include “to help,” “to be of use,” “to benefit,” and to “contribute the welfare of others.”

Although faculty development is a service field, the perceptions of what these “services” and “support” efforts consist of do not necessarily speak to its robustness. In other words, the field of faculty development is internally rich, but often viewed as simplistic.

I cannot help but make a connection to the ways students perceive instructors, intellectual work, and the relevance of disciplinary thinking to their lives. So much of our work as instructors involves reorienting students’ thinking to be more in line with the objectives, goals and ideals of thinking within a particular discipline. After all, each discipline and each course, for that matter, represent particular lenses from which we can examine the world around us.

Reorientation, like using a map and a compass, is a necessary condition for accomplishing our learning goals as well as, I argue, for deep learning. I wrote about this concept at the following links:

At its essence, reorientation involves surfacing our assumptions and expectations and recalibrating them to match goals, objectives and dreams. I believe that the future of faculty development must take efforts to explicitly recalibrate simplistic assumptions and preconceptions of our work and move toward cultivating collaborative partnerships built on professional respect.

This sentiment is echoed by an article by Robert Boice entitled: “The Hard-Easy Rule and Faculty Development.” I found the article in the POD Network book To Improve the Academy: Resources for Student, Faculty, & Institutional Development dated 1990 volume 9.

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Boice reflects on the slow progress of faculty development efforts. He focuses his discussion on what Kerr (1988) identified in organizational management as a paradox of rewards. Simply put, “easy” or fairly low risk and low value tasks are rewarded less than “hard” or seemingly high value tasks. Placed in the context of faculty, Boice argues that traditional high value tasks, like publishing, are disproportionally rewarded over low value tasks like teaching. The perception of these tasks, he argues, is that tenure and promotion value hard tasks (like publication) and that easy tasks (like teaching) are given mere lip service, but failure has statistically insignificant negative consequences despite beliefs to the contrary. Interestingly, Boice points out that the perception of hard tasks are not punished to the degree that defining them as “hard” warrants in the common rhetoric; yet, the perception remains. In other words, institutions of higher education are a lot more lenient for promotion and tenure than people believe.

To make it more complex, Boice argued that the negative consequences for poor teaching, even though it is considered an “easy” task, are much higher when taking peer perceptions, embarrassment, student interactions and departmental standing into consideration. At the risk of over-simplifying Boice’s critique, placing publication over teaching is a lame excuse for dismissing the importance of spending time on pursuing high quality teaching.

I find this economic interpretation intriguing. What I want to explore today is the extent to which the “hard-easy rule” applies to what we do as faculty developers. Can it provide a useful lens by which to analyze and evaluate the usefulness of our work?

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Boice takes a stab at it arguing that faculty developers need to take a more visible role in evaluating instruction and promoting what is now termed the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.  I don’t disagree with Boice, but such efforts are now fairly common. Moreover, positioning faculty developers as outside evaluators adds another layer of power that has the potential to be villainized particularly if the evaluation is not invited, but imposed by an authority figure. Many centers suffer from the “go there to get fixed” syndrome.

If I had to place a phrase on the goal of faculty development moving into the future, I would (right now) state it as: Dedicated to cultivating mutually beneficial relationships.

Why cultivating? To cultivate it so intentionally and mindfully set out to establish the conditions and connections necessary for growth to take place. We are proactive. We seek out opportunities.

Why mutually beneficial? We all want to do things that are meaningful. When instruction becomes rote, its value is compromised. In other words, its mind blowing (to use a phrase by Gardner Campbell) potential is reduced. When publication becomes rote its significance is compromised. Similarly, when faculty development consultations become rote there professional, transformative and emotional value can be questioned at the very least.  Mutually beneficial relationships open the door for collaborative innovation and advance the careers and spirit of all those involved.

Why relationships? If faculty development is not built on healthy relationships, then the necessary conditions for professional respect are compromised. When strong relationships are established, both respect the role, position and expertise of the other. I argued in an earlier post that if faculty development is to move beyond simplistic notions of support, it must cultivate the conditions needed to professionally collaborate and challenge one another. Otherwise, how often do we have the opportunity to help faculty (and others) identify and critically examine the assumptions upon which their professional identity and work are established? Stated differently, faculty development must really press the boundaries of what “development” is in the practical realities of higher education if it is to thrive as a driver of innovation and discovery.

Conclusions: “Consideration of the hard-easy rule, unpleasant as its reality may be, suggests that we need to rethink the reasons why teaching remains unrewarded and why our well-intentioned exhortations go unheeded.” (Boice, 1990, p. 10). The future of faculty development is one where centers and faculty seek out opportunities for development and innovation through the cultivation of mutually beneficial relationships. Like excellent teaching, faculty development is a craft, and I want to be a master craftsman. 

One thought on “Faculty Development: From a Perspective of Reward

  1. In the early days of the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence, we held a retreat to strategize our role in faculty development. We decided that our mission was aligned with the three conceptual roles of all faculty (Research / Teaching / Service), but our focus was flipped from the traditional faculty member. Our focus was “service.”

    That aligns with your note above around support versus service.

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