All posts by Enoch

Faculty Development – Reflections on Our Work

I recently co-facilitated a workshop of sorts at the 2015 POD Network annual conference in San Francisco, CA. The workshop was for faculty developers or those interested in it. Although the topic focused on exploring the power and possibilities of unconference models as a transformative approach to faculty development, this post discusses the results of one exercise we worked through.

Participants were challenged to respond to the following prompt: “What questions are currently guiding your thinking about faculty development?” Thoughts were recorded on post-it notes that were transferred to the wall for later organization and discussion.  I often ask faculty to reflect on a similar question about their instruction/course design in my own work as a faculty developer. I have found this approach very fruitful for exploring not only WHAT instructors are thinking about, but HOW they are thinking about it.  Got to love the Meta!

Here are some of the questions that emerged from this conference experience. I’ve arranged them in some rough categories that clearly overlap:

Reflections on Center Practice/Structure

  • How do we move to a more faculty-driven model that moves beyond the traditional workshop model?
  • How can I support a culture of reflective practice?
  • How do I get faculty to engage in longer-term programming (e.g. – FLC)?
  • How do I get a critical mass of faculty to be reflective about their teaching?
  • What are the levers for changing the reward structure so that quality teaching is valued?
  • How do we make all learning relevant?
  • How do we empower faculty?
  • How do I convey the value of what we do at the center to the president and provost?
  • How do we collect practice data to inform instruction and professional development?
  • How can we help top administration value improving teaching and learning development?
  • How do I get departments to consider department level program goals and learning outcomes?
  • How can I avoid mission creep as more items get added to Center portfolios?
  • How can I continue conversations started at workshops and events, particularly in online settings?
  • How do I get buy-in?
  • How do I get faculty to show up?
  • Why is traditional faculty development so resistant to change?

As faculty developers we are acutely aware of the complexities that we must navigate daily. We are in a constant state being politicians, promoters and problem solvers.

Reflections on Faculty: Motivations, Learning, and Change

  • How do faculty conceptualize expert performance in their disciplines? (getting into the minds of faculty)
  • What do faculty need?
  • How can we motivate faculty to be interested in improving their teaching?
  • How do we encourage more reflective practice?
  • How do I motivate faculty to embrace innovative practices?
  • How can we better connect faculty to each other in conversations?
  • How do I unearth what faculty need to work effectively on a particular project?
  • How do we encourage faculty to try innovative teaching methods?
  • How do I attract the faculty who really need the development?

Faculty developers are acutely aware that content expertise does NOT mean that one has sufficient pedagogical knowledge and experience to promote deeply engaged learning. Throw technology and space on there and it becomes even more complex; hence TPCKs.

Reflections on our Identity as Faculty Developers

  • How do you start in faculty development when this isn’t what you’ve done before?
  • How are we supposed to drive innovation when we are in staff roles?
  • What is “Just in Time “- when is that?
  • How do “new” faculty developers develop the “credibility” to get seasoned faculty to see them as legitimate or potentially helpful?
  • How do I balance my time with my demands of teaching?
  • I have so many questions about my work as a developer.
  • How do I avoid becoming routine in my approach?
  • How do I develop a personal learning network of faculty development innovators?

As faculty developers, we are seemingly in a constant state of self-exploration, discovery and reflection. I believe it is what makes our work both frustrating and powerful. Frustrating because of the many obstacles that define our work. Powerful because we often model the change we wish to see. Our META is so CONCRETE.

Imagining My Professional Development

IMG_0192

Where am I headed?

Imagining My Future

We often ask children: What do you want to be? We focus education on career as if having such a vision is sufficient for developing the intellectual skills, dispositions and insights necessary for engaged citizenship and happiness. My wife and I have given a lot of thought to the education of our children. After exploring many ideas, theories, methods, and goals, we decided to settle on two guiding questions:

  1. Who do you want to be?

  2. What are you going to build?

We developed these questions, in part, based on what we want to do for our own future development.

Who do I want to be?

