Faculty Seek Collaboration, and More Collaboration
September 2013, Volume 26, Number 9
By Laura Taddei
The idea of collaboration as an integral part of faculty development is not new. Faculty collaboration has been a part of faculty development for many years; two examples are faculty learning communities and faculty inquiry groups. Faculty development is connected to institutional effectiveness (Randall, 2008). Institutions, students, and the community benefit when faculty are engaged, motivated, and interested in innovative ways to improve teaching and learning. Faculty development opportunities can encourage innovation and improvements in teaching and learning. In order for these faculty development opportunities to be most effective, faculty should be involved in the planning and implementation of these purposeful events and activities. The success of these events depends on whether faculty have a sense of ownership in the process (Hill, Soo La, & Lagueux, 2007). This article describes the planning and implementation of a collaborative faculty development event that included faculty from a variety of disciplines who teach at a community college. Qualitative data collected from faculty responses are described and explained below.
Planning of the Event
The faculty development event described in this study was developed collaboratively by a faculty task force and a Center for Faculty Development director. The faculty task force consisted of faculty from a variety of disciplines. At its first meeting the task force suggested surveying the faculty at large to find out what kind of professional development they wanted. The results of the survey indicated the majority of faculty wanted idea sharing among faculty—course specific (54%), discipline specific (58%), and interdisciplinary (44%). The group reconvened to put this faculty-driven event together, using the survey responses to help guide planning and implementation. This method not only created ownership and buy-in from the faculty, but provided them with what they wanted and needed in faculty development.
Purpose of the Event
Bickerstaff & Edgecombe (2012) described a three-part framework for analyzing professional development opportunities: identify the learning objective, design the activity to accomplish the objective, and select the learning venue. The event planning group in this study followed this framework to identify the purpose of the event:
- To discuss current techniques used to improve student learning;
- To identify sources and resources to promote innovation and creativity to improve student learning; and
- To plan ways to integrate new technology or innovative techniques to improve student learning.
The activity to accomplish this goal was the formation of multiple disciplinary and interdisciplinary groups formed from among faculty who attended the event (65 faculty). Participating faculty were broken up into five disciplinary groups. If there were not enough faculty in one discipline to form a group, they were placed in groups similar to their discipline.
The venue for accomplishing the goal was the collaborative discussions taking place in the five groups, each facilitated by two faculty members. Facilitators were provided with questions (formed by the faculty task force) to help guide the discussion and to ensure consistency among the groups. At the end of the session, each group provided responses to the director of the Center for Faculty Development so data could be analyzed. Data would be used (a) to plan ways to integrate innovation and creativity to improve student learning in the future, and (b) to provide support needed to fulfill the plan.
Techniques Faculty Use
Faculty described a variety of techniques they were using to encourage innovation and creativity. After collecting the data and coding the responses, results show that faculty were using the following techniques: active learning, building community in the classroom, providing students with choices, collaboration, reflection, allowing and encouraging risk-taking, using technology, and training for faculty. “One of the most essential elements of innovation is risk taking” (Reimers-Hild & King, 2009). If innovation and creativity are goals in an institution, risk-taking needs to be encouraged.
In the collaboration category, some of the examples provided were sharing ideas across disciplines, allowing students to take quizzes and then go over the responses with classmates, and open collaboration. When faculty were asked what strategies they used to help students succeed, the same categories arose from their responses. In the collaboration category, faculty described using lots of discussion of peer testimonials, implementing interdisciplinary and capstone courses, group critique, and providing for cross-class projects. Strategies such as group work, problem solving, idea generation, innovations, designing, and face-to-face communication can foster innovation and creativity (Enterprise School, 2011). Innovation can also include fun, creativity, diversity, collaboration, and the ability to trust intuition (Reimers-Hild & King, 2009).
