Yavapai College: Reflective Writing as Professional Development and the 9x9x25 Challenge

Member Spotlight

The Great Ideas for Teaching (GIFT) Center and the Teaching & eLearning Support (TeLS) team at Yavapai College recently ran a very unique professional development challenge that included Ben and Jerry's ice cream and generated over 300 pages of writing from faculty in just nine weeks!

In a nutshell, the two centers challenged the college faculty to write 25 sentences a week about teaching and learning for nine consecutive weeks. Out of about 300 possible full time and adjunct faculty, 17 rose to the challenge.

The faculty who signed up were asked to write the words online, where they could be seen by colleagues. In most cases that meant using a blogging platform, the creation and maintenance of which only a few of the participating faculty needed training. The Teaching and eLearning Support group has been using a Wordpress blog as a place to share learning opportunities for faculty for several years and it was in that space that the teacher's writing was aggregated using the FeedWordPress plugin.

We were able to gather all of the writing in a single space and allowed the TeLS group to archive all of the writing. "Prior to this event it would have been very difficult to get your hands on writing by our faculty about teaching and learning," noted Todd Conaway, an instructional designer at the college. "Now we have a repository of nearly 150 pieces of writing to share with new faculty, seasoned faculty, staff, and administration. Not to mention the whole of the Internet."

One of the things that became clear by the third week was that the faculty writing was getting longer. Most writing was well beyond the 25 sentence minimum. Could it be that the faculty were feeling peer pressure? Did it drive them to write better? Certainly the writing, as well as the images and videos used throughout the writing, became more personal and introspective.

Participating in the 9x9x25 blogging adventure has been a rich experience. I have grown as a teacher, learner, and writer. For example, when writing the first blog on new student orientations, I finished and was pleased with the results. Then I counted the sentences and realized I only had 15. So I had to return and write more, which in and of itself caused me to dive deeper and add more specific details, and isn't that what I keep telling my students? By the end of this experience, I had to count sentences to hold myself back.

Tina Luffman, Faculty

It also became evident that the writing was not going to be about specific tools teachers were using in online classes. The writing by the faculty have a wonderfully broad scope and often intimate details that really make the writing come alive. As a place to learn about teaching and to learn about the college faculty, these archived pieces of writing are wonderful resources. The TeLS team used Twitter to broadcast the writing and they received comments from educators all over the world. Knowing that what they were writing was being read had some intrinsic rewards for the instructors. It is pretty powerful the first time someone from another country reads your work and takes the time to share a comment.

It's strange, but this blogging challenge - in which we've all participated as individuals - has made me feel closer to my colleagues. As an adjunct, I haven't ever been asked to do committee work. I don't see my co-workers on a regular basis (Facebook doesn't count...), and it is many a week that I don't set foot on a Yavapai College campus. The reality is, I tend to be relatively disconnected from other instructors and from the institution as a whole most of the time. Reading the reflections of my colleagues has reminded me each week that we're all in this together; that creating a better world through educating the people in our community isn't just something I want to do, it's something that we're all actively engaged in as a team!

Erin Whitesitt, Faculty

Conaway said he often hears teachers say they don't have anything unique or special to share when asked to share their professional work publically. "What I know that they often don't is what the other faculty are doing, at least in the digital spaces, and all the faculty are doing amazing things," Conaway said. "They all have something to contribute. Something that they do particularly well. Faculty are usually pretty selfless and easily dismiss the great things they do on a daily basis. It is important to let them know they are appreciated."

Psychology faculty, Sal Buffo, and English faculty, Jason Whitesitt

During the third week, the TeLS group noticed that another college in Michigan had picked up on the idea. Mark DeLong, an Instructional Technology Specialist at Northwestern Michigan College (NMC), ran a 4x4x16 Challenge with their faculty. Since then, several other colleges have shown interest in adapting the challenge for their faculty.

The GIFT Center and TeLS are looking forward to next year when they will run the challenge again. They have made connections with NMC and Valencia Community College and are hoping to cross post some of the writing so that the schools can get a look at what other institutions are doing. They have also developed a relationship with companies, like Faculty Focus. Next year, for one of the weeks, the faculty will be challenged to submit a piece of writing to them for publication on the Faculty Focus site. In addition, they will challenge the faculty to submit work to the League for Innovation in the Community College in some fashion.

According to Conaway,

We have learned much about the power of a token of appreciation. The Ben and Jerry's was such a great small token of gratitude. Delivering the pints to the faculty was really a great opportunity to get to know them better and talk about the challenge and professional development. If we had tried to pay them for participating, it would never have been enough. They have spent hours and hours writing.

"Also important," Conaway noted, "are the digital literacy skills the faculty are learning. They are learning about the Web that exists outside the college LMS and how it might be used in their classes."

The first three weeks of the challenge were completed without any financial support from the college. Over the remaining weeks, the two groups spent less than $400 on books about teaching and learning and a final lunch with the college president. Next year, the two groups hope to facilitate the entire challenge without any financial assistance from the college.

Money and rewards and the future aside, the challenge has really been about learning."What I learned is that I have been missing out on thinking about teaching, thinking about the art of teaching," wrote faculty member Charles Lohman in his final reflection. "The stuff I learned in college to become a teacher. But the stuff I stopped thinking about when I became a teacher."

"When all is said and done," said Conaway, "all the rewards and the masses of writing, I try to see the faculty sitting down at a desk and reflecting on their practice, in writing. That has value. Just that simple act. We don't do that enough."

Click here to access the Yavapai College 9x9x25 Challenge writing.

Contact Todd Conaway for more information about the 9x9x25 Challenge and how it was set up.