Faculty Development and Student Learning: Assessing the Connections

Faculty Development and Student Learning: Assessing the Connections


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Colleges and universities across the US have created special initiatives to promote faculty development, but to date there has been little research to determine whether such programs have an impact on students' learning. Faculty Development and Student Learning reports the results of a multi-year study undertaken by faculty at Carleton College and Washington State University to assess how students’ learning is affected by faculty members’ efforts to become better teachers. Extending recent research in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) to assessment of faculty development and its effectiveness, the authors show that faculty participation in professional development activities positively affects classroom pedagogy, student learning, and the overall culture of teaching and learning in a college or university.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253018786
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 02/15/2016
Series: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
Pages: 172
Sales rank: 905,173
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

William Condon is Professor of English at Washington State University. He is coauthor of Writing the Information Superhighway and Assessing the Portfolio: Principles for Theory, Practice, and Research.

Ellen R. Iverson is Director of Evaluation at the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College.

Cathryn A. Manduca is Director of the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College.

Carol Rutz is Director of the Writing Program at Carleton College.

Gudrun Willett is Project Director for the Tracer Project and an associate at Ethnoscapes Global, LLC.

Read an Excerpt

Faculty Development and Student Learning

Assessing the Connections

By William Condon, Ellen R. Iverson, Cathryn A. Manduca, Carol Rutz, Gudrun Willett

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2016 William Condon, Ellen R. Iverson, Cathryn A. Manduca, Carol Rutz, and Gudrun Willett
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01886-1


Connecting Faculty Learning to Student Learning

The relationship between teaching and learning is fundamental to higher education. The premise of higher education is that teaching by highly educated individuals engaged in ongoing learning of their own produces a valuable opportunity for students to learn essential knowledge and skills that will prepare them for life and career. This book's title captures some reigning buzzwords in higher education: faculty development, student learning, and assessment — words that describe pieces of the puzzle of understanding and improving the relationship between teaching and learning. The research reported in this book demonstrates that these common terms belong together through evidence from two distinctly different institutions gathered over three years through a mixed-methods study. Unpacking these anodyne terms may be useful.

If any programmatic term is likely to induce a wince, surely it would be "faculty development." Faculty themselves tend to read the term as an indication of shortcomings that require attention and active correction. While administrators recognize that faculty are employees first and need some orientation to a new workplace, it may be difficult to justify spending resources on additional opportunities for faculty highly qualified to manage learning within their disciplines to learn about teaching. Students may praise or complain about individual faculty, yet they seem to grant faculty expertise and professionalism. The notion that faculty should apply the lifelong learning that they advocate for students to the professional practice of teaching may not register.

"Assessment" attempts to map learning gains onto the curriculum and, in some cases, the co-curriculum, to show how students benefit from instruction and skills practice during their college careers. Attention from accreditors and state legislatures has raised the stakes for many institutions, demanding not just valid assessment measures, but continuous improvement in student learning based on findings.

"Student learning" would be the heart of any educational institution's mission, applicable to the curriculum and the co-curriculum, with the goal of providing an education for persons who aspire to post-graduate lives as citizens, workers, leaders, and family members. Measures of student learning, from course grades to assessment instruments such as surveys, portfolios, and barrier exams, speak to classroom experiences parsed in units of terms, years, and graduation requirements.

The three terms tend to march in pairs, with student learning as a kind of fulcrum: faculty development, understood in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) sense, offers teaching faculty opportunities to learn new approaches, technologies, and more. As a result, faculty apply their new learning to the classroom in a research mode, aiming to improve student learning. Student learning, however, pairs more neatly with assessment, divorcing statistical findings from the classroom experiences informed by faculty members' growing knowledge and professional development. Integrating faculty development and student learning requires assessment of both kinds of teaching and learning. How do faculty use the learning they acquire through development activities to improve their teaching? As teaching improves, does student learning also improve?

Through an extensive mixed-methods study conducted on two campuses, Carleton College and Washington State University, this study traces (hence the nickname Tracer Project) the effects of faculty development into students' learning through course work products and, more generally, into the institutional culture that supports a teaching community. This research supports the goal of understanding the relationship between faculty development, teaching practice, and student learning with findings that show clearly that faculty want to improve their teaching, take advantage of institutional opportunities to do so, and strive to change their teaching to deliver better learning opportunities to their students.

