The CTL’s Faculty Development Strategy

the foundation
cc licensed image: the foundation, by Pedro Moura Pinheiro.

The Center for Teaching and Learning has recently concluded two extended seminars designed to help faculty think through the implications of transitioning a face-to-face course to a hybrid or online format. The first seminar, which met six times during the spring semester, included eleven full-time faculty members from across Baruch’s three schools who were given reassigned time to focus on specific courses: “Introduction to Theater,” “Introduction to Composition,” “Sustainable Information Technology,” “Communication in Public Settings,” “Non-fiction Narrative,” “Intro to Psychology” (two sections), “The Individual and the News in the Information Age,” “Three Dimensional Digital Design,” “Italian Cinema,” and “Logic and Moral Reasoning.” Each of these courses will run in the new format (10 hybrid, one online) during the 2014-2015 academic year, and we’ll be tracking them to see what we can learn about what works and what does not in each of their contexts.

We had several goals for this seminar, and primary among them was to carve out space for faculty to do the imagining, planning, and arranging of resources that are necessary to ensure a successful hybrid or online course. In some instances this meant assisting with the production of asynchronous lecture content. In others it meant thinking in very detailed ways about what kinds of interactions would take place in the classroom, what might be better done in online spaces (Blogs@Baruch, Vocat, and/or Blackboard), and how these varied modes of engagement would interact. In a few it meant thinking about how hybridization might open up the city as a classroom, and what kinds of flexibility and reasonable expectations could be bought by requiring students to attend class less frequently (in the vast majority of the hybrid courses currently being planned, students will attend class 50% of the time they would be expected to attend a f2f version). For each of these classes faculty members thought, wrote, and talked through how hybridization might potentially open up opportunities to reexamine or augment existing learning goals, and worked on designing or reshaping assignments and assessments that might work well in the new format. And each faculty member thought about the architecture of the online spaces they would deploy in their classes, focusing on usability, aesthetics, modes of interaction, and the flow of students and information through the space given the particular demands of their course.

Another goal of the spring seminar was to use the questions and concerns of faculty members to assess the readiness of existing structures on campus to support hybrid/online education. What information do students have access to about hybrid/online courses before they register? What information should they have access to? What was the best way to get them that access? What kinds of training do existing student support services on campus need to be able to adapt to new modes of instruction? What support do faculty members have for these courses, and how should it be augmented? What technologies are supported on campus, and what technologies might need to be supported in the near future? Do hybrid/online course require alterations to the ways that learning and laboratory spaces are configured, scheduled, and blocked? What are the implications on faculty workload, on access to the courses students need to graduate? The list goes on and on, and our job is frame the questions and then to begin to search for answers. What we’ve learned thus far can be seen in guides we’ve created for students and faculty involved in online or hybrid courses at Baruch (props to CTL Fellow Kate O’Donoghue for compiling these).

Our most important ongoing task is to construct evolving and deliberative processes to sustain dialogue around teaching and learning on campus. We remain insistent that that college’s online/hybrid instruction strategy emerge over time and in ongoing dialogue with the various constituencies at the college. If Baruch is to have a strategy driven by and responsive to the needs of this community then as wide an array of members of that community as possible must become involved. To do this we must build the capacity to sustain a range of models for course planning, training, staff outreach, and student engagement.

This strategy benefits from multiple faculty development structures, and at Baruch we are trying to move more towards programming that engages faculty in conversations about pedagogy that take place over time. Individual roundtables and workshops are terrific and can ignite interest and foment bonds of affinity, but they are less impactful than processes that engage a community of practitioners in inquiry into a narrow and knowable set of questions. The CTL Summer Seminar, which concluded last Friday, sustained a two week-effort to think through the implications of hybridizing two important, high-enrollment courses at Baruch: Great Works of Literature and Comm 1010 (“Introduction to Speech Communication”). This seminar was made up almost entirely of adjunct faculty members who met once in-person, and then worked online in disciplinary cohorts for the remainder of the time. They were each paid for 15 hours at the CUNY non-teaching adjunct rate. Participants wrote blog posts and comments about Jim Groom and Brian Lamb’s recent essay on the rhetoric of innovation in higher education, and Randy Bass’s seminal essay, “Engines of Inquiry.” They imagined the opportunities and risks involved in hybridizing the specific courses that were under consideration before moving into smaller cohorts by discipline. By the end of the seminar each cohort had produced a series of assignments that could be done online and in a distributed way, and that would satisfy or extend the learning goals of the course. This valuable work will inform hybrid course planning going forward in both Great Works and Comm 1010.

We’ve learned much from running these two seminars that we will take forward into our planning for next year. We feel they did a fantastic job of generating deep theoretical and practical dialogue about pedagogy and classroom practice, but we did not spend sufficient time on the technical training needed by faculty who will be teaching online and hybrid courses. The recurring two-week CUNY Program for Teaching Online does a good job of that, although it is focused entirely on Blackboard and thus runs the risk of limiting participants’ sense of what’s possible. Blogs@Baruch, Vocat, and Baruch’s vibrant WAC program give us the opportunity to develop hybrid and online courses on our campus that are powered primarily by increased opportunities for students to write, that are potentially open and networked, and that respond to the pedagogical opportunities around digital tools that many of our faculty members are eager to experiment with and shape.

Each of the twenty faculty members who participated in the two CTL seminars took the work seriously and did everything that was asked of them, and to a certain extent more intensive processes self-select those types. If you’re a committed teacher, you’re already likely willing to spend time and effort thinking about your teaching. But we also need faculty development processes that draw in participants who are more reticent, for whatever reason. Some may be conflicted about the goals of the college’s hybridization initiatives, some may be receiving pressure from their departments that dissuade them from commitments such as these. These are real issues that we’re working through, and doing so will take time and good will. Our plan is to continue to broaden the paths towards engagement with the questions at the heart of hybridization in an effort to draw as many people into the dialogue as possible. Attempting to do so is the clearest way to generate a strategy for hybrid/online instruction that’s truly a product of the expressed needs of our community.

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