This question shifts my thinking away from the what of traditional accomplishment and toward the who of character. What dispositions or habits of mind do I want to embrace and cultivate as I grow? For example, as with my children, I want to embody what it means to be empathetic, fair-minded, curious, flexible and perseverant. Moreover, I want to hold a healthy skepticism and formulate, through hard work, reasoned decisions. I want to maintain a sense of humility so that I am increasingly aware when my own expertise prevents me form entering into the perspectives of others. I also want to be mindful of my purposes, goals and actions particularly as the world becomes ever more connected. Although I can extend this list considerably, I’ll finish with a disposition that I have been working on for a couple years now: Intellectual Playfulness. Higher education is an amazing place for exploring ideas, but it is also an institutionalized system that has its own mores, rules, expectations and responsibilities. It is easy to get overloaded. So I consciously seek time to explore new ideas, regardless of how silly they may seem, so that I can view my work from a different perspective. I want these concepts to become habit. I want them to be defining character traits.

Each of these ideas point to behaviors; things I can do and build.

What do I want to build?

There is a sense in which what I build reflects the thinking I put into it. Moreover, one can argue that a thought left in abstraction cannot be measured, reproduced, or implemented. The WHO of my future is inextricably linked to WHAT I want to make. Professionally, I am an instructor, a faculty developer, a project manager, a team-member, a consultant, a collaborator, a facilitator, and a scholar. I want to build relationships that create transformative things: pedagogy, research, learning experiences, programs and policies. In each of these roles, I work to make things that allow me to test, measure and imagine. A selection of my current efforts include the following:

  • As an instructor, I create a place where we can converse, share, connect and contribute.
  • As a project manager, I want to help build meaningful projects. (1 and 2)
  • As a scholar, I work to contribute to the discourse on teaching and learning and faculty development.
  • As a facilitator, I want to work with others to explore new ideas and turn them into action.
  • As one who is attempting to be intellectually playful, I work to challenge the traditional ways we thinking about teaching and learning.

When I think of my professional future, I imagine a position that enables me to do more with others so that we can help imagine new possibilities of WHO we are and WHAT we want to build.

Faculty Development 101: See yourself within it

“Help students personally connect with the course content.”

“Have students find personal examples that link to key ideas?”

“Students can take ownership of their learning if they find the material meaningful.”

The above mantras have been repeated many times. Great goals, and we see it in good instruction regularly if not daily. Do they apply to faculty development? I think so, but I want to talk about another layer of meaning: deep engagement.

There is a sense in which faculty are professional students. Faculty represent the elite learners. According to the 2014 US Census, less than 1.8% of the population obtains a doctorate degree, and roughly 10% obtain a master’s degree. Faculty have mastered what it means to be a “student” within the established educational system. We know what it takes to succeed in school. We are good at studying, completing assignments and all else it takes to get the grade and the degree. Moreover, we know what it feels like to gain insight, be curious and intellectually disciplined, and persevere.

Can such experience can be a barrier to teaching well? I think it can, and I know this personally. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand why students don’t “get it” after our brilliant explanations. On one side of the coin, there is our preparation. I often develop an activity or lecture that I think will really help students be interested, motivated, excited and surprised, but I am mystified when it fails. Were my expectations unrealistic? Was I unclear? Sometimes our expertise just creates enough distance that we fail to see our work and the subject from our students’ perspectives.

On the other side of the same coin, there is our pattern. A first year professor once lamented: “I did it. Why can’t they?” Interesting, particularly when teaching at an open enrollment, urban, public university. Our students’ life and academic experiences are not like our own. We are professional students who have become disciplinary experts through hard work, strong relationships, access to resources, and we have the ability to seek out interesting things in areas that might not seem interesting at all. Is it fair to project these types of attitudes and skills onto students? I think something more than modeling good thinking is necessary to help students develop their intellects. When we only model, we cater to the elite student. Do I have a responsibility to all students despite their levels of understanding, skill and motivation? How do I get in the way?

Not only can the curse of expertise be a real obstacle to teaching well, but it can also stand in the way of faculty development efforts. Just as with our students, our unexamined assumptions can act as obstacles to embracing new ideas, pedagogy and technology. How can we help faculty surface their learning history as a tool for building and possibly recalibrating?

As a faculty developer, I am constantly thinking about different ways to engage instructors in significant learning experiences. I experiment with faculty just as in the college courses I teach. I fail, regroup, try again, but I try to keep their interests at the forefront of what I do. I want people to take ownership of the ideas and actions we work with and through. I believe that ONE key for doing this is to help learners see themselves within the ideas under discussion.