Some of the Tracer Project's findings confirm existing research in SoTL. For example, one important reason that colleges and universities provide teacher development programming is that, for the most part, people who become college faculty learn far more about teaching as in-service teachers than they do as pre-service graduate students (Austin, Connolly, and Colbeck 2008) — if for no other reason than they are faculty far longer than they are graduate students. Existing studies also reveal ways that faculty development affects teaching practices: those who take advantage of development opportunities report changing their classroom approaches as well as assignment and course designs (Gibbs and Coffey 2004; Austin, Connolly, and Colbeck 2008; Fishman et al. 2003; Loucks-Horsley et al. 2003; Garet et al. 2001). Whether or how such changes affect students' learning is not necessarily clear from these studies. Some studies indicate that teaching approaches can influence students' interest and in turn their learning (Pressick-Kilborn and Walker 2002; Hidi and Renninger 2006): the Tracer Project sought more direct evidence of improvements in student's learning outcomes — in their work products. Without such key information faculty development programs remain vulnerable, tentative, even ephemeral at many, if not most, colleges and universities.

Seeking an answer to whether improving faculty members' teaching practices leads to improved students' learning leads to analyzing institutional actions and conditions that promote faculty development, reflective teaching practices, and identifying and promulgating best practices in the classroom. An understanding of effective teaching in higher education must also include a view of faculty learning, institutional conditions that encourage and support it, and its effects on students. Higher education as a whole must understand how students' learning is affected by faculty members' efforts to become better teachers and how faculty members, in their efforts to become better teachers, might make common cause, thus promulgating a visibly positive culture of teaching and learning on their campuses. In doing so, taking a holistic view is important not only because it promotes a systemic approach to improving teaching and learning but also because it renders a better picture of the faculty learning process itself (Wayne, Yoon, Zhu, Cronen, and Garet 2008).

A metaphor for the resulting structure is a kind of dual spiral — not a double helix, but two separate intertwined spirals, one of which represents an individual faculty member's experience and learning and a second that stands for what faculty members working together might produce in the way of community learning — a community of practice, perhaps, or a productive culture of teaching and learning. The individual's spiral takes account of the iterative nature of teaching in higher education. Faculty members tend to teach the same set of courses repeatedly over time. In olden times, the figure of the white-haired scholar with his yellowed lecture notes that never changed from term to term provided a visual for that iterative process. However, faculty who work on their teaching develop assignments and other assessment techniques that help them understand how well students are learning; and so from iteration to iteration, teachers learn how to make the course more effective for students. Thus, rather than circling back to the beginning point, the knowledge gained from the previous iterations results in beginning at a new, more informed point — the motion is more like a spiral. The collective spiral may begin at a particular point — a faculty development effort, a SoTL self-study, a department's goal-setting session, an institutional review of its mission — and open up its radius and its influence over time, as the emerging new culture adds knowledge to everyone's teaching. Both spirals are self-contained yet remain open to new influences, and the latter one freely accommodates additional participants.

When considering connections between faculty learning, teaching, and student learning, higher education must own a collective image problem: faculty and administrators are perceived as not caring about teaching. Supportive, effective cultures of teaching and learning are rarely obvious, perhaps because faculty members' efforts to improve their teaching are simply not as visible as other areas of their work (Beyer, Taylor, and Gillmore 2013; Shulman 1993). Three recent books that, curiously, both attack and support higher education all aim to reform the academy's practices. All three focus substantially on the need to improve student learning outcomes, and all three — ally and adversary alike — operate from the unsupported assumption that faculty care less about teaching than about other aspects of their jobs — primarily research. Arum and Roksa's Academically Adrift (2011) identifies a lack of attention to or ability for teaching as a major reason for deficiencies in student learning across the academy. However, their assertions about how faculty devalue teaching are grounded in data that actually show the opposite — that students' gains on a very general instrument such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment are consistent and occur across all categories the authors analyzed (Haswell 2012). These assumptions are just that — assumptions. They are, in rhetorical terms, commonplaces, accepted by the audience as part of what everyone knows. Everyone "knows" that faculty are rewarded for research; hence, everyone "knows" that faculty don't care about teaching. Two more recent volumes, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be (Delbanco 2012) and We're Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education (Keeling and Hersh 2012), provide a similar attack, but from within. Keeling and Hersh bemoan the "absence of a serious culture of teaching and learning, and the consequent insufficient quality and quantity of student learning" (175). Delbanco chimes in that "our colleges and universities are failing to deliver true higher learning" and that "learning is no longer the first priority of our university" (1). According to both books, faculty who care more about research than about teaching play a major role in the decline. In both, too, no evidence is offered to support the assumption that faculty do not value teaching: that "truth" is simply asserted.

