In a dream world, every academic institution would be populated with a teaching and learning center coupled with a faculty enrichment meeting room. In fact, faculty would continually hone their skills as researchers and teachers in an engaged center on campus. Sounds great, right?
For large institutions, probably. But for small to medium-sized colleges and universities, such as Thomas More University, where I work, probably not. At most of these latter institutions, including two-year schools, these centers do not exist. In fact, it may be a while before faculty development at these schools has an actual physical location, if it ever does. Yet many institutions offer workshops on faculty development throughout the academic year. It has been proven that intentioned faculty development practices on campus improve student learning and the professor’s general development (Condon et al, 2016). It is essential for faculty to continually sharpen their experience and pedagogy to keep up with the needs of modern students. But the reality for most institutions is that while practices must take place on campus to provide continuing education for faculty, the space can vary and not include a permanent imprint on campus. The actual creation of a room or center (or both) requires money, time, and a massive investment by administration. This pedagogical investment is usually never addressed, and if is, it is way down a budget line of future expenses. Does your university have buy-in? Do the faculty have buy-in with or without physical space? Would interest in professional development increase if they had a physical location to collaborate and innovate? Most faculty and staff, I presume, would say yes, of course!
It is an issue of not only physical space but also human power. Who runs these sessions? Faculty or staff? Moreover, how are they paid? Is it with a stipend or course reassignment or release? At many institutions, faculty are the key facilitators of these areas and often do not work in it full-time. In fact, many faculty developers do these positions while teaching a 4/4 load or receiving a small stipend or course reassignment (e.g., a 3/4 load). Thus, faculty developers can only commit so much time to creating meaningful workshops because of their teaching loads. This situation can diminish the quality of continuing education (Gillespie, 2002).
As Lenin posited in one of his most famous works, “What is to be done?” What does one do in the face of limitations on physical space? How can a faculty developer produce meaningful, quality workshops while possibly teaching a full load of courses? How can one promote a culture of lifelong learning among their peers given the situation and lack of physical space?
Have faith, as there are many ways to approach this dilemma. Indeed, there are ways to engage faculty on a shoestring budget. These approaches will involve low costs and, in turn, hopefully, foment growing involvement among invested parties, such as the administration. The bottom line is this: work with what you have. Below are a few options for fostering faculty improvement on your campus.
The first goal should be to bring faculty together outside the classroom, and a common way to do so together is with food and drink. Try out a lunch period and complement it with coffee—or perhaps create a brown bag talk. This year I am piloting a brown bag “lite” session, which is a 30-minute session between 12:30 and 1:00 p.m. It takes place one Friday per month and is scheduled in advance. I advertise the events in a few ways. I create 8-by-10-inch posters and place them on walls where faculty congregate. I also design smaller handouts to put in employee mailboxes. I create miniature, almost bookmark-sized handouts that fit nicely into mailboxes to remind faculty of the upcoming event. I also do an email blast and promote on our Facebook page. While this takes some time, a student worker is great to help in this area. The activity coincides with “Foodie Fridays,” when faculty and staff voluntarily bring treats to share. This approach covers several elements in faculty development: making use of our often unused faculty and staff lounge, having people share their food dishes, and bringing faculty together to chat about something pedagogical. I chose a duration of 30 minutes for its length and the time of the day because it coincides with the lunch hour. This period enables faculty to eat while they mingle over academic topics with their colleagues. Out of 85 faculty, I average 10–15 per event.
A second option is the promotion of a longer faculty development session, one on a Monday or Wednesday in the afternoon. (As I have found that longer Friday sessions are generally not well attended, I instead focus on days when faculty tend to be on campus longer.) This session might be a book club or a forum in which new faculty can share their research. Again, bring some snacks, or if possible, get permission to share wine. Great discussions take place over food and drink. These sessions can grow into faculty writing groups and faculty learning communities. As with the brown bag lite workshops, I organize one assembly per month and include the participation of faculty who received faculty development funds the previous year. After contacting those recipients, I open a call for presentations to all faculty who may want to contribute to a workshop.
A third option is online education. While the two options above are preferable as they promote social interaction, faculty are busy, and sometimes development has to be asynchronous. One possibility is to create a faculty development course and post all handouts and PowerPoints that were used in any workshop. In that course create a chat forum where faculty can converse with one another about a topic presented. Alternatively, allow faculty to write teaching blogs that could be added to the course for their colleagues to peruse. Most universities have a learning management system; take advantage of it. It is free and can be used to help promote learning through other means. It helps faculty who may miss a workshop. I use our Canvas page. I created a Faculty Development Resource folder where all faculty can access any handouts, PowerPoints, or other material they may have missed.
The options above require some effort but little to no campus financial resources. Food and drink can come on the goodwill of faculty and staff willing to donate. Their participation in this regard is desired but not necessary. The hope, however, is that starting to promote faculty development on campus will create buy-in, and most faculty will want to participate in a variety of ways. Similarly, you can promote these events electronically via email or a Facebook page or Twitter account created explicitly for faculty development. Also, Canva.com features an easy way to create paper promotional materials.
In the end, do not lose hope. Strive to hone and grow faculty development on campus with the resources you have. Budgets can shrink, but a desire to innovate and grow will never die.
Condon, W., Iverson, E. R., Manduca, C. A., Rutz, C., & Willett, G. (2016). Faculty development and student learning: Assessing the connections. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Gillespie, K. H. (Ed.) (2002). A guide to faculty development: Practical advice, examples, and resources. Bolton, MA: Anker.
Jodie N. Mader, PhD, is associate professor of history, chair of the History and Political Science Department, and faculty development director at Thomas More University.