  • This is more than merely linking the idea with personal experiences.
  • It is more than finding relevant examples.
  • It is more than acknowledging the significance of the ideas.

What I am advancing here is intentionally crafting learning experiences that challenge faculty to connect with the material on deeply personal levels. It requires:

  • Surfacing our assumptions.
  • Mining our values.
  • Critically examining our learning histories.
  • Challenging our points of view.
  • Acknowledging barriers and obstacles; both personal and institutional.
  • Building and testing.
  • Crafting activities that model the types of behaviors we want for our students.
  • Crafting activities that scaffold insights leading to more and more complexity.
  • Helping faculty figure out ways to transfer and apply insights.

I have to experience the breadth and depth of an idea, initiative or pedagogical recommendation to see myself within it. Moreover, taking ownership implies that I will take action. As a faculty developer, one test of impact is if those I work with actually implement. Moreover, the implementation is driven by a shift in commitment, understanding and possibly the values that inform instruction.

I want to add to the list at the beginning of this post:

“Help faculty see themselves within the initiatives, tools, and pedagogy you want them to embrace.” 

 

Power & the Questions We Ask: How the Culture of Silence can Move Our Questions from Complex to Simple

To what extent can students determine the sophistication of the questions we ask?  More specifically: If a classroom culture is characterized as a culture of silence, then is there an extent to which this culture unintentionally determines the types of questions instructors ask in any given class meeting?

The complexities embedded within the above questions are many. For example, one might question the “unintentional” nature of silence. There are times where students are strategically silent. The reasons for this are numerous. A student might feel embarrassed to speak out of fear of peer judgments: “I don’t want to look dumb if I’m wrong.” A student might be unprepared and by choosing to be silent he begins to play a game waiting for others to offer up a response. How often do we hold large group “discussions” that only involve two or three engaged students? Moreover, the unprepared student can consciously play the waiting game assuming, with a fair amount of confidence, that eventually the instructor will answer her own question.

One student’s silence is not enough to create a culture of silence. When the silence of one becomes a shared experience of many, then silence is a cultural characteristic of the classroom group. When a culture of silence becomes the dominant mode of interaction, then we have to explore the ways power functions within the classroom. There is a sense in which the culture begins to feed off of itself and dis-empowers students because the unspoken expectations penalize genuine engagement and inquiry. How might it affect the instructor?  Stated differently (yet again):

How might such a culture of silence manipulate the sophistication of questions instructors pose?

Questions_Complexity Study

 

A little story for the above chart.

An instructor once asked me to observe his class. It was a high ranking institution that pulled from the nation’s top 1% of high school graduates. Many suspected that students were “succeeding” despite the instruction. This instructor, however, was concerned with the lack of classroom engagement particularly during whole class discussions. These were smart people, so the instructor wondered why they were having such difficulty talking through the course readings during class? He asked me to sit in and think about the dynamics.

I found that the instructor asked numerous complex questions at the beginning of the class discussion, which students were well aware was going to take place. The questions explored connections between readings, connections between readings and the lecture, complexities in interpretation from different perspectives, explored historical consequences and related cases, and even probed implications. The students were SILENT! Not one student responded to any of the questions. The instructor continued to pose interesting questions and unpack them, thereby successfully countering his intention of a whole class “discussion.” After about 5 questions and about 10 minutes later, the instructor posed a basic rote recall question about one of the readings. A student answered. So, the instructor posed another, and it was answered again. These questions required basic recall, and the instructor filled in the blanks. Having received some form of interaction, the instructor continued to pose rote based questions from then on. The “discussion” was a 1:1 type of exchange: “I ask you a simple question, and you give me a simple answer.”

Afterward, the instructor asked for my observations. I roughed out the chart above. He was surprised saying: “I had no idea I was doing that!” I asked him what he wanted to do next and if this is the type of discussion he wanted. If so, then no change necessary. If not, then we would collectively explore pedagogical nudges: low investment, but high yield methods for stimulating dynamic thinking and dynamic discussions. We explored and developed a few simple, but powerful ideas.

How might such a culture of silence manipulate the sophistication of questions instructors pose? The short answer: in so many different ways. We are different people, with different dispositions, different philosophies of education and different personalities. Moreover, we teach in different classroom contexts. We all know that what might work in one class might fail in another. Throw in nuances of culture and there is yet another layer of complexity.  What do we do? I think intellectual flexibility is a key.

