“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
Faculty learning communities (FLCs) provide a fail-safe place for university educators with a common interest in innovative teaching and learning practices to go far together. FLCs are interdisciplinary groups of 6 – 15 faculty members who engage in a long-term collaboration focused on building community, engaging in scholarly teaching, and promoting the scholarship of teaching and learning (Cox, 2004; 2014; Engin & Atkinson 2015; Rands , Bender, Gillette & Orgler 2017). The benefits of participating in a FLC are inherent in the three keystone elements that comprise its definition.
University faculty members tend to work in isolation particularly when it comes to the closed-door activity of teaching. Indeed, universities provide several professional development opportunities for faculty members to come together to discuss evidence-based instructional best practices through workshops, seminars and brown bag luncheons. However, interactions among faculty in these professional learning offerings are short-term (Bhavsar et al. 2018). FLCs provide a long-term opportunity for faculty to engage actively in the process of discussing and reflecting on innovative instructional practices in a supportive environment.
FLCs, as communities of practice, thrive on the human need to connect around shared interests and experiences. They do this by limiting membership in order to build a cohesive, supportive group. Members meet regularly; biweekly or every three weeks to share ideas about best practices in specified teaching-related topics. As important as discussions of best practices are, the greater part of the functioning of FLCs is to build supportive relationships among participants. Cox (2014) outlined ten qualities that are crucial for community building in FLCs. They ranged from “trust and safety” to “collaboration” and “enjoyment” (p. 19). With regard to enjoyment, Cox advocated that FLC members enjoy social moments together, and of course, food and snacks should be staple at every meeting. The sense of trust and safety that characterizes community building in FLCs encourages participants to share teaching successes and vulnerabilities in a safe and trusting discursive space.
Engaging in Scholarly Teaching
Scholarly teaching denotes critical reflection on systematically collected research on a teaching-related topic with the purpose of effecting positive change in student learning (Porter &Kustra, 2011). FLC participants come together to discuss innovative, evidence-based practices for addressing commonly shared teaching and learning problems or issues. The sense of community that is developed within the group creates the impetus for participants to throw open the classroom door, so to speak, and peer into one another’s teaching space.
When colleagues from different disciplines and with varying levels of teaching experience come together to investigate research-based strategies for addressing a shared teaching problem on a continual basis, the eventual outcome is student learning success (Cox, 2014). Moreover, the process of sharing, analyzing and reflecting on teaching practices is a self-renewing, professionally invigorating experience for the participants themselves. Participants in a FLC on using iPads as a teaching and learning developed their confidence and knowledge of how to apply the technology in the classroom (Engin & Atkinson, 2015). Participants in a first-year faculty learning communities on teaching effectiveness and scholarship felt 100% confident in their teaching effectiveness compared to 74% level of confidence among non-participants (Bhavsar et al. 2018). Furthermore, Cox (2014) identified participants’ “increasing awareness of differing teaching and learning styles” as one of the outcomes of Miami University’s FLC program (p. 10). The preceding reports exemplified Kelly’s (2008) comment, “No matter how long you have taught, there is always something you can learn from colleagues” (p. 1).
Promoting the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
Boyer (1990) advanced the scholarship of teaching as an integral element of the work of the professoriate. The name has been updated to represent the interdependent relationship between teaching and learning (Kern, Mettetal, Dixson & Morgan, 2015). Scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning are interrelated, but they are not identical. FLC participants come together to investigate evidence-based practices for solving a teaching-related problem within the context of a particular institution. The goal is to advance teaching excellence and student learning success.
Promotion of the scholarship of teaching and learning happens when the peer-reviewed product of the research inquiry of a FLC becomes part of the knowledge base in teaching and learning in higher education (Porter & Kustra, 2011; Kern et al. 2015; Cruz, Cunningham, Smentkowski &Steiner, 2019). To illustrate, Rands et al. (2017) described the trajectory of a workshop–the Team-Based Learning (TBL) Workshop—into a TBL FLC and eventually, into TBL Scholars. The TBL Scholars group comprised TBL FLC members who wanted to advance their interest in TBL practices to scholarship. Rand et al. reported that the Scholars Group’s contributions to the knowledge base in team-based learning consisted of posters, presentations and workshops at conferences, peer-reviewed articles, and four funded grant proposals. This is the essence of the power of FLCs to help faculty go far together in a community of practice that sustains scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Do you want to tap into the benefits of FLCs?
Look out for upcoming CTL FLC proposals! Also, see the Call for Proposals for Spring 2020 pilot of The Applying Learning Technology Community — @ALT Community http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/osuteaching/2020/02/11/call-for-proposals-spring-2020-pilotthe-applying-learning-technology-community-alt-community/
Bhavsar, G. P., Grote, K., Galvan, M. C., Tyutina, S. V. Guan, S. A., & Stapleton, L. D. (2018). Evaluation of first-year faculty learning communities on teaching effectiveness and scholarship: An exploratory study: The Journal of Faculty Development, 32 (2), 23-29.
Boyer, E.L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Jossey-Bass.
Cox, M. D. (2004). Introduction to faculty learning communities. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 97, 5-23.
Cruz, L., Cunningham, K., Smentkowski, B., & Steiner, H. (2019). The SoTL scaffold: Supporting evidence-based teaching practice in educational development. To Improve the Academy, 38(1). 50-66
Engin M. & Atkinson, F. (2015). Faculty learning communities: A model for supporting curriculum changes in higher education. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 27(2), 164-174.
Rands, M.L., Bender, H., Gillette, M.T., & Orgler, L. (2017). The role of faculty learning communities in supporting team-based learning. The Journal of Faculty Development, 31(3), 61-67.
Kelly, R. (2008). Faculty learning community brings together diverse group to discuss asynchronous learning and trends. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/faculty-development/faculty-learning-community-brings-together-diverse-group-to-discuss-asynchronous-learning-and-trends/
Kern, B., Mettetal, G., Dixson. M.D., & Morgan, R. K. (2015).The role of SoTL in the academy: Upon the 25th anniversary of Boyer’s scholarship reconsidered. Journal of the Scholarship for Teaching and Learning, 15(3), 1-14.
Porter, M. K. & Kustra, E. D. H. (2011). The relationship between scholarly teaching and SoTL: Models, distinctions and clarifications. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 5(1), 1-18.
Funmi Amobi is an instructional consultant and college liaison in Oregon State University’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Funmi provides consultations to faculty in individual and small group settings to support teaching excellence and student success. Join Funmi for Spring 2020 CTL LINC Sparkshop Lunch Series. To schedule a Sparkshop call Funmi @ 541 737 1338 or email: Funmi.Amobi@OregonState.edu