Thursday, February 4, 2010

can student and faculty development happen simultaneously?

My job stands between academic and student affairs, at least as they are traditionally defined. Sometimes that is confusing; sometimes it helps me see.

We've been talking a lot lately here about faculty development--how to do it better, how to help it stretch beyond a single workshop, how to reach faculty beyond the group who seem to be up for everything, how to tie it to student learning and the college's learning goals, how to use it to transform the institution.

At the same time we also worry about student development--how to encourage it, how to build it into our programs, how to extend its reach beyond students who play sports, or lead clubs, or work on campus.

In the last little while it has become clear to me that the two things ought to go together more thoughtfully. Ask any faculty member who uses service-learning, or problem-based learning, or active learning and they will tell you that they are often challenged by students who simply want to be taught, not to do all this hands-on stuff. Ask any student where real learning takes place, and they are likely to say, "outside the classroom." Or, in other words, the effort to improve faculty work, and the effort to support student development not only happen apart from each other. They often work against each other. Faculty fear experimentation because students might complain. Students focus on life outside the classroom because life inside is less vital.

So, is there a way to get faculty and student development to work together instead of apart? Here are a couple of thoughts:

1. To do it we need to abandon the missionary model of development. The general assumption behind training and development is that someone who gets it teaches someone who doesn't. If all goes well, the receiver is converted--that person buys-in. But in much of what we do, the receiver doesn't buy in. Instead they resist, and the resistance makes the "missionary" resentful. In the faculty/student case, this is a particular problem because faculty and students have different power. The faculty member can compel students to participate; students can resist, fail to attend, criticize in evaluations. In other words, when things go badly, power makes it likely that both sides will be unhappy and ultimately step away from whatever the innovation is.

2. Development can happen jointly if students and faculty are united by a question or problem, to which no party knows the answer. In other words, there is no missionary. I'm not sure what this looks like in a classroom setting. In fact in many ways the classroom isn't the place for development at all. The classroom is performance. Development takes place before. At AACU I heard a session by Peter Felton of Elon University. He described a project that the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning sponsors, where faculty and students together rework a course that the professor has taught. They jointly look at evaluations, choose content, write the syllabus, design assessment, and then they offer the class--professor as professor, students as students. not surprisingly this is a hard, contentious, and powerful experience. And not surprisingly, the faculty and student development happens together. Students become more likely to understand why class takes the form it does; faculty to understand what student resistance means.

In their dependence on each other, both learn.

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