Category Archives: Community of Practice

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.

My journey with (dun dun duuuuun) Twitter.

This post is both a reflective piece and something that others (particularly faculty and students) might find helpful as Twitter (and possible future manifestations) become greater factors in how we connect with others. My goal is to be honest with myself, but I know how that goes when posting with an audience in mind.

I struggle with Twitter. I have always struggled with Twitter, and I’m confident I’ll continue to struggle with it. I don’t want it to be so laborious, but it is. Why?


Part of it  is that I don’t really care about what people had for breakfast (thanks for the link Tom Woodward and google).  Another part of it is that I find the overload of information intimidating. I went from living in a cabin to living in a city, and if that wasn’t intense enough, now have to filter what sometimes seems like loud digital noise? Upon deeper reflection though, I see that these points (although valid) don’t get to the essence of my hesitation owning, being part of, and embracing connectivist tools like Twitter.

At its core, I want something important to say. Here’s the thing, I started blogging last year and I had the same concern: Who would want to hear what I have to write about? I challenged myself, and now I enjoy blogging.  I’m not the best at it nor am I extremely fluent, but I got over the “I hate this thing” barrier. I’m just not there with Twitter …yet.

A colleague of mine, Laura Gogia, made a strong case for connected learning.  She and others spent the time to help me understand the implications of tweeting as a mode for finding, connecting, and contributing to conversations that move well beyond my institution. I can articulate and, more importantly, understand the importance of what connected learning in a networked world is and can be. I’ve experienced it (in micro ways), and I want students to experience the benefits of actively participating dialogue on a global scale. If I “know” it, why have I not embraced it as part of my daily professional life?


At this point, I think it’s about habit. I have not created the pattern of behavior. There are layers to this I admit. I have noticed that I am more active on Twitter when I am at my desktop computer using a tool called Tweetdeck. It is so useful in helping me cope with the firehose of posts. I can organize what and how I see information. I just need to put it on my laptop since I spend most of my time away from my desk. (Don’t ask me about my cell phone…you’d probably laugh. Cabin remember?).  Upon deeper examination, though, it is just so outside of my normal (now habitual) way of thinking and being that I find it extremely difficult to plug-in in ways like tools like Twitter want us to. This is an excuse; I’ll own it. Why?…because I am also quite fluent at managing my time, my workload, and my life commitments.

Life is noise. Managing the noise is a matter of volume control. In other words, it is a matter of choice. Up until this moment I have chosen to behave in a way that counters my convictions to connected learning under the guise that my other set of values (quite solitude) has no room for connectedness through tools like Twitter. This is a false dilemma. Why don’t I utilize my skill set to manage the volume? Stubbornness is the most likely thing; holding onto a dream that I’ll still be invited on the Lewis and Clark expedition (211 years after the fact).


I have another conviction (value set): What I say I will do, I will do. This is a promise I made to myself, I made to my wife prior to marriage, and I make to my children and friends. Sure, I stumble here and there, but always for good reason. It is a conviction I live by. I have a skill set and I believe in the importance of creating intellectual communities. Connecting is a key method for practicing what I preach, and Twitter is a good tool for doing so. Am I a Twitter convert? Not necessarily, and I’m sure another tool will eventually replace it, but it is a very valuable tool right now. It’s valuable because it can help me do what I want to do.

I’m not trying to create Twitter converts by any means (I’m not one for brand loyalty), but this reflection is intended to say that I am open. Right now I find myself in the web, but not of the web. Being of the web can help me give back. If Twitter can help me do that better, then I need to use it. When a more effective tool presents itself to me, then I’ll use that, and I will still find time to be alone…in and of nature.

From Critical Reflection to Critical Refraction

Think metaphorically. I was discussing student portfolios, metacognition and transfer with my friend and colleague, Joe Cates, when this idea surfaced. This post has two purposes. First, I’m trying to clarify the conceptual differences for myself. Second, I want to see if this distinction is a useful lens to help faculty think about the intellectual work they craft and facilitate with students.

As some may know, one of my approaches to working with students and faculty is to provoke deep reflection with small nudges. Posing provocative questions and crafting learning experiences that probe our assumptions about teaching and learning is one of my favorite methods.

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Another method I use is to challenge students and faculty (I teach and I work in faculty development) to probe their conceptions and use of those junctions between content, pedagogy, technology and space. Here is a link to emerging work.  We hope to put out some research on our work soon (I said it, so I have to do it!).