The flexible instructor adapts to different contexts so as to maximize the  value of student learning experiences and accuracy of understanding. We are able to change our pedagogical trajectory and even our goals if necessary. The key is to read our students and keep their learning at the forefront of our instruction.

I’m trying too. I had a really tough class session last week. My goals were not being met and nor were my students’ goals. We had to regroup. Now, two sessions later, the class is more engaged with a clearer vision. What did I change? Well, I found that I was asking too many complex questions without enough attention to logistical questions. I was afraid of falling victim to what I had previously observed. It’s not an either / or battle, but a both / and collaboration. The flexibility, in this case, came in the form of letting go.

Twisted Pair / Blimage Challenge – Learning Transformation or Chindogu?

Today’s post is in response to a challenge put forth to me by Steve Wheeler. 

 

It is a combination of the #blimage challenge and the  #twistedpair challenge. Clearly I like challenges. My question for today: Is it learning transformation or is it chindogu?

SOME CONTEXT: The #twistedpair blogging challenge asks you to put together an unlikely pairing of characters – these can be historical, contemporary or fictional – and write about the connection they have (however tenuous) and how it relates to teaching and learning. Here is the original challenge. The blimage  (blog image) challenge: Use an image above sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…See what you can make of it! (Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge).” Read about the original idea here.]

My twisted pairing for the day comes from a conversation with my colleague Tom Woodward. The original question we framed is this: Is it real work or chindogu?  Since that fateful day when the question became a reality, I have not only mulled it over myself, but I have challenged faculty at multiple universities to do the same. Let’s just say that it has got a lot of intellectual traction. Here is more on chindōgu, but the gist of it is that you create things for novelty sake or your invent things that seemingly solve one problem, but in the process create many more. The featured image is of a man jogging with a robot monkey on his back feeding him tomatoes. Hmmmm???

So, what does this have to do with teaching and learning? It’s an issue of perspective.

tug of war

One one side, the instructor (me) desires to cultivate particular skills, dispositions, attitudes or insights for every activity and assignment I create. For example, when I want students to critically read an article, I’m looking for them to enter into a dialogue with the author and ask that author questions that explores her purposes, agendas, assumptions, conceptual choices, claims, evidence, conclusions, contexts and contrast that with alternative interpretations and perspectives (not all at the same time of course, particularly for undergrads). HOWEVER, students often come at it from different perspectives and agendas. They might think: “How can I read this as quickly as possible?” This is the other side: how students see the work.

When student goals are not in line with the instructor’s goals, then neither is going to be accomplished with any significant degree of satisfaction. Moreover, it can become a terrible tug-of-war.

As instructors, we have to think through the structures of the content, pedagogical structures and the logic of student thinking (their assumptions, preconceptions, expectations, prior knowledge, skills and agendas). As instructors, I have to help students understand my goals and dreams for their intellectual development; otherwise, I run the risk of students seeing the work that I assign as chindogu: aka busy work.

What I see as significant, students may see as chindogu. What I see as a necessary step in developing a skill, students may see as chindogu. What I see as necessary for developing insight, students may see as chindogu. How do I minimize the risk of chindogu?

Well, one way is to surface those assumptions that characterize student expectations of what their responsibility to learning is and compare it with their expectations of what the instructor is “supposed” to do. Then disrupt it.

Here is one example, and its complement.

Is it easy? No. Is it important? Yes.

 

 

Driving Questions: Student Perspectives

What questions are guiding your thinking about college?

IMG_4018

What are we teaching? At once we’re teaching students to think within a particular discipline, teaching them to critically reflect on how they think and formulate beliefs; and we teach them to what it means to be a serious student. Taken together, we help them discover the insights, skills and dispositions that move beyond gamesmanship and toward self-efficacy, autonomy and responsibility.

IMG_4022

Many years ago, I took a hint from a John Bean’s remarkable text, Engaging Thinking, and Stephen Brookfield. They both argued that one key to helping students learn deeply about the subject, about being students and about themselves is to help them surface and evaluate the assumptions that guide their beliefs and actions. Bean argued that having students complete the statements “The teacher’s job is…” and “The student’s job is…” is a strong way to do this. You can read about my efforts and see some results herehere and here.