Challenges Faculty Face
Faculty reported a variety of challenges they face. One response indicated the need for collaboration because they felt alone and isolated. Several responses indicated that faculty needed encouragement to be innovative and take risks. Ryshke (2012) described ways schools can promote innovation and one way is to embrace failure as fuel for innovation. This failure could provide opportunities for growth and new ideas. Faculty also voiced the need for support because many of their students come to class lacking a basic skill set to do the coursework. “When faculty talk with colleagues about teaching strategies and challenges, it helps to create an atmosphere in which it feels safe to try new methods and take risks as an educator” (Simmons, 2012, para. 14).
Creating Communities of Learners
Randall (2008) described the ultimate goal of faculty development to “establish and sustain a community of learning in which faculty engage in growth and dialogue around common areas of interest” (p. 21). Faculty were asked how to create this community of learners and the responses indicated a clear need for collaboration. Some of the comments noted were get out of the silos, include both part-time and full-time faculty, increase communication between administration and faculty, and increase communication across faculty.
The main goal of this study was to find out what faculty need to continue to innovate and create to improve student learning. Faculty responses were coded in the following categories: active learning opportunities, building community, collaboration, choice, reflection, risk-taking, support, technology, time, and training. Interestingly, the categories remained the same between the techniques the faculty are using currently and what the faculty need as they move forward. One response indicated the need for choice regarding faculty development, stating that one size does not fit all. In the collaboration category, faculty strongly indicated the need for more collaboration with their colleagues with responses requesting learning communities, group meetings and discussion groups, an inclusive culture for adjunct and full-time faculty, and opportunities for disciplinary groups to work together.
This faculty development event was replicated at a conference that included a variety of community colleges and faculty from different disciplines. The same questions were asked in a smaller group and some of the responses were similar. When asked what faculty need moving forward, collaboration and support were the themes that emerged from this discussion as well. Specifically, some of the comments included a need for access to other faculty, time to collaborate, and the creation of online course pages where faculty can collaborate.
“By collaborating with colleagues to measure learning outcomes, reassess curriculum, or identify opportunities for improvement, instructors support each other as they learn and implement new ways of teaching” (Bickerstaff & Edgecombe, 2012, p. 4). Institutions can benefit greatly when faculty are provided opportunities to collaborate and share ideas. Faculty also benefit when they are included in the planning and implementation of faculty development events. The participation and buy-in of the faculty increased when they had a say in the event. Even if faculty were not able to attend the event, if they were involved in the planning, they followed up and wanted to know what came out of the event. The ultimate goal is to provide students with the best learning opportunities possible in innovative and creative ways. In order for the event to be completely successful, faculty development planners should ensure faculty are provided with follow-up events and opportunities to maintain the discussions, and use these follow-up events to close the loop and continue planning.
Bickerstaff S., & Edgecombe, N. (2012, December). Pathways to faculty learning and pedagogical improvement. Inside Out 1(3). Retrieved from http://www.scalinginnovation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/InsideOut1-3.pdf
Enterprise Schools. (2012, January 10). An entrepreneurial development framework for institutions of higher education [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.jadeportugal.org/an-entrepreneurial-development-framework-for-institutions-of-higher-education.html
Hill, L., Soo La, K., & Lagueux, R. (2007). Faculty Collaboration as Faculty Development. Peer Review, 9(4), 17-19. Retrieved from http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/pr-fa07/pr-fa07_FacCollab.cfm
Randall, L. (2008, Fall). Rethinking faculty development: Toward sustaining a community of learners. Senate Forum, 24(1). Retrieved from http://www.fullerton.edu/senate/documents/forum/Fall_08/6_Rethinking_Faculty_Development_Randall.pdf
Reimers-Hild, C., & King, J. W. (2009, Winter). Six questions for entrepreneurial leadership and innovation in distance education. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, XII(IV). Retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/winter124/reimers-hild124.html
Ryshke, R. (2012, February 26). What schools can do to encourage innovation? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://rryshke.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/what-schools-can-do-to-encourage-innovation/
Simmons, E. H. (2012, April 18). Rewarding Teaching Innovations. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2012/04/18/essay-how-colleges-can-encourage-professors-innovate-teaching
Dr. Laura Taddei is the Center for Faculty Development director at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania.
Opinions expressed in Leadership Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.