Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Faculty Development – unconference-style?

| 6 Comments

So this idea of faculty development as unconference started a while ago from a post on EML by Lee Skallerup-Bessette… incidentally, she just posted a list of her fave fac dev bloggers, including some of my own faves like Michelle Pacansky-Brock & Mike Caulfield. While googling that link to include it here, I came across a very strange link from Jesse Stommel’s website to an old version of HybridPed to this article on flipping fac dev by Pete Rorabaugh. But I digress.

So I’m co-facilitating a session next week, it’s a “forum” not a “workshop” which means I’m not “presenting” anything. It’s also, in my mind, the start of a learning community that will hopefully support each other over the coming semester at least, meeting occasionally (once a month or so?) and engaging online (let’s see if we can make that work!)

We’re calling it: Innovative Teaching: a Learning Community. This is the email we (I’m co-facilitating with a faculty member who doesn’t work in my center; it was a conversation with him that sparked the idea) sent out:

Are you one of those teachers who likes to experiment with new teaching strategies or innovative pedagogical approaches? Do you sometimes feel alone, or wonder if you are doing it wrong, because few people around you are doing the same thing?

Innovating in our teaching, rather than continuing to repeat “what has worked before” is high risk and high effort, but we know that when it works out, it can be extremely rewarding, and more importantly, can have enormous impact on student motivation and learning. It is, also, its own scholarship, and some of us are academics who think of teaching as scholarship, as something to reflect on, research, and keep improving on.

Do you sometimes wish you had someone to talk to, a group of people who had a similar mindset and from whom you can get inspired? Would you like to find a community of other educators to brainstorm ideas, imagine solutions, and consider ways of gathering evidence that your innovations have impact on students, and later disseminating your work? Join us for an initial forum on innovative teaching, where you can share your experience of trying new approaches in your class – and we might possibly find a way to continue the conversation on a monthly basis so we can continue to support each other in our quest to keep promoting better student learning and engagement in new ways. We hope some of you might later be interested in developing classroom action research (CAR) projects and CLT is here to help if needed.

So I’m thinking… I don’t know how many people will show up… we did ask people who were interested but couldn’t make it to let us know so we’d add them to a mailing list or a google + group or something.

But during the actual session itself, and for the learning community as a whole, I was hoping to make it unconference-like. Where people would be able to bring in their areas of expertise and share them with others who want to learn about them. e.g. we have a few of my colleagues who’ve done gamification and others interested in that; some people who have e.g. learned how to get their students to read more critically, and other still struggling with that… So I was hoping in the session to both allow some people to talk about their innovations, and also connect with others they’d be interested in working with or learning from, whether or not they want the structure of a community.

So here’s my thinking… if there are more than 8 participants (hopefully!) maybe we’ll do two things:

  1. Break them up into smaller groups of 3-4 and ask them to share with each other some of their latest innovations & some of their challenges/fears/concerns. Then as a group to share some of these with the larger group.
  2. Ask them to write on paper (and we collect at end of workshop) the areas they’d be willing to support other people with; and the areas they would like support with and what kind of support (e.g. gathering evidence that a teaching innovation is doing well? or brainstorming rubrics for multimedia projects? etc). This can help us make rough plans for future unconference-like sessions, as in inviting particular people to give short presentations about certain things or have sub-communities of people discussing certain things, or do research across disciplines on a particular innovation/strategy

Was hoping to get ideas from others and that’s why I blogged this instead of just asking people immediately around me… though they understand the context better, I though some of you all might have ideas for me 🙂

6 Comments

  1. These are great ideas and could work well given that there are enough participants and that those are comfortable enough with one another to share their work/ideas in this way. An “unconference” may work well as an add on to some primary event. The problem I see with an unconference is a perceived lack of focus or purpose. We may need some minimal structure to get things going, but don’t want so much structure that it shuts everything else down.

    You mentioned rubrics. One focus could be on critical inquiry – How do rubrics hinder teaching and learning? for instance, Or, in what ways are learning objectives harmful to learners? Again, both questions are about constraining structures so might fit in well with the premise of an unconference.

    Personally, I am a little impatient with much of the “training” bent of a lot of faculty development activity. All this training is rooted in the premise that this or that method, technique, process is useful and valuable, while in many cases there is no evidence to support such assertions. People are just doing what everyone else does. If enough people do it, it is called “Best Practice”. Good grief!

    • Oh man u touched on 4 of my sticky pointa. Outcomes. Rubrics. Best practices. Buzzwords. But i can’t openly oppose outcomes 🙁 but i tell ppl that some of the most imp things cannot be measured and they should continue to respond to students and aspire to attitude changes they can’t measure; i have to support rubrics (so i try to let ppl develop ones that don’t hinder student creativity). On the last two though i am always v clear. Buzz words are meaningless without context and no such thing as best practice – just what works well this time with this class in this context. Thanks Mark, i”ll mention it this time

      • Outcomes typically need to be declared to students as part of “Best Practice”. I doubt that many students pay much attention to them, and it’s probably best that they don’t. Their primary use is to guide course development to ensure that teaching and assessment align with intended outcomes. Of course, many things can’t be measured well – if at all – and when this happens we need to think carefully about assessment. Rubrics suffer from some of the same constraints as outcomes and may inadvertently focus students’ attention on narrow performance objectives which may be simplistic or located toward the lower end of the cognitive scale.

        • U know what is great? Even tho students (of other teachers) often complain about lack of clarity in assignments (that lack rubrics or have vague ones) others mention they sometimes do better when they ignore guidelines – and one middle ground i recommended (which relates to a comment on agency u wrote in my other post) is to give more guidance in first few assessments and gradually move towards more openness and student autonomy.

          The prob w my own teaching these days is i only meet em for 4 weeks so less time to go gradual

          • Yeah. I’ve heard this too. However, these complaints are almost always about grading and rarely about teaching and learning. Teachers want clear guidelines in order to “defend” a mark, while students want them in order to “get” one in the most efficient way possible – narrow, focused performance to hit the “A” spot. Perhaps fuzzy guidelines help them do “better” because they require students to respond to more generally contextualized tasks.

            You’re right, that students put a lot of effort into learning to “read” their teachers and this reading guides their performance. Four weeks is probably not enough time for this.

            One thing that could be done if you are using rubrics is to include peer-review as one stage and run students through a normalizing process as part of this activity. Once this is done, it would be possible to invite criticism of the rubric and allow students to develop it further in ways that they believe are important. This may help students form a clearer view of expectations more rapidly than straightforward experience of the class does.

            • Actually, i don’t use strict rubrics. I tell students explicitly that it’s not difficult to get a good grade in my class, but that we go thru a process of peer and instructor feedback throughout. Thankfully, it’s not difficult to engage students in what i teach so they usually tend to put in time and effort coz they’re enjoying it, rather than for grades. For my grad students (teachers) i never “give” rubrics. I let em do first draft then we decide together what a good project “looks like”. Saw sthg recently that was even more explicit about this. I know i tweeted it but need to blog about it, too

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