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Personalized Faculty Development: Engaging Networks, Empowering Individuals

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Read about several sessions on effective faculty development presented at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Annual Meeting.

Personalized Faculty Development: Engaging Networks, Empowering Individuals
Credit: BBA Photography / Shutterstock © 2018

I recently attended the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Annual Meeting in New Orleans and left inspired by the dedication I saw to the ongoing pursuit of an effective faculty development model. ELI attendees and presenters shared fabulous ideas about models that link educational technology to pedagogy and promote faculty engagement.

During the meeting, I chose to spend my time focused solely on sessions in the Faculty Development and Engagement track. My goal: return to my home campus energized and ready to tackle the age-old problem of how to move faculty from being content experts into dynamic educators.

Luckily for me, I was not the only one looking for this inspiration. The faculty development sessions were packed with people trying to answer questions such as, "Why don't faculty want help?" or "Why don't faculty attend my workshops?" On the whole, the sessions reaffirmed my belief that faculty development does not happen in a workshop, nor does it happen through training. Improving teaching is a long, messy, reflective process that must be approached from multiple angles with many entry points.

Sound challenging? It is, but there is reason to be hopeful; our colleagues are working hard to find and share answers. Two themes came through loud and clear from the sessions I attended. First, meet faculty where they are. Don't expect them to come to you ready to learn; go to them and start where they are. Second, build networks for ongoing learning.

Applying a Consultancy Approach

A one-size-fits-all approach to faculty development will not work. We need to meet faculty where they are, and they are not all sitting in a classroom waiting for a workshop. Some faculty are ready to take a large leap and move from lecture to active, engaged online learning, while others need to take smaller steps. Balancing how support is provided to faculty on both ends of this spectrum is the real challenge, one that has rarely been met by offering a well-designed workshop.

Sarah Miller from the University of Wisconsin–Madison brought this point home when she presented the Strategic Learning Technology Consultancy (SLTC). The example she used was from working with math faculty who were reluctant to move away from chalk and chalkboards. In this scenario, Miller knew the faculty needed to have a personalized approach, so the consultancy approach was perfect. The SLTC team was able to partner with faculty members to better understand their motivations, goals, and fears. By connecting with the faculty and taking the time to truly understand why they approached teaching the way they did, the SLTC team was able to slowly move them toward a teaching approach that improved students' ability to interact and learn.

The consultancy approach allows instructional designers to lead from a place of inquiry and empathy. Taking the time to understand the goals and fears of the faculty enables you to develop an approach that works with the individual faculty or faculty team. Although this method is not quick and can be messy, it is effective.

Meeting faculty members where they are was also a theme seen in presentations about designing spaces for faculty development. Meggan Levitt and Jean Cheng from the University of California at Berkeley shared how they've redesigned a faculty support space to assure the greatest impact for those who do visit. They took into account the various instructor personas and designed an experience that allows for multiple points of entry.

The approach enables faculty to seek support from the area of greatest need or greatest comfort. When they come to the space, there is then an opportunity (but not a requirement) to engage more deeply and be invited into additional learning opportunities. For example, if someone comes for drop-in support, they may encounter an instructional designer who can link their support question to work that others are doing in a learning community. This approach slowly guides faculty to new opportunities while also meeting their more pressing needs and building their network.

Harnessing the Impact of Digital Networks

Not all of us are lucky enough to design physical faculty development spaces, but we can all build online networks that support learning. Several colleagues from the AAC&U Faculty Collaboratives [https://www.aacu.org/faculty] project in Virginia — including Stephanie Blackmon, Gardner Campbell, Susan Erickson and Steven Greenlaw — shared a networked approach to faculty development that we can all learn from: They pointed out that faculty, like the rest of the world, can and will learn when and where it works for them.

Building online networks that enable faculty to access as much or as little of the information as they desire is an approach that is growing. The example they shared was about an open online course for those wanting to learn about open materials, pedagogy, and practices. This course exemplifies the fact that we live in a connected, networked society where learning is available all the time. If facilitated well, the network then becomes the place for learning, or as Sue Erickson from Virginia Wesleyan University put it, "the network is the classroom." Participants may engage deeply if they are ready, or they may lurk and learn more passively. This approach allows for participation in a manner that meets the restrictions of both time and space that many encounter. It also provides multiple points of entry to accommodate a wide variety of expertise.

It is clear that there is movement on the faculty development front. Faculty development in the technology world is messy and sometimes frustrating. But those of us who work in this space must embrace the possibilities and the realities of our work. If we use the limitless opportunities available through networks — while taking the time to truly understand the motivations of the faculty we aim to support — we can succeed in our work.


Jill Leafstedt serves as Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Innovations and Senior Academic Technology Officer at CSU Channel Islands.

© 2018 Jill Leafstedt. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0 International License.