As long as we’ve been writing blog posts on faculty development, we’ve been stressing the importance of innovating on the fly, of being willing to use the design thinking process of creating low-resolution solutions or implementing an idea before it’s fully fleshed out.
One constant to which we often return is the Faculty Innovators (FIs), our select group of higher education faculty members who take professional development right back to the colleges and departments. Another such creation is our DEEP system for any-time, any-place online professional development.
A problem with our and our administration’s willingness to go with not-fully-formed projects is that things will go wrong. While we usually tout the success of innovation, we admit to failures. Our LEAF (Learning Environment for Academia’s Future) project, for instance, was halted because 1) the administration was not willing to commit any more money to an ideal classroom (including technology) and 2) we didn’t have the assessments to prove its worth.
In short, a willingness to spot and address problems with on-going innovations is just as important as the actual on-the-fly implementations of not-fully-formed ideas.
Formalizing the Faculty Innovators
In less than two years, our Faculty Innovators program seems successful. When we started it, however, we gave ourselves two years for phase one, in which we launched the program and started sailing forward. When the three of us assessed our current situation, we knew that by the upcoming fall we needed to develop two things for our FI program—an organizational chart and an application process.
One principle we applied to the Faculty Innovators came from research into group work. After all, the FIs are a group, and the same principles should hold. Instructors employing groups in class know that a key problem with group work is that the alphas tend to do all the work, while the students at the opposite end of the spectrum often become free-riders. Two solutions come to mind. One, keep your groups small and provide each member of the group with an assigned (and rotating) responsibility. Someone can act as facilitator, someone as secretary, someone as spokesperson when groups report out, and someone is chief writer/organizer. Two, hand out assessments so that each member of the group evaluates the efforts of every other member.
Utilizing this philosophy, we created an organizational chart for our current FIs that looks approximately like the following:
Faculty Innovators Organizational Chart
- Executive Committee (Directors of Noel Studio and Teaching & Learning Center)
- Leadership Team
- FI Coordinator
- Outreach & Publicity Coordinator
- DEEP Coordinator
- Program Coordinator (TLI Series, PLCs, B&Bs, & Dialogues)
- Faculty Innovators
- FI Consulting Scholars (e.g., Bev Hart, Doris Pierce, Tim Forde)
As you can see, the Faculty Innovators’ program now has four distinct levels—the Executive Committee, the Leadership Team, the Faculty Innovators themselves, and the FI Consulting Scholars (essentially the first class of FIs, some of whom have gone to part-time status). And we’re not done. In the future we would like to provide each of the remaining FIs with a duty. One, for instance, could be Recruiting Coordinator of the next class of FIs, while still another might be in charge of our most important function as faculty developers, New Faculty Orientation. Still another might handle our annual assessments.
Formalization goes slower than the original idea, but it is just as important to lock down and define responsibilities as we figure them out. Truthfully, when we first came up with the FI concept, we could not have imagined all the intricacies with which we have had to work.
In our first year we actively recruited the FIs from those on campus who most attended our functions and sought us out. In the second phase, starting this spring, we want faculty able to self-nominate as well as have a system that allows faculty, deans, and chairs to nominate prospective FIs.
So, recently we created an online application for all these groups that contained the following fields to fill in:
- Years at the Institution
- Does your chair/program supervisor support your application?
- Does your dean support your application?
- Explain in 250 words or less why you would like to be a Faculty Innovator.
As you can tell from the application, essentially we are looking for full-time, tenure-track faculty with sufficient experience who are recognized by administrators as worthy and who want to contribute. In short, we want passionate leaders.
Formalization of an idea is a never-ending struggle. No matter what you create, you will always feel you can create more. And in truth, the act of creating is for us much easier than the acts of management and formalization.
Ph.D Hal Blythe writes literary criticism to mystery stories. In addition to the eleven books he’s published with New Forums, Hal has collaborated on four books on a variety of subjects, over 1000 pieces of fiction/nonfiction, and a host of television scripts and interactive mysteries performed by their repertory company. He is currently co-director of the Teaching and Learning Center for Eastern Kentucky University. Meet Hal Blythe.