Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk to our e-Education Council about faculty professional development (PD) at our campus, specifically about the lifelong learning (ELLI) project which started last summer and continues into the current fall pilot.
As I thought about it, I wanted to talk about the style of PD that this undertaking represents – one that perhaps isn’t the most efficient, but certainly is extremely rich and rewarding for those involved. Looking at PD on our campus as a whole which includes the traditional methods (workshops, resources via newsletters, websites, blog postings, etc.) as well as outside opportunities (webinars by Schreyer, Educause, Campus Technology, Teaching Professor, Institutional Research, ITS Training Services, and Media Commons), this type of PD opportunity gave me pause and cause to be happy with the resources being provided to our faculty without their having to travel and take time from their busy schedules.
During my preparations for the presentation to the eEducation Council, the model below emerged as a pathway that we’ve come to follow many times now on campus. It all begins with a faculty/campus question/need… In this case, the question was, I want to try something in my classroom and know whether it made a difference or not. How can I go about it?
As the instructional designer, I ask myself, What do we need to answer the question – training, resources, support, funding?
At the time, I didn’t feel as equipped/confident to answer the question as I would have liked… which in the end turned out to be a good thing – A learning community emerged from this organic process – and together we seek answers and understanding.
I contacted our Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence at our Main Campus for support and they asked, Who else is interested? It turns out a lot of people were! I reached out to campus instructional designers who got the word out to faculty and quickly we reached capacity for our event. In the spring of 2011, we held a wonderful colloquy on The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) on campus, and the learning path began. Maryellen Weimer, a wonderful scholar and friend to our campus, agreed to be the keynote and we had two tracks for participants: one for those interested in action research projects and the other for faculty more interested in formal SoTL studies leading to publication. Fifty faculty and staff from multiple campuses attended the wonderful day, but in the end, I was left with the question, Now what are we going to do with what we learned?
So I went back to the cycle to ask again, what else do we need to really do an SoTL project? It seemed to me that our data analysis skills in SoTL specifically needed some work, so I began a process of building a campus data users group to help us build this skill set. Was I ready now? Well, at some point, you just have to dive in with a project and be willing to learn as you go.
So in the fall of 2012, we did our first SoTL pilot study to find out if pairing a college reading course (LL ED 005) with a content course (PSYCH 100 with Dr. Mark Casteel) would help first semester students with low SAT verbal scores to be successful. I had to do my first IRB proposal, design the study, gather data, and analyze the results. I was able to present some of the findings at a regional conference, evaluate the process, and make changes for the following fall… all-in-all, it was an incredible learning journey.
There were mistakes and challenges, but I was happy that I was going through it, rather than a faculty member. I can see the incredible benefits of allowing instructional designers to also teach: first, it gives us a real stake in our own intellectual growth, and second, it provides a lower risk environment in which to try new processes. I don’t have to worry as much about my student evaluations as a faculty member might. So I can take more risks and try new things that others might not.
In this model, it may seem that I am the one doing most of the learning and to that I would say, yes, in the beginning, but now I am in the middle of a second iteration of the pilot, with our incorporated changes, with a second faculty member. I now feel more confident to engage him in the process since I understand it better. It has been a great collaboration (LL ED 005 and BiSc 003 Environmental Science with Dr. Jorge Santiago-Blay). We are learning so much and incorporating it back into our paired classes to hopefully benefit our students. We’ll analyze the data in the spring, and again present – at the same time push for publication of the findings.
Additionally, this time, we needed to get funding to incorporate some of the enhancements, including the Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory (ELLI), and adaptive learning technology, so that added to the learning experience and also gave us the opportunity to hold another event and reach out to a wider audience. This time 27 faculty and staff from six campuses attended a 2-day summer training to use the ELLI instrument. In an effort to actually use what we are learning, we incorporated the instrument in our fall pilot and it is being used in the spring in an HDFS course (397A) by Dr. Sukhdeep Gill.
In the spring, I’ll be working with a third faculty member on a variation of the project for students who do not have low SAT scores, but are taking a challenging content-heavy course (EDPSY 014 Dr. Cora Dzubak). Again, we are working the process, and learning as we go, but it is much easier this third time around. Two additional faculty members have approached me about possible SoTL projects, so our group is growing. Next week, we convene a campus SoTL learning community which I hope will grow and thrive as a permanent place for anyone to now come and get help with the question, I want to try something in my classroom and know whether it made a difference or not. How can I go about it?
In the end, I feel that there are perhaps more efficient ways to do faculty professional development, but I have yet to experience any that have been as rich or rewarding as this!