Does Online Faculty Development Really Matter?
Laurence Boggess has had an interesting career path to his current position as the director of faculty development for the Penn State World Campus. After 25 years as a K-12 administrator, he earned his Ph.D. at Penn State and continued on to take a faculty position in the department of educational leadership at Miami University. He moved to the college of education at Penn State before taking his current position as director. Along the way, he has formed his own opinions about the importance of online faculty development and whether it really matters.
Making Faculty Development an Institutional Value and a Professional Practice
Sometimes faculty development programs are inherited by an academic leader, and other times they have to be built. In either case the academic leader needs to heed some wisdom from the Chinese classic the Tao Te Ching. Faculty development is a long journey wherever one starts; like a journey of 1,000 miles, it begins with the first step. Faculty development is also to be understood as a destination. Only if one has a clearly identified end for it will it achieve its desired destination—a highly effective and participatory faculty.
Faculty development program success begins with recruiting faculty to a specific institution’s mission during the recruitment and interview process. Bringing faculty into an institution who are not committed to its teaching, research, and service mission incentives and imperatives will lead to mismatches between faculty career aspirations and institutional resource commitments. Such mismatches undermine collegiality and undercut faculty development efforts. Hiring faculty who are overly focused on their discipline versus teaching and the school’s mission will lead to faculty dissatisfaction and turnover, with negative consequences for the classroom and within academic departments.
Overcoming the Pipeline Myth: Department Chairs as Transformative Diversity Leaders
For at least three decades, the myth of a lack of diversity in the faculty pipeline has lingered in academic circles. And surprisingly, the role of the department chair in building a diverse faculty has received little attention in most chair handbooks and resources. Yet arguably, the department chair occupies the most pivotal position in colleges and universities in building inclusive and diverse learning environments. Strategically positioned between the faculty and the administration, chairs are responsible for the coordination of major academic decisions that include appointments, tenure and promotion, curricular changes, pedagogical approaches, and student learning outcomes. Our new book, The Department Chair as Transformative Diversity Leader (Stylus, 2015), is the first research-based resource on the chair’s role in diversity transformation. Drawing on a substantial survey and interview sample of department chairs from across the nation, we found that strategies for hiring a diverse faculty to address the underrepresentation of women and minorities are at the forefront of department chairs’ minds.
Traditionally a person in higher education is hired as an assistant professor. After an agreed-upon number of years, usually six, she or he is either tenured (aka, the Holy Grail of higher education) or terminated. At this time, the person also applies for promotion to the rank of associate professor. Of course, he or she is highly motivated to attain tenure and promotion in rank. This motivation to teach well, produce scholarly research, and have an enviable record of providing service to the department, school, university, and community is logically self-evident: the reward of tenure and promotion. The same reward-incentive system is in place when, after a number of years, this associate professor is rewarded with the rank of full professor. The person is rewarded based on how well she or he meets standards of teaching, scholarship, and service. However, of equal importance to the overall effectiveness of a person’s worth to a department is how she or he interacts with colleagues. If a person is downright nasty, unwilling to collaborate with colleagues, does not do a fair share of the work, and is consistently toxic to students, peers, and staff, should that person be rewarded with tenure and promotion in rank?
The ‘Quiet’ Dean: Rethinking the ‘Extrovert Ideal’ of Leadership
Memo to academic leaders: I am sitting quietly in my dean’s office, a serene place I first occupied in 1986, reflecting on a book by Susan Cain, one that I think you all should read, titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I would much rather communicate to you from my peaceful digs by way of a memo than to set forth my ideas in a sparkling speech at a conference. Perhaps like you—or perhaps not—I am an introvert and quick to admit it. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert (and so many academic leaders now embody the “extrovert ideal” of our contemporary culture), you will find Cain’s book informative, thoughtful, and (even) practical.
For a little more than a decade, the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) have been enjoying something of a privileged status at American colleges and universities. While enrollments in some other areas are stagnant or declining, they have been rising steadily in many STEM courses. In state systems, investment in faculty, equipment, and facilities often focuses on STEM while other fields go begging. Public figures call for more students to become interested in STEM, often at the same time as they denigrate such disciplines as anthropology, art history, and philosophy.
What accounts for all the positive attention the STEM disciplines have been receiving? The answers are many. First, the severity of the economic recession has caused many students, parents, and politicians to focus on the immediate employability of college graduates. Even if a classicist is as likely as an accountant to find suitable employment within six months of graduation, it is easier for many people to see the connection of business programs to jobs than it is to make that same leap for the liberal arts. “A college of engineering produces engineers,” some may think. “A college of humanities produces . . . what exactly? Secular humanists? Is that a good thing?”
Seven Important Factors in Program Assessment
“No one should be surprised to learn that faculty (in general) have not enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to see if their students measure up to those at other universities or to the expectations of their professors,” writes Diane Halpern in a “personalized review” of assessment programs in general and in her field of psychology. (p. 358) Faculty who believed assessment was another of those “trendy things” destined to pass once something else new came along have been proven wrong. The assessment movement is now close to 30 years old and still very much a part of the higher education scene. Institutions found it hard to ignore once it started being a condition for receiving federal funds and a review criteria used by the national accrediting associations and various professional program reviewing agencies.
Reviewing and updating some of her previous writings, Halpern suggests the list of factors important in program assessment have not changed but merit regular review. Here’s a summary of those seven factors drawn from a more detailed discussion of them that appears in the article referenced below:
The Advantages of an Annual Review of Departmental Data
Many academic departments now engage in annual cycles of assessment of student learning as well as departmental services. Best practices in higher education, reinforced by regional accrediting bodies, among others, dictate that only when departments assess student achievement and departmental initiatives, integrate those assessments meaningfully, and link them to resource allocation (as applicable) can they truly move down a path of continuous improvement. Yet can those assessments alone, important as they are, answer all the questions that departmental faculty and administrators pose about students, faculty, resources, and services? As a supplement to those assessment data, a set of pre-established, mission-centered metrics provides a barometer of the department’s health and vitality while informing timely decision making in a rapidly changing environment both inside and outside academia.
In “Getting SMART with Assessment: ACTION Steps to Institutional Effectiveness” (Assessment Update, 24: 1), Sandra Jordan and I briefly mention this supplementary data as one of three components of a fully integrated annual program review, which we define as an annual cycle of institutional effectiveness that combines the assessment of student learning with the assessment of departmental operations and often includes other departmental data. Whereas that article primarily explores strategies for promoting, clarifying, and supporting effective assessment strategies, in this article I discuss an annual departmental data review—its process, advantages, and management—as a separate component of institutional effectiveness. Used effectively, an annual departmental data review ultimately intersects with and supports other planning and assessment documents to advance departmental decisions.
Moving Beyond Majors
As I sat looking at data for the newly enrolled students in our incoming class, comparing it with institutional and national SAT data, I wondered, is the concept of a major becoming obsolete? Our colleges and universities are built around them. For generations, faculty have been training in one discipline with a distinct identity. Curricula have been designed to make the student’s major the most prominent piece of his or her educational pathway. Even on the admissions side, the first question we ask in a typical interaction is, “What major do you want to study?”