That such a commonplace persists in spite of research to the contrary is cause for alarm — and a call for further research about teaching and learning. It is tempting to counter such attacks before carefully examining the aspects of the commonplace that seem true. In fact, most who teach in higher education can identify examples of the stereotype — though for a number of reasons, the stereotype is becoming rarer and rarer — and perhaps it exists most prominently in the kinds of institution on which Arum and Roksa, Keeling and Hirsh, and Delbanco focus: the elite, international research universities that do feature prominently in their mission the investigation into new knowledge. At some institutions — and for some faculty at most institutions — the focus on research can overtake the focus on teaching, particularly when research funding results in supplanting teaching responsibilities (Fairweather and Beach 2002). However, for most higher education faculty, the classroom remains a major focus. For some years, surveys of college faculty have revealed that even at research universities — where the requirements for research are greatest and therefore most in conflict with teaching duties — the majority of faculty spend over a quarter of their time preparing for teaching and another quarter of their time in scheduled teaching (Eagan et al. 2014). Faculty cannot easily ignore or neglect an activity that occupies almost half their time and attention. So in one way or another, faculty do learn to become better teachers. Some learn through formal events that focus on improving teaching — the equivalent of in-service training. Huber and Hutchings (2005), however, remind the academy that "the knowledge needed for teaching is often deeply contextual and tied closely to the details of classroom practice" (122). Teachers mine their practices and those of their colleagues as they learn. In other words, improvement happens via individual, intentional actions that affect teaching incrementally, over time. Finally, faculty receive feedback on the quality of their teaching at many points in their professional lives; hiring practices, annual reviews, and the tenure and promotion process, to mention but a few, all provide high-stakes evaluation and feedback on teaching. Still, the fact that many are so ready to believe the commonplace that college faculty do not care about teaching — even among college and university faculty — is a problem that needs to be examined with data rather than mere assumptions.

When faculty learn more about teaching, logic dictates that they become better teachers; and when faculty become better teachers, their students learn more or experience better learning. Faculty should be able to respond more effectively to the ever-changing demands of the classroom if they are (1) well informed by educational and learning research; (2) learn what is working (and not) in their own and others' classrooms; and (3) have iterative opportunities to learn, practice, and reflect upon a repertoire of teaching strategies and skills. Faculty learning encompasses three sites for improving teaching:

1. Formal faculty development activities such as workshops, brown bags, professional conferences, or colloquia;

2. Intentional, self-directed efforts to examine and improve one's own teaching, as seen in the SoTL movement and in other research that considers the independent actions faculty take to improve their teaching (Beyer, Taylor, and Gillmore 2013; Handelsman et al. 2004; Mettetal 2001; Kember 2002); and

3. Routine events — annual reviews, hiring processes, departmental goal setting — that are by no means intended as sites for learning about teaching but that carry incidental opportunities to do so, if institutions learn to take advantage of those opportunities.

The challenge is to trace the effects of those developmental opportunities into the classroom and from there into student learning.

Formal Faculty Development

This book outlines questions, methods, and findings that begin to untangle this fascinating chain of learning relationships — for teachers as well as students. In terms of traditional faculty development — intentional, in-service activities overtly planned to improve various aspects of teaching performance — the study produced evidence that faculty who participate in professional development activities do alter classroom pedagogy in ways congruent with the development. Thus, faculty who most evidently do care about their teaching make a point to join in a collective effort to improve teaching and learning, and those efforts pay off at least in how participating faculty design courses and assignments, how they employ new technologies in their teaching, how they respond to and evaluate students' learning, and in many other ways. The subsequent effects on student learning are clearly more difficult to trace, due to a host of confounding variables. Nonetheless, the study produced tantalizing results obtained from mixed-methods research on the two campuses. However, the greatest effects concern the aggregate impact of multiple professional development experiences and the varied interactions they generate among instructors on a campus. The study shows that these effects are large, extend beyond the participants in formal faculty development programs, and guide an institutional culture that supports reflective, scholarly teaching. This generative culture of teaching and learning provides the crucial environment for ongoing faculty learning that benefits students, faculty, and the institution as a whole.


Excerpted from Faculty Development and Student Learning by William Condon, Ellen R. Iverson, Cathryn A. Manduca, Carol Rutz, Gudrun Willett. Copyright © 2016 William Condon, Ellen R. Iverson, Cathryn A. Manduca, Carol Rutz, and Gudrun Willett. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword: Pathways from Faculty Learning to Student Learning and Beyond, by Mary Taylor Huber

1. Connecting Faculty Learning to Student Learning

2. Sites of Faculty Learning

3. Seeking the Evidence

4. Faculty Learning Applied

5. Spreading the Benefits

6. Reaching Students

7. Faculty Development Matters

Afterword, by Richard Haswell

Appendix 1: Critical and Integrative Thinking Forms, Washington State University, 2009

Appendix 2: Methodologies in the Study

Appendix 3: History of the Critical Thinking Rubric

Appendix 4: Rating Forms




What People are Saying About This

North Carolina State University - Chris M. Anson

This book provides a careful study not only of the ways that faculty development changes teachers’ conceptions of student learning and how to foster it, but what those changes actually yield in student achievement. At a time of major pressures for higher education institutions to defend their value and account for their outcomes, this book could not be more welcome.

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