An Innovative Plan for Assessing Faculty Development

Sunday night we had supper with assessment guru Peggy Maki, author of the forthcoming Real-Time Assessment, and while she was picking apart her eggplant parmigiana, we were picking her brain on how to assess faculty development. While we didn’t learn anything startling, we received sufficient help so that next year we can try a new form of professional development assessment. One caveat. Traditionally, assessment types focus on student learning, so we have had to translate Peggy’s thoughts into faculty learning.

Related reading: How Design Thinking Helps Innovate Faculty Development, Part 2

A Very Short History of Assessing Faculty Development

When we started in faculty development at the beginning of this century, the go-to form of assessment was quantitative analysis. Administrators asked for the number of seats filled in each event and how many faculty were reached during the year (typically 10%). The next phase was the Satisfaction Survey. Along with books and take-aways/hand-outs, faculty were given a short assessment tool with a Likert scale and asked to rate their satisfaction with the event from 1-5. From satisfaction we moved to learning surveys. Same idea, same scale, but with questions such as:

  • Did you learn anything valuable at today’s workshop?
  • Do you plan to implement anything you learned today?

The major problem was our lack of follow-up. Regrettably, a year or two later, we never asked the workshop’s original participants if anything they learned helped their students learn.

Now as postsecondary education is being required by the public, accrediting agencies, and even state governments to demonstrate student learning, so too professional developers are asked to show that faculty participants learned something, they did something, and greater student learning resulted.

The problem has always been: how do we find evidence that links faculty learning from centers for teaching and learning (CTLs) directly to student learning? Thanks to Peggy we have some ideas.

Related Reading: Using Creative Thinking to Innovate Faculty Development

Some Guidelines

Sunday night Peggy introduced us to another belief of current assessment experts—quick feedback. While providing that feedback is most important for students, especially those in danger of flunking a course/flunking out of school, faculty likewise need some sort of systematic appraisal of their teaching immediately. In short, real-time assessment has become a necessity—the sooner the message is delivered, the faster the professor can aid students.

  1. Obviously, a professional development assessment needs to be immediate. Faculty must get some fast feedback. Early and timely interventions can head off problems later, reinforce good ideas, and point out problems with approaches being used.
  2. Create a manageable cohort. Try to find a group that you can be tracked without a lot of hard work and that has some reason to be thought of together. Having early and constant access to the group helps.
  3. Focus on one thing or just a few things to assess. Make it/them fundamental and powerful concepts. Too many assessments try to accomplish too much. Start small.
  4. Faculty like student learners need frequent iteration of the fundamental and powerful concept(s). If at all possible try to theme a semester or even a year.
  5. Emphasize the application of the idea over simply knowing the idea. Figure out a way to evaluate the concept applied/in action.
  6. In dealing with a cohort, try to develop a common language. Use the same words in various opportunities.

A Tentative Plan

Well, as Alice says in Wonderland, “It seems very pretty,” but how do we translate these guidelines into a workable plan? If there is such a thing as real-time assessment, then there’s also real-time planning, which is how you are receiving this material—in real time as we sort through the ideas. Admittedly, our plans aren’t fleshed out, but here’s what we’d like to do in the next academic year.

  1. Immediacy. We’d like to implement a faculty development program next fall that would give our cohort feedback during the same time frame.
  2. Manageable Cohort. Our hope is to use the new faculty that will be joining us in the fall. They are manageable in that the cohort is usually less than fifty, they have a commonality in their newness, and as purveyors of New Faculty Orientation, we usually see them first and collect an email list of them before they even arrive on campus.
  3. One-Thing Focus. As we have just written a book for New Forums called Transforming Your Students into Deep Learners (2016) and provide eight excellent strategies for so doing, a theme of deep learning would be in our wheelhouse. Besides, in her presentation to the faculty, Peggy discussed deep learning, especially in the sense of being able to transfer knowledge, as the goal of higher education.
  4. Frequent Iteration. Since we helm the Teaching & Learning Innovations Series of workshops and most series consist of ten events, each workshop could focus on one deep learning strategy. And we have eight strategies to form the basis for eight workshops.
  5. Emphasize Application. Whatever we present, we would have to persuade our cohort to apply during the fall. How do we assess the student learning resulting from that application? As we said, this plan is a work in progress, and here is the stickiest point, but luckily we are running a professional learning community (PLC) this semester on the latest on peer observation.
  6. Common Language. This guideline is easy to fulfill. We can hand out our book during New Faculty orientation and even go over the basic concepts and definitions before the semester starts. Transforming Your Students into Deep Learners can function simultaneously as our dictionary and sourcebook. Maybe we should run the entire cohort of new faculty like a PLC.

Conclusion

We have a basic plan, four months, an able body of instructors—ten Faculty Innovators (FIs) to help us—and a retreat with the FIs next month. Don’t you just love it when a good plan starts to come together?

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Author

Russell CarpenterDr. Russell Carpenter is director of the Noel Studio for Academic Creativity and Program Director of the Minor in Applied Creative Thinking at Eastern Kentucky University. He is also Assistant Professor of English. Dr. Carpenter has published on the topic of creative thinking, among other areas, including two texts by New Forums Press. In addition, he has taught courses in creative thinking in EKU’s Minor in Applied Creative Thinking, which was featured in the New York Times in February 2014. Meet Russell.