The discourse, and emerging field, of faculty development continues to rapidly expand as those commissioned and concerned with improving teaching and learning opportunities, practices and programs continue to refine their craft.
A recent call for proposals challenged potential authors to explore questions like:
- What do you envision pd looking like in ten years?
- What best practices for Centers for Teaching and Learning (CTLs) will continue to be best practices?
- What best practices might emerge?
- If busy faculty are reluctant to come to CTLs, how might the CTL go to faculty?
- How might CTLs incorporate creativity and creative approaches in their plans and programming?
I find these questions to be at the heart of what those of us in faculty development need to seriously consider if the field is to thrive into the future. However, I am driven to figure out what “thrive” means.
Support, Collaborate, Challenge
A way to approach this challenge is explore the current range of roles and responsibilities of CTLs in higher education and consider further avenues and opportunities for development. Moreover, we have to explicate and embrace the conceptions, preconceptions and expectations projected on CTLs by faculty, administrators and other relevant stakeholders. So, I begin with the questions:
- What are the existing practices that support faculty?
- To what extent do assumptions of what CTLs do act as obstacles to cultivating transformative and innovative development practices and products?
The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan is the oldest faculty development center in the United States. It is a valued and established unit within the university and is honored and admired by many other CTLs that see it as a model of success in higher education. A survey of its programs capture what might be considered a canon of best practices in faculty development. It serves faculty, graduate students, chairs and deans, targets individual faculty and departments and schools, not to mention providing grants and awards and their famous CRLT players, which I’ve seen and they are awesome! This is just the CRLT at this institution. Many other CTLs in higher education mirror this truly vetted approach.
The Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning at Elon University, for example, offers many similar programs as Michigan’s CRLT, but also offers programs like their CATL scholar program and faculty writing residency that help further development of innovative practices and advance the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). Similarly, the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University offers much of the same support programs, but also helps interested graduate students and post-docs pursue a certificate in college teaching.
Another best support practice is to provide resources for faculty (here, here and here are a few additional examples). I believe the work of CTLs is extremely valuable, which is one reason I am part of one. When I started my teaching career, a mentor of mine said: “A good teacher is an excellent thief.” His point was to do my research so that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel so to speak. This advice resonated with me. I spend quite a bit of time mining the work of other CTLs. I also reached out to centers to help me do my job better (more efficiently and more effectively). The programs I have seen and have been a part of are best practices in the field and will continue, but is it all?
Support oriented programs are the bread and butter of faculty development. This is valuable and very important, but What’s beyond providing faculty support?
It was expressed at my institution that one of the challenges facing our center, prior to re-organization, is the attitude that faculty come to us or, worse, get sent to us to “get fixed.” This orientation is problematic for many reasons. First, it assumes that CTLs have simple answers to what are often complex and systemic problems. Second, it exposes a power dynamic that can get in the way constructive work. For example, I have met many early career professors who are directed to us by their department chairs to “get fixed” so that their promotion or tenure is not compromised. That’s a tough position to be in as a consultant. Third, this attitude over-simplifies the robust nature of the programs CTLs offer. What may be considered by the CTL as a multi-layered and integrated process can be reduced to mere support services if the CTL is not proactive in defining the conversation, of which support is one part. In other words, viewing the center as only a service provider, although important, limits what CTLs can do as drivers of innovative practice.
I provide support where it is requested and needed. I also want to collaborate. As a collaborator, I enter into an equal professional relationship with faculty where we join minds, expertise and experience to collectively do something: identify and solve problems, innovate, research, explore, etc. Seeing myself as a partner has opened the door to more exciting opportunities than I had experienced providing mere support. Of course, I have been proactive in searching out collaborations. I have also worked hard to demonstrate that I have some expertise to contribute. I am just now getting to the point where others are seeking me out for collaborations. That has taken time and is very exciting. Nonetheless, I’m left to ponder: Are support and collaborative efforts enough for the future of faculty development?
Ultimately, faculty development is as much about my development as an instructional consultant as it is about assisting others. I develop when I am challenged, and I know my students do too…and so do faculty. Pages taken from adult learning theory support this claim. I want to take it as a given that support and collaborative efforts are challenging because we are all trying to figure something out. Challenge is present when we are doing something significant. I am, however, speaking of crafting significant learning experiences: experiences that surface, critique and possibly re-frame the assumptions we have about what is possible in our course design and execution. What might this look like?
