Launching Faculty Learning Communities: Participation is All About Perceived Value
Published by Brett Christie, PhD
on Jul 14, 2021
In an earlier webinar, O’Donnell Learn CEO, Carrie O’Donnell and I shared practical ideas and examples for building learning communities among faculty. These communities provide a rich opportunity for faculty to gather around a common goal, learning together and from each other while accomplishing a desired outcome.
Faculty learning communities can provide the time, space and resources for mission-critical efforts related to teaching and learning. Teaching expertise is most often not part of the faculty background, nor is instructional design a common skill. Plus, faculty often develop courses in isolation. In contrast, gathering faculty around learning design can create vibrant exchanges of what’s working, what’s not, and problem-solving around how to make improvements.
While learning communities offer a number of benefits to faculty, launching and sustaining one can have its challenges. What I’ve found over the course of my career is the greater the perceived value by faculty, the greater the participation. It is important for leadership to position the value of faculty learning communities for more than the campus or a department, but what the value is to the individual faculty member and enabling their ongoing success.
Let’s look at some examples:
- Career Advancement – Communicate administration buy-in; show participation is recognized and will stand out at tenure promotion review. Provosts might even add a letter of recognition for a faculty member’s dossier.
- Interdisciplinary Collaboration – Promote the benefits of bringing together different mindsets and experiences to build a community of shared learning successes vs. isolated hit-or-miss.
- Scholarship of Teaching and Learning – Attach a research component for participating faculty, either individually or collectively, with an opportunity to present or publish.
- Safe Space to Be Heard – Commit to giving faculty support and a voice; building community requires trust, authenticity and vulnerability, without the fear of retribution.
- Learn by Doing/Experiential Learning – Anchor learning communities around a specific topic and set goals and desired outcomes that promote “learn by doing.” For example, improving student learning experiences via low-stakes assessment.
- Bragging Rights – Host a campus-level showcase or online exhibition; each learning community makes a short presentation among their peers.
- FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) – Create a desire to be part of what’s happening. Openly acknowledging community camaraderie, collaboration and success helps increase interest and FOMO. St. Francis College experienced this following a customized version of our Jumpstart program (a multi-week learning design bootcamp).
Through learning communities, faculty can make lasting, incremental improvements to their teaching – a direct benefit to student success. While at the same time, learning communities also provide an excellent means for developing a proven model around a specific initiative or challenge prior to any efforts to scale.