Professional Growth through Faculty Learning Communities: Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Vehicles for Faculty Development and Student Success
This article highlights how academic leaders may inspire faculty professional growth, student success, and enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) opportunities through a broad operating framework for faculty learning communities (FLCs). While our focus was STEM, this approach is applicable to all liberal arts programs. Our college is primarily a teaching institution and faculty overwhelmingly indicate they are overcommitted, so there was much skepticism that FLCs could meet our two goals: result in productive faculty development and student success and enhance DEI initiatives.
Goal 1: Faculty professional growth
In coordination with the dean, we presented the broad operating framework of FLCs to the faculty: yearlong communities; faculty driven topic development ranging teaching, scholarship, and service; faculty determining community members; faculty establishing objectives and timelines; face-to-face, hybrid, and virtual formats; and sharing of progress and products with the larger academic community. After presenting the framework, we launched a mini-grant program funding 13 FLCs comprised of 75 STEM faculty (maximum $3,000 per FLC split among five to eight members). The work of these FLCs has been positive for student success, affecting 37 courses and 4,245 students thus far. FLC topics developed by the members were wide-ranging in scope, noting just a few to highlight the breadth of topics:
- Studying DFW rates in introductory chemistry courses and mitigation approaches implementing flipped learning
- Designing and implementing specifications grading
- STEM study abroad programs
- Alignment of goals and STEM skills of pre-nursing science courses
- Environmental science teaching and research working group
The FLC “products” are aimed at positive improvement and change and include sharing work with campus colleagues and with external parties via blog sites, workshops, conference presentations, and peer reviewed publications. Some FLCs, such as the analytical instrumentation FLC, publish local standard operating and maintenance manuals for instrumentation shared on campus by faculty from multiple disciplines while others result in peer-reviewed publications. Sample publications include
- specifications grading (Tsoi et al., 2019);
- flipped learning (Onodipe et al., 2020; Robbins et al., 2020);
- STEM study abroad (Gyurov & Schlueter, 2018); and
- environmental science (Park et al., 2019; Khan et al., 2021).
To further advance the FLC initiative, we conducted a four-day Mobile Summer Institute (MoSI) on Scientific Teaching in May 2019 (face-to-face), May 2020 (cancelled), and May 2021 (virtual). Faculty teams proposed “teaching modules” on hard-to-understand concepts, developing and tweaking the modules during the MoSI, with the teams then forming yearlong, post-MoSI FLCs to continue development. MoSI 2019 was led by an external team. For MoSI 2021, previous MoSI participants led the 2021 FLCs through the MoSI and then mentor the faculty teams through their yearlong, follow-on FLC. For the 2021 MoSI, we required each team to include DEI activities or products in their follow-on FLC work, contributing to the larger campus initiative.
Goal 2: Diverse, equitable, and inclusive faculty opportunities
To assess our second aim of providing diverse, inclusive, and equitable faculty development opportunities through FLCs, we surveyed participants. Per National Science Foundation demographic categories, we are a diverse STEM school, as shown in Table 1. Examining the demographics, faculty participants (FLCs/MoSIs) mirror the diversity of the campus community (faculty, staff, students) in categories of gender, race, and ethnicity as well as by academic rank. This representation is important as faculty involved in FLCs are not from niche groups but rather broadly mirror the campus community, indicating that the program provided equitable and inclusive faculty development opportunities.
To briefly summarize survey findings, many FLC members (73 percent) did not know what an FLC was prior to our launching the FLC program. FLCs typically met in person or virtually once per month but completed most of the FLC’s work outside of the meetings. The meetings were used to shape the agenda, manage the timeline, and report on progress. FLC members (72 percent) reported that the FLC’s workload was equally shared, and they (90 percent) agreed that decision-making was collaborative. Most FLC members (90 percent) felt the FLC was a valuable use of time, and most (86 percent) would participate in another FLC.
Practical takeaways for a successful FLC program
The broadly structured FLC program provided diverse, equitable, and inclusive faculty development and community building opportunities. The areas of the FLCs’ positive impact are on teaching, research, student engagement, mentoring, service, and collaborating with colleagues. It is noteworthy that each of these areas is evaluated in our faculty promotion criteria, so the broadly structured FLC program seems to be a vehicle to help faculty develop knowledge, skills, and abilities in areas that contribute to promotion in academic rank. The faculty-driven FLCs ranged a broad spectrum of issues in higher education. FLC progress and products were shared with colleagues through publication and participants realized professional development in essential domains contributing to academic promotion. Most participants felt the FLCs were valuable and would participate again. The structure of the MoSIs with faculty mentors leading participants in their follow-on, yearlong FLC helps develop and perpetuate a cadre and culture of change agents in the larger campus community. For developing a similar FLC program at your institution, consider the following points:
- A broad framework enables faculty to drive their development.
- Competitive mini-grant solicitation lends credibility to program.
- Faculty driven topics and member self-selection ensure buy-in.
- Face-to-face, hybrid, and virtual structure provides flexibility, enabling faculty to manage many competing time demands.
- Sharing of FLC work among faculty motivates teamwork, progress, and products.
- Faculty-driven community encourages collegiality.
- Leveraging group rather than individual work enables progress and products that contribute to student success and faculty development.
Acknowledgements: The National Science Foundation and the University System of Georgia provided funding support for our FLC/MoSI program.
Gyurov, B., & Schlueter, M. (2018). Creating a vibrant STEM study abroad program with a cultural component. In S. Dikli, B. Etheridge, & R. Rawls (Eds.), Curriculum internationalization and the future of global education (pp. 181–202). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-5225-2791-6
Khan, N., Park, S. H., Kadima, L., Bourdeau, C., Calina, E., Edmunds, C. W., & Pursell, D. P. 2021. Locally sustainable biodiesel production from waste cooking oil and grease using a deep eutectic solvent: Characterization, thermal properties, and blend performance. ACS Omega, 6(13), 9204–9212. https://doi.org/10.1021/acsomega.1c00556
Onodipe, G., Robbins, M., Ayuniniam, G., Howse, T., Cottrell-Yongye, A., & Curry-Savage, J. (2020). Growth of pedagogical practice in an active multidisciplinary FLC on flipped learning, International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 14(2). https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2020.140202
Park, S. H., Khan, N., Lee, S., Zimmermann, K., DeRosa, M., Hamilton, L., Hudson, W., Hyder, S., Serratos, M., Sheffield, E., Veludhandi, A., & Pursell, D. P. (2019). Biodiesel production from locally-sourced restaurant waste cooking oil and grease: synthesis, characterization and performance evaluation. ACS Omega, 4, 7775–7784. https://doi.org/10.1021/acsomega.9b00268
Robbins, M. M., Onodipe, G. O., & Marks, A. (2020). Reflective writing and self-regulated learning in multidisciplinary flipped classrooms. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 20(3). https://doi.org/10.14434/josotl.v20i3.27541
Tsoi, M. Y., Anzovino, M. E., Erickson, A. L., Forringer, E. R., Henary, E., Lively, A., Morton, M. S., Perell-Gerson, K., Perrine, S., Villanueva, O., Whitner, M., & Woodbridge, C. M. (2019). Variations in implementation of specifications grading in STEM courses. Georgia Journal of Science, 77(2). https://digitalcommons.gaacademy.org/gjs/vol77/iss2/10
Nathan Moon is a researcher at Georgia Institute of Technology. The remaining authors are STEM faculty at Georgia Gwinnett College.