One thing CTLs can do effectively is bring together people from across campus with like interests, especially people who might not otherwise meet. Just as a heart has a diastolic and a systolic purpose, so a good CTL functions as the heart of campus. In our Introduction to Applied Creative Thinking (2012), we discuss several advantages of collaboration–participants:
- Increase ideation levels
- Become more sociable
- Generate enthusiasm
- Break down barriers
- Sharpen communication and communication skills, and
- Use others’ strengths to compensate for weaknesses (pp. 46-47).
The two collaborations, or focused faculty groups, we have found work the best are the Breakfast and a Book (B&B) and the Professional Learning Community (PLC). We’ll discuss the former this time and the latter next time.
Breakfast and Book Definition
One step above the traditional literary salons, the Breakfast and a Book program is nothing more than a faculty and administrator book discussion group. Obviously any book selected must deal with a significant issue in higher education. After inviting applicants, we usually select 15 from various disciplines as the cross-pollination of reactions from across campus seems important. We choose 15 even though we know an ideal discussion group is smaller because inevitably some folks will drop out. To encourage participation we choose a strong facilitator and book with great appeal. We pay for the books and allow faculty to keep them (as well as the knowledge gained). And because of our faith in a cardinal belief of CTLs—if you feed them, they will come—we supply them with a continental breakfast. B&Bs last a minimum of six weeks, some go on for the entire semester, and some get repeated semester after semester. B&Bs differ from their cousin, professional learning communities, in that no product is demanded. Discussion and reflection are all that is necessary.
Best Times for Breakfast and Book Meetups
Years ago we asked the registrar to research the classes at our university in order to discover at what times the faculty are most free—i.e., at what class hour are the fewest classes. The answer came back at the 8:00 and 3:30 class blocks. When we surveyed the faculty, they confirmed the registrar’s view and explained that those are the times they are most involved in taking their kids to school and picking them up (our university runs a K-12 laboratory school where buses are not part of the package). We also ran across a study that showed most people experience a significant drop in energy/blood sugar around 3:00 each afternoon. As a result, we figured out the ideal time for a Breakfast and a Book was 8:15, immediately after the kids were dropped at school and the faculty arrived. We’ve since found that more and more departments are doing away with Friday classes, so the Friday 8:15-9:15 time slot was selected.
Choosing a Book and Facilitator
Every year we put out a call for interested facilitators and books they would like to use. Training a facilitator is easy as we simply lead the first session and let the prospective facilitator learn by watching. Most faculty, especially if they are used to discussion with their classes (vs. pure lecturers), find the facilitator role easy to adapt to. If they have trouble or want help, we’ll usually sit in for a longer time. Our office sits off the faculty lounge where B&Bs are held, so we’re always around to help.
Recently, for example, the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies became enamored with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (2013). While the book wasn’t based on academia, with its insights on women attaining leadership roles, it certainly was easily applicable to the higher education arena. Another dean, who had become a believer in teaching squares during her prior existence as a faculty member, couldn’t find a book on the subject, so she performed some research, then put together a file of significant materials. Fear not, we didn’t change the name of the event to Breakfast and Duplicated Copies.
Sometimes we run across an interesting book and ask someone to facilitate a B&B on it. That happened immediately after we read Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows (2010) about how the Internet has rewired our students’ brains and again after the Chronicle of Higher Education brought our attention to how little students are learning in Arum & Roksa’s Academically Adrift (2011). In the future we’d love to run a B&B based on the Heath brothers’ Made To Stick (2007), which, though centered on politics and advertising, has many applications to postsecondary education.
Why Launch A Breakfast and Book Program
A few years ago in one of our B&Bs, the facilitator, who was from loss prevention, and a participant from psychology found through the dialogue that they had some research ideas in common. Since then, we know they have worked on three published collaborations.
In B&Bs everyone learns, and some people learn more and come up with more effective applications of the ideas. And how often do you see faculty and administrators sitting down to talk for an hour?
Charlie Sweet is currently Co-Director of the Teaching & Learning Center (2007+) at Eastern Kentucky University. Before going over to the dark side of administration, for 37 years he taught American Lit and Creative Writing in EKU’s Department of English & Theatre, where he also served as chair (2003-2006). Collabo-writing with Hal Blythe, he has published well over 1000 items, including 15 books; of his 11 books with New Forums. Meet Charlie.