Seven ways to leverage faculty development for student success

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Maximizing faculty development’s impact on student success and equitable learning requires targeted action.

That’s the upshot of a recent report from Every Learner Everywhere, Achieving the Dream and the Online Learning Consortium. The report, which is based on survey and interview data from 95 responding institutions, also draws on evidence-based standards for high-impact faculty development. Of particular concern to the report’s authors are community colleges and minority-serving institutions, which made up about 55 percent and 38 percent of the sample, respectively.

Study co-author Jonathan Iuzzini, director of teaching and learning at Achieving the Dream, says that certain colleges and universities stood out in how they organize, design and facilitate professional learning. “Those exemplary MSIs and community colleges—which serve the vast majority of our nation’s racially minoritized students and poverty-affected students—employ research-based best practices and link professional learning to strategic goals and needs. This helps them more effectively scale student success initiatives such as guided pathways and accelerated approaches to developmental education.”

At the same time, Iuzzini says, “systematic underfunding and gaps in professional learning practice undercut the work of many institutions, including many MSIs and community colleges. Our new data spotlights some of the key issues that need attention, if higher education hopes to really move the needle on student success.”

Key Findings

  • Growing interest in faculty development—also called professional learning—isn’t matched by investment. This “tension” is especially pronounced as MSIs and community colleges: just 39 percent of survey respondents—the majority of whom work in teaching and learning centers—agreed with the statement, “Our CTL is adequately funded.” At MSIs, the figure was only 29 percent. Responses to questions about CTL staffing were similar. “I am an office of one,” said a CTL director at one MSI.
  • Effective CTLs frame faculty development as crucial to achieving to mission-critical goals, namely equity, enrollment and completion. This includes embedding CTLs in strategic plans and resource allocation processes and using promotion and reward structures to promote faculty engagement—and build a culture that values learning.
  • Faculty development is focused on active learning, inclusive teaching practices and engaging students in online and hybrid teaching formats.
  • Faculty development as a field is challenged by “gaps in awareness” of research-based resources for best practices.
  • MSIs and community colleges report a strong need for “capacity-building partnerships” focused on professional learning. Requests for external assistance tend to involve developing long-term plans for strengthening professional development, for example. Interest in capacity-building partnerships was particularly high at MSIs and community colleges, with 93 percent of MSIs saying they’d welcome this kind of support.

Across institution types, more than eight in 10 respondents agreed or mostly agreed that their professional development programs support instructors in learning about new methods and in adopting them with students. Seven in 10 said their programs consistently provide educators with a safe space to learn from difficulty, including from what didn’t work as planned.

Responses point to possible areas for improvement, including leveraging the expertise of instructors on campus for professional learning, and using such development to support priority student success initiatives.

Regarding that final data point on professional learning for student success initiatives, in particular, Iuzzini says that if a college is doing a guided pathways redesign but doesn’t engage instructors via faculty development, for instance, “then ultimately the impact of that student success initiative will be limited.”

Recommendations

For professional learning and institutional leaders, the report urges these actions:

  1. Engage all instructors—including part-time faculty—in professional learning and as partners in change.
  2. Design sustained programs such as faculty learning communities that yield improved teaching and equity outcomes.
  3. Assess the impact of professional learning. Move beyond head counts and correlating participation with changes in practice and student outcomes.
  4. Develop a strategic vision for a CTL. Ask where it should be in three to five years and then plan how to get there.
  5. Invest in CTLs.
  6. Strategically deploy faculty development in support of mission-critical initiatives, including those related to enrollment, retention and completion—especially at community colleges and MSIs
  7. Demonstrate commitment to teaching improvement. Leverage faculty reward systems to recognize engagement and power cost-effective teaching improvement efforts.

Potential Challenges

Lead author Bret Eynon, strategic teaching and learning coach at Achieving the Dream, says that potential challenges for adopting the report’s recommendations are complex. “We see a set of interrelated dynamics, which include organizational culture, resource constraints and time.”

Educators need “time and space to do the deep work of reflective practice that is so essential to refining one’s teaching practice,” he says. And while many institutions invest significant funds in and create welcoming campus spaces for professional learning, they “may not set clear expectations for engagement,” or “clearly communicate how the college values that engagement in terms of position descriptions, evaluation systems and so forth.” The result? Faculty and student affairs professionals “hear a mixed message about whether they should commit significant amounts of their time—which is already quite stretched—on professional learning.”

Still, Eynon says, “Our findings suggest that colleges and universities can realize the promise of professional learning when these efforts are part of a broader culture shift towards one that embraces equity-focused, student-centered teaching and learning excellence.”

Student Success
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