February 26, 2024

New book explores co-evolution of faculty training with educational trends

LAWRENCE — Since the 1970s, colleges and universities have seen an increase in faculty development, or programs designed to help professors improve their teaching. These centers for teaching and learning have adapted their approaches just as pedagogy in the classroom has shifted to student-centered and student-directed approaches. “At the Crossroads of Pedagogical Change in Higher Education: Exploring the Work of Faculty Developers,” co-written by a University of Kansas professor, chronicles the history of the centers, drawing on interviews with faculty developers and the literature of the field and higher education.

Heidi HallmanHeidi Hallman, professor of curriculum & teaching at KU, and Melanie Burdick, professor of English at Washburn University, decided to write the book after considering a question posed by a former mentor and colleague: “How do you feel about preparing teachers in an era of change in higher education?” That question posed to directors of CTLs across the country set the stage for the book. The interviews reflected evolving eras of how faculty developers approached their work. Previous eras could be thought of as that of the teacher or the learner, but the authors point out that currently faculty development is in “the age of the pivot.” Just as the pandemic forced schools to shift to online and virtual models, those who develop faculty had to adjust how they approach their work.

“Hearing about these experiences, even before the pandemic, helped us reflect on the speed of these changes and how faculty developers have been in this constant state of evolving and dealing with changing expectations,” Hallman said.

Before the pandemic, when interviews were conducted, higher education had entered a state of “projectification,” the authors wrote. Higher education was increasingly subjected to more of a business model, in which efficiency and consideration of budgets were heightened, and institutions were required to be more answerable to stakeholders such as legislatures and funders. The faculty developers interviewed relate how that affected their work, and chapters also trace how their work moved from individualized trainings to collaborative approaches to interdisciplinary work.

“I think as faculty, sometimes we see things only from our own discipline,” Hallman said. “The faculty developers we interviewed helped demonstrate how we’re in this together and how we can all learn from each other, and not just rely on our own disciplines.”

The authors also examine how emphasis on improving diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education has also influenced the world of faculty development. While the goal of improving in those areas is noble, interviews reflected that it has resulted in more training, yet it is unclear whether that additional effort has truly improved who is included in the ongoing development of teaching or if it is equitable, the authors said.

“At the Crossroads” also chronicles how the rise of online, hybrid and high-flexibility learning in the classroom has spilled over to faculty development and how new concepts like Universal Design for Learning have entered the fray as well. Where such approaches seek to adapt curriculum and teaching approaches to help each individual student, faculty development could also benefit from individualizing its approaches, the authors wrote.

“The goal of professional learning should be that it is ongoing and happens over time. If we’re looking to help everyone, initiatives should have some aspect of being self-driven. Such initiatives should also focus on things like career stage, where a faculty member is in their development and what their specific needs are,” Hallman said.

Throughout the book, Hallman and Burdick — the latter a graduate student of Hallman’s — share the experiences of faculty developers and how their work reflects the larger field. Some were naturally drawn to the work, while others were more pushed into it or appointed to do the job. Where some were fairly new to it, others had worked in the realm throughout their careers. While some were nostalgic for the past, others expressed excitement about new possibilities, and some led well-established CTLs at large institutions while others were in more of an informal position at smaller schools. All, however, offer valuable insight on faculty development and the improvement of the work of higher education.

Following a look at student evaluations of teaching and how involving the teacher in the work can produce improved teaching, the book concludes with a look at where the field stands now. Even before the pandemic, pedagogical change was affecting the work of faculty development. While the pandemic forced a sudden shift to online and virtual approaches, it simultaneously raised difficult questions about equality in education and provided an opportunity for positive change. Burdick and Hallman argued that while the past can help illustrate the path of faculty development and the scholarship of teaching and learning, how education will respond to the pandemic and other societal challenges remains to be seen.

“CTL directors and all faculty developers are truly standing at a crossroads where we must attend to the delicate and unpredictable acts of teaching within both a global pandemic and racial upheaval. At the same time, universities are bending to the direction of a business model, embracing the ideals of academic capitalism and efficiency through projectification,” they wrote. “Whether these conflicting crossroads can merge into combined or parallel paths forward may depend upon how faculty and students are integrated into the mapping. Faculty developers will no doubt continue to be in the thick of the changes as they are the ones who will support faculty and identify what constitutes the best ways to teach and learn on the road ahead.”

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