Friday, November 9, 2012

The Social Era: Changing How Faculty Learn to Teach

I've been doing a great deal of reflecting and discussing lately about some of the "ah ha" moments I've had in my Google Hangouts these past few months (my next on is this afternoon, by the way -- see my Hangouts Page for details!).  This morning a read a great, brief post on the Chronicle written by Robert Talbert titled "The social element of learning about effective teaching strategies" and it seems to fold many of my own realizations into a nice summary.

Building off ideas from Theron Hitchman's Circles and Tangents blog and citing research from Henderson, et al., he notes that, "Publishing about effective teaching strategies in journals is somewhat effective in getting others to become aware of and adopt those strategies, but not as effective as going to to workshops, and that's not as effective as one-on-one interaction with a person who uses such methods."  And this is precisely why the social era is disrupting our traditional "workshop based" model of faculty development, in a good way.

Today, faculty members can develop their own Personal Learning Networks on Twitter and/or Google+ and join Hangouts on Google+ to share teaching practices.  A Hangout is a group conversation between up to ten people from anywhere in the world and when you start a Hangout as a Hangout "On Air" (which is optional) it is streamed live to the web so an unlimited number of people can view it and it is also automatically archived to your YouTube channel.  Check out the Google+ for Universities page to learn more about getting started.

I teach an online faculty development class called "Building Online Community with Social Media, " and in that class I observe faculty (mostly who teach online or who are preparing to teach online at community colleges in California) share problems, challenges, and reflect on opportunities.  What I have learned is that faculty are struggling to solve many of the same huge problems, often in complete isolation or with small groups at their local institutions, rather than opening outward and leveraging the robust community of which we are a part.

As faculty, we must recognize that we are all lifetime learners understanding how to design and facilitate effective, meaningful, relevant learning environments for our students.  That's not an easy task in an ever-changing technological society with financially strapped faculty development budgets.

In the social era, no longer do part-timers (who teach most of the college classes in the U.S. today) need to feel marginalized from institutional teaching communities.  No longer are faculty restricted by our physical campus boundaries to learn only from those who teach on our campus.  In today's digital, mobile society, each of us may construct our own teaching community and learn together.

The social era is changing the landscape of many elements of our society and faculty development is certainly on the list.  As most of us who work at public institutions sit back and watch our faculty development budgets be slashed and our technology and pedagogy support staff vanish, these are crucial ideas to ponder and discuss.

Thoughts, ideas, reactions are welcome, as always!

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