Challenging others is possible when we have created a safe learning environment and we have made clear that we have a trusting professional relationship. That said, I want to make it clear that the challenges I put forth apply to me as much as they apply to those I work with (my identity, my experiences, my hopes, my strengths, and my short-comings). Here are a few ways I have sought to challenge faculty on their terms.
(1) Key Point: Challenge faculty (and ourselves) to explicate the history of their intellectual development and to assess the extent to which it can be used as a resource for students to cultivate their intellects. To capture this point, I recently wrote in an earlier blog post:
For the last five years or so, I have challenged faculty from across the disciplines and around the world to think about their intellectual growth rings. I’ve done this specifically to explore the questions:
- If you were to write the story of how you have come to command your intellect (used robustly here to include the whole person), would it be a valuable resource to guide your pedagogy?
- Would your narrative be a valuable resource for students to use to develop their own intellects?
I think of all the metaphorical fires, droughts, periods of plenty, those times of sickness and health as our minds grow and mature, and I have to ask: How much of our development can be attributed to schooling? If a lot, then can I mine those experiences for clues to help students have similar learning opportunities? If little, then what can I do differently? So…
I wrote an earlier post entitled: What adult learning theory can teach us about faculty development. In it I argued that it is important that our interactions with faculty come from a place of humility where their experiences that have lead to their expertise can organically emerge and, thus, inform action. Doing so helps us surface the implicit and make it explicit as a guide to crafting meaningful and enjoyable learning experiences for students.
(2) Key Point: Hold each other accountable for articulating value added. I was working with a cross-disciplinary group of faculty talking about crafting an engaged lecture. I was attempting to model one iteration. People were fully expecting me to lecture didactically. Instead, I put up three websites (3 of many I could have used): Open courses at MIT, Yale University, and Stanford University. I merely chose a course and topic and immediately accessed the syllabus, course notes, resources, additional versions of the same class, videos, podcasts, and in the case of Stanford, I could participate. I then asked:
If I can access all this information online for free from some of the best thinkers in their fields at some of the most highly ranked institutions….why should I take your class? What do you have to offer?
The real question gets to the value that I, as the instructor, bring to the content. If I merely deliver content, well…the Internet has more than I need. If that is my approach, then I must entertain the hypothesis that my role as an instructor is one of mere institutional efficiency. That makes me sad. If that is my job, then it’s pretty easy: “Here is the course docs. My office hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays 12-2. I’ll see you at the midterm and final.” Just own it. However, that’s not what we mean when we “educate.” So, we need to follow the implications of an education robustly and significantly conceived. This begins with finding our personal value and contribution to the organization and interpretation of the content. We then begin to problem solve, and, as a faculty learning experience, it’s a lot of fun because it’s significant and challenging.
(3) Key Point: Challenge faculty by targeting assumptions, especially our concepts and those pesky prescriptive assumptions. This is a tough one because it gets at the heart of our sense of self, our sense of understanding, and our sense of what’s possible. I’ve blogged about this before, but here is a tool I created to promote deep reflection about our lives and identities as instructors. It is a discussion starter if nothing else. I’ll let the questions speak for challenge put forth here.
(4) Key Point: Challenge faculty to network for the world. One of the purposes teaching that really hits home for me is to give back. We consume a lot. The web is massive in this regard. There are, however, those places where people genuinely decide to share and to help. Wikipedia is built on this philosophical approach, and YouTube has its fair share of good examples. I am intrigued with the idea that a purpose of education is to give back. Is teaching enough? Maybe, but I would also like to challenge instructors, as I am challenged to seek out those places where I can publicly put my expertise to the service of others. ALT Lab’s Online Learning Experience for faculty who want to design an online course and is built on the idea that we can network and think for the world rather than merely being in it. Is it perfect? Nope, but it’s an attempt to open and invites others.
Please note: all this is approached with love, compassion and respect. The importance of facilitating meaningful and healthy relationships cannot be overstated. So, please don’t overgeneralize the above suggestions at the risk of improper contextualization.
So, what is the future of faculty development? I believe in education. Faculty development is an important part of education and its future. I question programs and processes that, despite best intentions, perpetuate the same didactic paradigm that they seek to reform. This paradigm is reinforced when CTLs are viewed by institutions and faculty as mere service providers. Moreover, this paradigm continues when CTLs employ the same didactic methods they criticize (“I will give you a lecture on why not to lecture”).
The new paradigm in faculty development is one that embraces the cultivation of relationships that are built on mutual respect. In this way, collaborations can drive change and innovation. I think that a mindful and strategic approach to our roles as support providers and collaborators opens the door for meaningful dialogue that values challenge for change and for the world.