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Archive for January, 2009

Faculty as Learners

Steve asked me a question on Twitter that I started to give a quick link to answer, but then realized it deserved so much more. The prompting question: What is a “Faculty Learning Community?”

I have spent the last few months trying to answer this question myself. And since I am presumably facilitating one right now, you could say the situation is urgent. The official answer is this webpage from Milt Cox’s site. Cox is the father of FLC’s. In a sentence,

“A faculty learning community (FLC) is a group of trans-disciplinary faculty, graduate students and professional staff group of size 6-15 or more (8 to 12 is the recommended size) engaging in an active, collaborative, yearlong program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning and with frequent seminars and activities that provide learning, development, transdisciplinarity, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and community building.”

I had attended a workshop at POD to learn about the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and how to set up a faculty learning community to support faculty who might be interested in SOTL. It started to sound to me like the concept of the FLC was a promising model for faculty learning.

I sold the idea of trying an FLC as a way to work with our first group of Community-Based Learning Faculty Fellows, and I got some money together to pay a stipend to support the group for meeting over a full year, and then started what I am calling a “pilot year.” Almost immediately, my lack of experience running a group like this set me back. I had 13 faculty in a room, all with various levels of experience with CBL, and I felt like they were just daring me to waste their time. gulp. I was really wishing we had a text to follow that I could hide behind. In fact, I was resisting the idea of a fixed curriculum provided by me. The really powerful part of the FLC model is that the group produces a group project and an individual project, and that is where I put my focus. The first two meetings were just discussion about the group’s own experiences teaching a class with a CBL component. The third meeting we looked at CBL in the new university strategic plan being proposed. Now we have moved our focus to the group project, and I can finally feel the group gelling a little bit.

But I am not feeling like I really know what I need to know to make this work. I avoided buying a book for everyone about CBL because I always get the message from faculty that they are too busy. (Plus, there is no one text I can find that fits the way we do CBL here) And frankly, when I have tried reading-based things in the past, the faculty didn’t do the reading. I think faculty are a bit uncomfortable in any situation where they are not the experts, and so I was trying to downplay the “outside expert” quotient and raise the “learning from each other while we are in the trenches” quotient. I’ve also been doing training on how to be a better facilitator, and I was using those ideas to try to help them build on their own experiences.

What I would really like to do is go to the annual conference on FLC’s but it is in California and I am not sure how to get the money to go. Meanwhile, I have just given the group a mid-year survey through survey monkey, and am making plans for next year’s group. I plan to also survey them after they have finished the project and the year, because I have heard from faculty at other institutions that they had a different perspective on the experience after it was finished rather than they did when they were in the middle of it. A couple of changes I have already decided on:
1. I want a smaller group. 13 is too many.
2. Being in the FLC is a privilege that fellows have that they can OPT INTO. (This year it was a required part of a larger fellowship)
Everyone attends a 2 day workshop in the spring where we will do nuts and bolts of course development, and they will get a book on service-learning course design. Then, those who want to, sign on for the next year’s FLC.

But I have not yet decided how I will structure the FLC for the next year. I am thinking of having a specific focus to the group that comes from the field of CBL, and assigning some readings. We would do that the first few meetings, and then move into the project part of the learning community. But I would also like to find a way to keep the meeting time a place when people can just talk about their own ups and downs while trying to use this complex pedagogy. Or maybe that should be a separate thing? I will listen closely to the insights of this pilot group as I do my planning.

I keep thinking of the session that Jeff and I did at POD about faculty as both adult and gifted learners. The discussions were fascinating as experienced faculty developers put their heads together to figure out the implications of those two sets of theory (andragogy and gifted ed). Faculty tend to be independent learners, very sensitive, highly distractable… (actually, I’ll have to do a whole separate post on this). One participant said “after thinking about it this way, it seems to me that the faculty learning community model is a good fit for faculty learning.” Part of me thinks that is true, but I just don’t feel I have fully figured out how to structure this kind of learning group.

So, Steve, that is the long answer.

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Creative Ideas Needed

I am hoping some of my web-savvy friends can put their heads together with me to figure out a free solution to my problem. Here is the deal:
I support bunches of students, across various courses, who are going out to sites around Richmond as part of their academic work (so their grade partially depends on getting to the sites regularly).
Students seem to have less access to cars all of the sudden (economic downturn?) I am trying to think of something I can set up quickly to help them find out who the people are WITH cars and where and when they are travelling off campus.

What would you use? A wiki? Any special ideas about how you would set it up?

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