IMG_4014

INTEGRATED Approach

To provide the opportunity for my students to explore the what, who, why and how of learning, I asked them to write down a list of questions that are currently driving their thinking about college. In other words, I asked: What are the questions you have about college that are at the forefront of your minds? I was actually surprised at their answers.

IMG_4016

I expected statements like: “What does this class have to do with my major? ” or “What will I get from this class?” or “What do I have to do to graduate?” Instead, students actually thought seriously about the prompt and ventured within themselves. I believe their questions are telling. It made me wonder: Are we doing enough to help them see the value of college as an integrated whole? 

I am teaching one of the Thought Vectors sections of Inquiry and Argument here at VCU. Currently, we are in the “inquiry” phase of the course. Our goal is to have explore interesting ideas by asking probing questions, forming networks and following our inquiry trails using innovative thinkers to help point the way. Last week I had students map out the course. I wanted them to go back to the syllabus and figure out the big picture including its structure, organizing questions and ideas, and requirements. In doing so, I push them to make connections between our class discussions, the course readings and their learning.

IMG_4023

Asking them to consider the questions that guide their thinking about college was one big picture prompt that paralleled the big picture of the course. Based on their questions, I believe they are on the right track. Is it perfect? Of course not. Is it one of many attempts? Yes. Like a master sculpture, I seek to slowly chip away at the stone until the sculpture that is within emerges.

Blimage Challenge – Bow Tie as Content

efe6ee39dfda64a2fc25186ce98e94f4

[This is the blimage  (blog image) challenge: Use an image above sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…See what you can make of it! (Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge).” Read about the original idea here.]

I have taken a few days to think about this one. Admittedly, I am trying to interpret this image through the lenses of education, but  that is just too broad. I could focus on an individual vehicle arguing that we are all just trying to get somewhere in a larger system that dictates our direction. This interpretation might betray the 10,000 foot view, not to mention the clear overtones of critique. Rather, I am going to use this image as a metaphor for CONTENT.

How many times have we said and heard other instructors say something like: “I have too much content to cover and not enough time!” Although I have not only heard this sentiment, I have said it and felt it deeply. Nonetheless, it is a misconception of what content is and what it means to “cover” it.

If I may take license to generalize, humans are excellent at compartmentalizing. We chunk information to best suit specific tasks. It is a very efficient way of thinking….for short term gains. For numerous reasons, many of which can be contributed to a beautiful combination between human nature and subsequent educational systems, students often fail to see (organize, conceptualize and visualize) the purposes, key questions, point(s) of view, assumptions, methods and key insights of a given course. In other words, if I wanted my students to address a single question at the end of a course, what would it be? If students cannot organize their thinking in this manner, can they see alternative constructions?

I want students to see my course as a product of my reasoning. Just like any article, book, blog, or television program to name a few constructs. Moreover, I want them to see their work in the course as a product of their reasoning.

A former colleague of mine, Gerald Nosich, argued in his book, Learning to Think Things Through, that content is a system of interconnected meanings informed by claims, information and methods that help us reason through problems and issues unique to the discipline. When we teach students content, we are introducing them to the reasoning that makes the thing what it is. Like Adler and Van Doren argued in How to Read a Book, when we read critically we are engaging in a dialogue with the author: we explore her assumptions, her lines of inquiry, her conclusions, her concepts, her choices, we ask her questions, etc. Ultimately, we begin to construct the 10,000 ft view. Gardner Campbell explores this idea for education as a whole here.

Another way to metaphorically express this concept is found in David Perkins’ book Making Learning Whole.  When it comes to intellectual engaging in the construction of content understanding, we can ask: What do searchlights and lasers have to do with student intelligence?

What’s the alternative? Well, we can cover material, data and even information. That’s easy, but if we want students to see the relationships between the information and the conclusions and interpretations that it informs, then something more than passive exposure is necessary.

I see the bow tie highway intersections as a strong metaphor for what content is. If we tell students what it is, they will not necessarily experience the logic that informs the what and the why. They might be able to passively follow a path, but they will not be able to understand what is going on around them. Moreover, only by thinking through the content as a system will they be able to explore options: those exits and side roads that illustrate new lines of inquiry and contribution.

It’s a move from passenger to driver, or from user to designer.

