Faculty Learning Communities for Mentoring Biology Faculty

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Title of Abstract: Faculty Learning Communities for Mentoring Biology Faculty

Name of Author: Shivanthi Anandan
Author Company or Institution: Drexel University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Faculty Development
Approaches: Adding to the literature on how people learn, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Faculty Development
Keywords: Faculty learning communities, Faculty mentoring, Faculty development

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Barbara Hornum, Drexel University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Faculty mentoring and support are vital components for the retention and advancement of this cohort in an academic institution. Faculty learning communities or FLCs, offer a novel, community-based strategy for the mentoring of Biology faculty in student teaching and learning. The major advantage of this type of mentoring is that it is not discipline specific, and, thus, not based on discipline-specific content. Rather, the individual FLCs explore and design practices that are advantageous to the heterogeneous group as a whole. Three Biology faculty are involved in these FLCs: two as members of the topic-based FLCs Classroom Technology, and Investigating Writing Instruction at Drexel: Best Practices for Student Writing in the Disciplines, and one (myself) as facilitator of the cohort-based FLC Community Building for Mentoring International Faculty. The involvement of three Biology faculty in the university-wide FLC program offers many advantages not only to the individual faculty member, but also to the department as a whole. The FLC strategy has also promoted discussions and connections between diverse faculty members who might not otherwise have met, given their disparate departments and teaching schedule. This could lead to new collaborations amongst faculty members, leading to improved teaching in the classroom. These best practices can then be disseminated to departmental colleagues via informal discussions, and through discussions at faculty meetings and retreats. In the long term, the application of the faculty member’s best practices could be used in the scholarship of teaching and learning, allowing dissemination to the larger Biology community.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: At Drexel University, the Drexel Center for Academic Drexel Center for Academic Excellence (DCAE) was established in 2005 to provide resources for the teaching and learning mission of the university. Since faculty learning communities (FLCs) are documented to be an excellent strategy for the support and mentoring of faculty at other institutions, a process was initiated for establishing FLCs at this institution. The intent was to support and mentor faculty to enhance student teaching and learning. After peer review by DCAE fellows, five FLCs were established: Classroom Technology, Community Building for Mentoring International Faculty, International students: Teaching and Learning Opportunities, Investigating Writing Instruction at Drexel: Best Practices for Student Writing in the Disciplines, and Online Teaching and Learning: Best Practices. We believe that FLCs have several advantages over traditional workshops: they offer an informal mechanism for bringing together diverse faculty from around the university, discussion is centered on a topic relevant to many disciplines and the participants benefit from each other’s discipline-based experience, the topic(s) discussed pertain, directly or indirectly, to student teaching and learning, and the discussion among the FLC members takes place at regular intervals over the course of an academic year. The FLCs, we believe, are a better strategy for promoting sustained faculty mentoring that leads to better practices for student teaching and learning.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Assessment of the FLCs’ impact on faculty will look at faculty satisfaction with the program, and ask faculty members to reflect on their experiences. The assessment will be done through surveys and by reflective essays describing the benefit of the FLC to the individual. Particular emphasis will be placed on determining how the FLC impacted the faculty member’s teaching practices.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: In the Community Building for Mentoring International Faculty FLC we have already discussed in depth the topic of grant funding for international faculty. We identified specific action items related to this topic, and discussed the results of our investigation with the Office of Faculty Development. It has been suggested by the FLC participants that this FLC continue for a second year, and that we recruit a “junior” cadre of international faculty who will be mentored by this year’s “senior” cohort. Anecdotally, I have heard that this FLC strategy has helped to mentor faculty in adapting to the expectations of faculty in teaching and research at this university (junior faculty), and has identified mentoring opportunities (senior faculty). The FLCs also serve to promote collegiality amongst our faculty that are spread over three city campuses. We plan to expand the FLC program next year, specifically to focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning. In the next five years, we will expand the FLC program to include topics and cohorts requested by faculty.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Our major challenge was in getting the members of a faculty learning community together for the meetings. Since the members of a faculty learning community come from different departments, their schedules are very diverse. We have learned that it is best to ask faculty to commit to meeting dates at the start of each quarter for a particular academic quarter.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We will disseminate the results of our survey data to the faculty at large. These data will inform our decisions on supporting new faculty learning communities in the next few years. The feedback from our faculty has been positive, and we are using this feedback to establish new faculty learning communities for this academic year. We are also using the feedback from faculty to improve our selection criteria and review process of applications for facilitating and establishing a faculty learning community. Dissemination to the Drexel faculty cohort is via email, and FLC participants have disseminated the concept of the FLC to the faculty in their home departments. Eventually our data will be submitted as a manuscript.

Acknowledgements: We want to thank the Provost’s office at Drexel University for funding the faculty learning community initiative. We also thank the facilitators of the faculty learning communities for all their efforts: Barbara Hoekje, Scott Warnock and Dan Driscoll, Daniel King, and Janet Zimmerman. We also wish to thank the members of the faculty learning communities for their participation and enthusiasm throughout this past academic year. We could not have done it without them!