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In my last post, I briefly discussed one of my frameworks for thinking about and prompting change in teaching and learning: Lenses, Levers & Intellectual Litheness.  Change is a key concept and goal. Another key idea is consciously and systematically changing our points of view or orientations, which often requires a degree of flexibility, willingness to experiment, curiosity and open-mindedness. These are at the heart of today’s title.

What is critical reflection? There are some excellent resources on this concept alone, so I will not go into them here. At its core, though, is the idea that we mindfully and systematically use transparent and clearly defined criteria to investigate things we’ve done and the thinking that informed the action(s). When done well, it helps us make meaning of our experiences. In the process, we work to expose assumptions and evaluate them; we look for limitations and evaluate them; we are explicit about giving voice to alternative perspectives and evaluate them and our own. These are but a few moves of the mind each of which represent different investigative lenses when consciously employed. A goal is to learn as a guide to belief and action. When done poorly, well… it’s not critical then is it?

What is critical refraction? Although I am still fleshing this concept out, the gist of it is like that of a light in a prism. The results show us things that were there all along, but we could not initially see and to which we may not have been privy.


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Similar to critical reflection, we can expose our assumptions, preconceptions, and even misconceptions, and we can use this new found knowledge as a guide to belief and action. We look back systematically to learn from our past and give meaning to our experiences. Where I am making the distinction (which is admittedly metaphorical) is to emphasize looking forward rather than backward.

Part of critically reflecting is to entertain the implications of our thinking and behavior. Critical refraction would be an intentional focus on unpacking those implications. It would involve being intentionally playful to see what comes of our thinking without fear of failure or ridicule. How often do we try to bend things to see if we can create something new?

What does this look like in the classroom? It may involve flipping our course, but it’s more than that also. I want to put the (e)portfolio through the prism. I want to put grading and assessment through the prism. I want students to put their questions through the prism. Once we see was the new possibilities are, then we have new avenues for critical investigation, which can lead to eventually looking back on our experiences.

What if we though in terms of critical refraction as well as reflection?

Gaming, Thinking & New Horizons

Now that students have played video games as an exercise in metacognition, critical reflection and transfer of insights, what do we do next?

I’m going to try to do two things in this post. First, I want to highlight what we (students and instructor) are going to do to further the gaming exercise in our class Inquiry and the Craft of Argument. Second, I want to attempt to express the first by capturing the voices of those in the VCU ALT Lab who have thoughts to share on the topic. I’d like to include student voices, but I hesitate in overloading them. I’ll throw out the invitation anyway.

In two earlier posts, I have attempted to explain how students in my sophomore level Inquiry & the Craft of Argument class here at VCU are using video games to make their thinking visible for the purposes of metacognition, critical reflection, transfer of insights and community building. Specifically, they were challenged with the task to narrate their thinking as they played video games and explain how their play parallels the types of thinking moves in the course. They were faced with making explicit what is implicit, communicating their thinking moves clearly so that other students could see the thinking, generalize and draw connections to the types of thinking embedded in the discipline (course), and explain how these moves can help them think with greater sophistication in other parts of their personal and academic lives. It was a tough challenge, but my last post reported what I saw as encouraging and inspiring results. Tom Woodward took a photo of the class in action. What next?

I originally waited for students to bring ideas for next steps to the class, to me, to Tom who is helping with the course, but little happened. I immediately inferred (maybe erroneously) that the exercise, although very valuable for some, might have fallen victim to the curse of compartmentalization (silos).


Oh the efficiency of human thinking! It’s the same type of thinking that prevents one from seeing that Thursday’s class actually follows from Tuesday’s work (for a Tuesday/Thursday class schedule) or that week one is actually connected and necessary for meaningful work in week eleven. That is where my thinking jumped, but I don’t want to sucumb to the same fallacious ways of thinking that I’m critiquing, so I suspended judgment.

The deeper inference is that it is just as much an issue of understanding and practice. Scaffold dummy, scaffold.


So, I organized a class session to revisit the big picture of the class: the fundamental structures that are necessary conditions for deep understanding, meaningful engagement, and insight development.

I put a list of the key / core dimensions of the course on a google doc and had students individually identify the areas they believed they understood and commanded the most. They then got into like groups. For example, those who understand the logic and uses of The Backpack got into one group. Those who get the Grade Profiles in another, and so on. They then had to collectively figure out how to teach it to others. The idea is: If you can’t teach it, then you don’t own it. (You don’t know it deeply enough). Using the resources in the class, they had to figure out how to help others develop deep understanding of their content. Mere presentation was not sufficient. They had to help others figure it out for themselves, which involved engaging them emotionally and helping them make important connections. After a certain amount of time, I arranged them into mixed groups and the teaching began. It was a good exercise because it was intellectually and inter-personally engaging.

