Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Faculty Development – unconference-style?


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 🙂


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