According to Beach, Sorcinelli, Austin, and Rivard in Faculty Development in the Age of Evidence (2016), at the top of their list of “Directors [of CTLs] Signature Series by Institutional Type” is New Faculty Orientation [NFO] with 36% of institutions (p. 60), yet on their list of “Top Issues Faculty Development Should Address in the Next Five Years,” NFO falls to number 21. We disagree.
Rationale for New Faculty Orientation’s Importance
In our Innovating Faculty Development (2016), we have a section devoted to NFO. Actually, we believe that NFO is the singular most important service that a CTL renders. Why? Without going over all the clichés on first impressions, we’ll just say that NFO is the new faculty member’s gateway to the university. It introduces the new hires to the way the university thinks. It’s an embodiment of the institution’s core values. As such, all new faculty at our university are bombarded with letters from the provost, emails from us, and constant signs that “Excellence in Teaching Is Job One,” which is Strategic Goal #1 in the University’s 2020 Strategic Plan.
Second, new faculty are a university’s greatest investment. Not only should you check out your university budget to see the importance of personnel, but consider this. Hiring a new faculty member at the bottom of the nation-wide scale of faculty salaries still over a career represents a million-dollar investment. At some schools, that figure triples. Just as you spend the greatest amount of time with your largest personal investments, so should a university shepherd the new flock through the process to protect that major investment.
Third, as every institution constantly inaugurates culture shifts, small and large, the easiest group to affect is new faculty. Every five years most schools issue a new strategic plan that starts with its institutional values. Transmitting those immediately is the best way to proceed.
The Times They Are A-Changing
We are doing more than just quoting America’s Nobel Prize winner in Literature. Higher education is always undergoing change. Our state, for instance, is going to a performance-based funding system, and as a regional institution we will be affected. At our Pedagogicon 2016 last May, Kentucky State University president Aaron Thompson gave an address about the changing demographics of our students as we say goodbye to the Millennials and welcome Generation Z, a different animal. Funding is being cut back nationally, and no one knows what changes the Trump administration will make to the federal view, including grants. Faculty demographics differ from yesterday as more and more new faculty view the professoriate as a nine-to-five job.
Obviously, then, while retaining our core values, we must change new faculty orientation to address these differences. For us, one change is paramount. The state group that controls higher education, in putting forward their performance-based funding model, emphasizes retention rates and graduation rates, especially among minorities and low-income populations. Such metrics impose responsibilities on us for New Faculty Orientation.
Changes to New Faculty Orientation
The truth is that as we have demonstrated in previous posts on NFO we make changes every year to improve our process. This coming fall we will once again concentrate on the strategies of effective teaching, but we will be adding a new section on the demographics of the typical student. In preparation for this occasion, we have started by doing research on Generation Z-ers in general and the makeup of our student population that comes essentially from a 22-county, poverty-stricken region in our state. In addition, we have launched a research project into our students’ perceptions of effective teaching both for learning and likeability. We have created a survey that will be going out across the student body as soon as the spring semester begins. And, because we want to see if the student trends hold around the state, we have enlisted a CTL on the other side of the state to give the same survey to his student body.
For years we have discussed the strategies that higher ed faculty believe to be the most effective in promoting deep learning. What fascinates us now is a research question: do students believe in the same pedagogical strategies that we value? In addition, we are trying to factor in what traits make students “like” a professor in a slightly more scientific manner than Rate My Professor.
What will our program look like in August? The results of the survey get us part way there. Figuring out how to workshop this material is necessary to bring the project home from second base.
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.