But what about the gaming project? I’m curious how my colleagues viewed what was going on based on what they observed and what I informally explained during our ALT Lab Agora’s or in passing. I am curious how others deal with the challenge of transfer. One of my colleagues, David Croteau, developed a class blog space for his class that had students apply theories and concepts in the field of Sociology with concrete issues and examples. Check out the sociological autobiographies and the imagination gallery. Awesome! It is along the lines of what Robert Frank does with his economics class at Cornell University. The fundamental goals: to ground abstractions in concrete experiences and examples characterized by curiosity and driven toward transferring insights into other related contexts so that deep insights, meaningful skills and valuable attitudes emerge and are practiced. These, I see, are major goals and challenges of education; particularly general education.

Observations / Thoughts / Comments / Connections / Oppositions – VCU Colleagues

Here is the link to the google doc where I asked a select group to comment. For some, I asked for specific analytic and evaluative thoughts, and for others open.

Here is brief email conversation where a colleague, David Croteau, asked: “What do you mean by contextualization?” (sorry it’s so blurry)

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Another comment from Joyce Kincannon pointing the discussion to some resources – see sidebar:

Here’s an email comment from one of my colleagues, Joe Cates, in the Focus Inquiry department here at VCU.

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Gaming: Next Steps, New Horizons

I approached two of my self-identified “gamers” last week. I challenged them to develop the project. A few questions always help: What are we going to do next? How can the work you started be used to develop or augment your final project? If you could do anything with what we have done, what would it be? I threw out a few ideas, but I want them to do the mental work. I want to encourage their imaginations. I want them to take ownership of the project. I just want to help guide and facilitate

Nonetheless, what would it look like if these students created a game that attempted to make the implicit explicit? James Paul Gee outlines five “learning principles” that are embedded within video game play and, he argues, can be generalized across domains. I wonder what my students could do with these principles? What could they do for others?

I’d love to teach a class where these questions were explored and actual games were created. Move beyond badges and tokens toward deep critical reflection and transfer. Hmmm??? I’d teach that class for free if students could get academic credit!

Implications for Faculty Development?

Teaching is at my core, and teaching faculty is a passion of mine. I am presenting this week at the 39th Annual POD Conference (Professional Organizational Development). The title of my presentation reflects by my general perspective of faculty development and my frustrations: “Practicing What We Preach: Leveraging Workshops to Foster Faculty Innovation.” My general perspective is that what we learn to do well, we learn by doing it. I design all my faculty development interactions around this idea. They do what we want to see in our classrooms. My frustration is in how so many faculty encounters actually function: didactic lecture telling people that they need to engage students. So odd, but understandable.

What we are trying to do with the video games is based on the idea that students take ownership of content and their thinking when they (1) directly translate, contextualize and practice the work of the discipline in real, meaningful problems, and (2) critically reflect on the intellectual work with a mind to transfer insights to other domains and contexts. This is what I want faculty development to be.

As I reflect on this class and my work, I still cannot escape what has become a mantra of mine: “There is an extent to which thought not applied is useless.” — for better or worse. If we can’t see it, we can’t evaluate it, and we can’t avoid, correct or use it deeply. I started blogging by challenging myself to a 30 Question Challenge. My organizing idea and goal was to pose 30 totally out of the box questions that I would blog about. It was a game that had meaning for me.

  • It was relevant to my context as a teacher and a faculty development coach.
  • It was challenging, but I could figure out how to have emerging success.
  • It forced me to identify and question my assumptions.
  • It forced me to examine things from different lenses and perspectives.
  • I called upon background knowledge and schemas to make connections.
  • I had to reframe my misunderstandings, knowledge inaccuracies and expectations.
  • I had to take action and produce something.
  • I had to check my thinking; assess it for quality.
  • I had to reach out to others (resource identification and use).
  • I wanted to contribute to others involved.
  • I had broader goals beyond myself.
  • I failed, regrouped and tried again writing multiple drafts at times.
  • I made a commitment to learn, explore, fail, succeed, and share.

These are just a few of the ideas embedded in deep learning whether it be gaming, writing, researching, or coaching. This blog post represents another attempt to practice what I believe in: learning with and from others to collectively address the many challenges we have in our teaching and in our lives.

Thanks for all those who contributed. Not bad for three days 31 discussions.


Below are twp screenshots of the google doc to show how much dialogue was going on.

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