Previous Essays

Teaching to Lead
Teaching practices that help students develop leadership

Knowing About vs. Knowing How
The challenges of translating what we know about good practices into making our classes, majors, and programs more effective

Clear and Organized Teaching
Why a basic and under-appreciated teaching skill is critical for student learning

Improving Educational Quality
Lessons learned from liberal arts colleges about the conditions that facilitate the use of evidence to improve student learning

Friday
May222015

Conversation about faculty development and “Knowing About vs. Knowing How”

In January 2015, we published a short essay on the Practitioners’ Corner about why it is so difficult to take what we read about good teaching practices in journals or on the web, or hear about at conferences, and make those practices work for us and our students.

That same month, we had a conversation with Teagle Scholars Ty Buckman (Wittenberg University), Cindy Crimmins (York College of Pennsylvania), and Paul Sotherland (Kalamazoo College) about some of the points we raised in this essay and about their experiences creating effective faculty development programs to improve teaching and learning.

Ty, Cindy, and Paul all have years of experience creating and running successful faculty development programs. In their conversation, they highlighted a number of points including the importance of the following:  

  • Creating safe spaces for faculty
  • Seeing improving student learning in our classes as a form of inquiry
  • Recognizing faculty’s fears and sense of vulnerability

The conversation has lots of practical advice from three experienced campus leaders. You can listen to the 35-minute conversation here.

Please don’t hesitate to contact or if you have questions or comments.

Notes

1. Paul Sotherland mentions “Teagle-funded projects” early in the conversation. He is referring to a $150,000 grant that Kalamazoo College received from the Teagle Foundation “to transform the college into a more vibrant teaching and learning environment by fostering a campus-wide and sustainable presence of the scholarship of teaching and learning.”

2. Part of the conversation concerns whether it is better to ask faculty to think about inquiry on the impact of student learning informally or more formally as the scholarship of teaching and learning. Rachel Schwartz (Georgia Southern University) made some interesting comments and observations on this point in her March 31, 2015 post to the Professional Organizational Development (POD) Network listserv on James Rhem’s work at her institution:

We recently had the pleasure of hosting Dr. James Rhem, Teaching and Learning author, editor, consultant, writer, photographer, and more, at Georgia Southern University (he's currently on a tour of universities). In addition to speaking with our faculty about their teaching and offering a couple of workshops, he spoke at our SoTL Commons conference in Savannah. These events were eye-openers for many—both informative and thought provoking.

As noted by attendees:
"Over time a very narrow definition of SoTL has evolved. SoTL has become equated with publication in a national peer-reviewed journal and/or conference proceedings. James cautions against SoTL practitioners treating all SoTL as discovery and worthy of publishing. Instead, he argues that most SoTL is a matter of integration, in taking what has already been learned and applying it in one's own context. He urges faculty to focus more on making local improvements; in one's own thinking, in one's own classroom, in one's own program or institution (through individual reflection and reflection with other colleagues). He urges a return to the broader definition of SoTL."
"I saw two very strong connections in his work:
  1. To Huber & Hutchings' idea of the 'Teaching Commons' and the seminal work in SoTL that made it clear that SoTL must be 'made public' and 'open to peer critique and evaluation' but that is not the same thing as saying it had to be peer-reviewed publications.
  2. To Lee Shulman's 2013 Keynote at ISSOTL in Raleigh where he spoke about something he's talked a lot about before—the dangers of trying to generalize from our SoTL work to other contexts. Shulman talked a lot about how SoTL doesn't tell us 'what works' but rather 'what worked' in a particular context and that moving forward we need to be especially mindful of the place of context in all discussions of SoTL work.
James is not the only voice issuing what I would consider to be a clarion call on this issue, but he is perhaps the most direct, concise, and articulate about it."

James restarted or reenergized a conversation that I think has lagged or even been lost in our field as we help faculty (and even ourselves) meet those traditional benchmarks for recognition: research and publication for promotion, tenure, etc. Where is the SoTL that grows out of classroom experience and feeds back into it directly? Who is our audience? Rhem helped us refocus on our primary goal—improving teaching and learning.