OPINION

Faculty Development in the Age of Digital, Connected Learning

Faculty Development in the Age of Digital, Connected Learning

Teams that used to be responsible for the acquisition, implementation, and support of technology are now being tasked with transforming higher education. Today, they are set at the middle of the academy, between administration, faculty and students, in a position to reimagine how learning happens.

In recent years, colleges and universities have recognized this and begun merging academic technology and faculty development. They’re adding the word "innovation"to the titles of centers for teaching and learning and the individuals who lead them. These leaders are not only getting new titles—their backgrounds are also changing. Today, edtech leaders are much more likely to be teachers with technology expertise rather than technologists. But it takes more than employing a new structure, changing the skillsets of a team or implementing a catchy title to make change happen, especially in higher education.

Academic transformation starts—but does not end—with changing the centuries-old lecture model around which campus culture has been constructed. Today’s faculty developers have become quite good at inspiring faculty to embrace the use of technology in their teaching to make student learning more active, relevant and applicable to life after graduation.

They turn to research to identify teaching practices that work. They locate videos and blog posts that share descriptions of exciting new technologies and explain how faculty are using them to transform their teaching. They even turn to students' future employers to understand how the acquisition of digital literacy skills will poise their students for success. As a result, more faculty are changing how they teach. We believe this is a necessary but insufficient step to transform higher education to meet the needs of today’s learners.

If we are to transform how learning happens at colleges and universities, we must look deep into the practices we model. Do our work practices reflect a digitally literate community? Do they reflect the complex world our students are graduating into? In many colleges, students are still required to sign paper forms. Countless agendas are still printed and handed out at the time of the meeting. Not to mention the number of meetings that waste valuable face-to-face time reviewing information that can be shared online. These practices create obstacles to change and innovation. We are tackling this problem at CSU Channel Islands.

Immersing Faculty in Open, Connected Learning

At CSU Channel Islands, our Teaching & Learning Innovations team has taken a non-traditional approach to how we are facilitating and communicating faculty development with the goal of not only preparing faculty to teach, but also influencing the way they work. To promote awareness across our workplace about how digital tools can be used to improve productivity and learning, we are untethering our faculty development offerings from a closed-off physical space and infusing them with principles of openness and connected learning. Untethered faculty development immerses instructors in digital, connected learning environments that develops their digital literacy over time.

Untethering ensures time and place are not barriers to faculty who want to improve their teaching. It immerses faculty in the use of digital tools, encouraging them to understand how technology can transform age-old traditions. Untethering is also dependent on a delicate balance between open materials, which may be accessed from anywhere at anytime, and human connections. The ultimate goal is developing a campus culture that prioritizes informed, engaged and connected communities of practice that extend beyond our campus. We aim for faculty and students to be lifelong learners whose ideas are enhanced by the diversity of thinkers around the world. In our global, mobile society learning is not bound to time and place.

Untethering bumps up against many norms that we hold for learning. It situates faculty into the role of learner and encourages them to rethink how and where learning actually takes place. Faculty developers who aim to adopt these concepts should lay a foundation to ease the technical aspects of untethering. Those who facilitate workshops and learning for faculty should be provided a visual and a step-by-step guide for untethering.

The principles of untethering are now spreading across campus. A faculty member recently led a workshop for peers and independently implemented untethering principles. Our Academic Senate meetings are being untethered. Our Student Affairs organization is considering how to adopt the ideas, as well. As more organizational stakeholders join in, our campus workplace is slowly becoming immersed in the practice of using digital tools to transform how our organization learns and works together.

Is untethering right for your campus? If you provide faculty development and agree with any of the following statements, we encourage you to give it a try!

  1. We struggle with low faculty engagement.
  2. We are seeking a way to build digital literacy among faculty.
  3. Our faculty want more just-in-time resources.
  4. We employ remote faculty who currently are unable to attend our faculty development opportunities.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock (@brocansky) is Innovations Lead of Teaching and Learning Innovations and Jill Leafstedt (@JLeafstedt) is Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Innovations and Senior Academic Technology Officer at California State University, Channel Islands.

GET THE LATEST HIGHER ED NEWS.Be the first to know, with our weekly newsletter.