Saturday, January 21, 2017

Starting a Teaching and Learning Center in a College

This article appeared in Inside Higher Ed (a favorite publication of mine).  I think it has some valid information.

Having started a teaching and learning center myself, I have a lot of opinions on the process.  I also wrote my doctoral dissertation on faculty (educational) development, so I kind of know a little about this.

The T and L director (or whatever other title has been given to the lead professional development person) has to be winsome about bringing faculty--from all disciplines, not just the one that the director may represent--into the center.  Part of this winsomeness is balancing evangelism of a particular pedagogy or even trendy practice with appreciation of what the faculty are already doing.  Any time you ask a person to change you must guarantee that the benefit of the change will be greater than the cost.

If a teacher who primarily lectures (oh, my, no!) has good results from the students in terms of learning outcomes and test results (or licensure, etc.) and student evaluations, why would he or she feel a need to flip the classroom or do full course redesign?  Granted, there are a lot of reasons psychologically and pedagogically that we probably should, but it's a hard sell.  In my experience, telling the faculty member they will be a better teacher if they change pedagogy, stop lecturing, and adopt a new approach is first telling the faculty member that in the developer's judgment, the faculty member is not doing his/her job.

Now, think about that.  Who is the developer to make that judgment? And why would the faculty member in question be persuaded?

I used the term "evangelism" above.  We Christians know that conversion to Christ is impossible without recognition of spiritual need.  Conversion to course redesign is unlikely if the faculty member sees no need.

That doesn't mean the faculty member has to be doing emotional mea culpas about his/her teaching failures before the developer can help.  Sometimes a faculty member is just tired of what he/she is doing and wants a valid change.  I just mean that the developer must be a diplomat about introducing change.

There is also the matter of bringing in speakers.  My research showed that faculty appreciated the speakers coming in because it shows a commitment of the administration to the faculty's professional development.  Otherwise, it depends on the outside speaker's approach.  I have heard many speakers who say, "don't lecture" yet spend the whole session lecturing.  This discrepancy is not lost on faculty.  Remember, these are smart people with doctoral degrees.  Don't treat them like undergrads (really, please!)

Sometimes the faculty member doesn't need full redesign, but small tweaks to improve his/her teaching.  

My last point, for now, is that we should find out what the faculty are doing and focus on interdisciplinary sharing, as well as intradisciplinary sharing.  The faculty are probably doing some interesting and exciting things in the classroom that can help others. They might be studying aspects of teaching (especially in terms of technology) on their own, self-directed, that others can grow by knowing about.

In short, a faculty developer has to approach the peers with humility.  Most of us who come to faculty development are entrenched in our own disciplinary ways of thinking and cannot assume to know how to teach a different one in the actual day-to-day of a classroom.  I am fascinated to know how math teachers teach math.  I don't pretend to know about that (mostly because higher level math is a mystery to me, anything beyond algebra and statistics).

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