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.

imgres

 

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:

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 11.05.35 AM

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.

JWS_TIA_Journal_2014_CVR_Final_resized

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?

imgres

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. 

#blimage challenge – Spelunking Education

Caving-04

[This is the blimage  (blog image) challenge: Use an image above sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…See what you can make of it! (Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge).” Read about the original idea here.]

My focus throughout this blog is firmly fixed on issues of education and faculty development. With that said, this photograph calls up Plato’s cave analogy. However, instead of going out, I want to go in….deeper. Let’s briefly examine the role of exploration and adventure within the typical day of class.

I really like taking adventures. A couple years ago I had the opportunity to go caving (spelunking) in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. I got the idea from a National Geographic magazine. My friend and I repelled into pits, crawled through small tunnels, squeezed our bodies through plates of limestone all for the purpose of exploration: How deep could we go? What, if anything, lived down here? What does it feel like to be in complete, all consuming darkness? How would we manage our fears (e.g. claustrophobia)? What new structures and natural oddities might we discover? How do you prepare for unknowns like mud, water, cliffs, hydration, nutrition, broken limbs, etc.?  In the process, we saw things that most people will never get to see. The best part of it is that these caves never seemed to end. There was always more, which left us (to this day) wanting to go back.

3.29.12 215
(Look closely and you can see me)

When I think about teaching and learning, I have to ask: To what extent is my course a place of exploration? In the macro sense, I will move students deeper into the caves of the subject matter and their intellectual development. There are big questions that we can always revisit. In other words, if my course had one question that all our material would seek to address, what would it be? For example, I teach Inquiry and the Craft of Argument to undergraduates. One big question for the course next term is:

To what extent do people make decisions about what to believe and do based on sound reasoning?

One cave in this course is the exploration and examination of what it means to have confidence in sound reasoning.

On a micro, day-to-day, level, we find ourselves moving through questions (like tunnels) that may splinter off or end. We find ourselves back tracking, setting markers to find our way back out. We create mental maps by noting features and experiences in certain places. We manage our expectations and desires so that we can come out safely, but inspired. We periodically stop to assess our resources, progress and goals. We collaborate with partners to choose lines of inquiry, to check our egos, and to share the enjoyment of discovery. We see things that we may wish to explore later.

3.29.12 125

I know these are metaphorical abstractions, so what might an example look like?

Assumptions are a always a good place to start. A key to teaching students to think critically and creatively is to help them identify and examine their assumptions relevant to the the subject, course and teaching and learning responsibilities. How often do we crawl into the cave of a text and ask students to uncover the author’s assumptions? How often do we challenge them to explore the extent to which their assumptions direct their behaviors and, therefore, what they see when they read, write, listens, build? How often do they fair-mindedly examine my assumptions about what they are to learn and do?

The right frame of mind, the right network, the right resources, and the right tools (even if we have to make them) can help us do amazing things. In the caves of inquiry, we find parts of ourselves that had we not ventured in might be unknown forever. So, with respect to Plato’s cave, I say there is a time to go deeper inside.

 

 

Thinking About My Professional Development Plan

Last week, I sat down with a few of my colleagues in our center called ALT Lab here at VCU. The topic of conversation was: building things. Specifically, we asked: What do you want to build, do and learn that you typically do not have time for? Regardless of all the standard tasks and projects we manage in any given day, week, month, semester and year, is it possible to carve time for something new that each of us finds personally valuable and challenging? The core question really is: What is the plan for my professional development?

We decided to rally around a theme since we all have different interests, perspectives and technological skill levels. We agreed to explore “text” as the organizing theme. My professional development plan relevant to this theme is to increase my technological proficiency. I have chosen to frame all my explorations around teaching and learning; specifically, I am exploring how text can help me develop learning experiences for students in a class I will be teaching next semester.
What follows is my first list of possible topics to dive into:

  • Self as Text using Timeline JS to track intellectual development throughout the semester aligning it to departmental and general educational goals.
  • To assist with student writing and reasoning, I’m learning more about how to use Google Playback Editor.
  • Telescoping text is actually blowing my mind with possibility. I want to figure out how to make my syllabus using this tool.
  • I am currently taking on the #blimage challenge (blog image), but to develop my own illustrative thinking and technical skills, I am diving into DS106.

These are the tools I’m currently exploring.