99 Tips for Faculty Development in End Times

Okay three. Three tips.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately. Sometimes these pandemic days move so slowly. I am restless. I want to move freely through art museums and used bookstores. I am one of the more cautious folks, and I have been in this house too much for too long.

Georgia O’Keeffe painting
The last time I went to an art museum was a trip to the MFA for my birthday. In 2019.

At the same time, I blink and a month is gone. Time is running out to fix this mess, this shared delusion of ours that we can live outside of the laws of life, that we can burn our home and still have a home.

I work with faculty in higher education. Over the past several weeks, I’ve seen more faculty declining learning opportunities and expressing a need to protect their time than ever before in fifteen years of doing this work.

Faculty are learning the power of “no.” It’s quite a thing to witness.

At the same time, my colleagues and friends who do this work that some call “faculty development” (I’ve started calling myself a faculty learning facilitator because I can and because it feels more accurate) have been talking a lot about frustration with planning learning experiences for faculty. The primary word I’m hearing is “guilt.” They feel guilty about asking folks to come to workshops, knowing how exhausted and burned out everyone is. They feel guilty at asking people to come learn about a new pedagogical strategy when they’re experiencing moral injuries at their institutions.

So here we are, perhaps at a bit of a crossroads for #FacDev. We have faculty who are recognizing that they need to set boundaries around their time wherever possible, and we have faculty development professionals who are at a loss as to how to continue our work during these increasingly unstable times.

My next book’s working title: 99 Tips for Faculty Development in End Times.

I kid. Sort of.

A few tips/ideas:

1. Might we need new words?

I don’t love the term faculty development, and increasingly, I’m getting an ick factor when I use or encounter it. It’s got a savior complex energy to it, you know? I’m here to develop (and rescue!) you. You are the negative, and I’m the photographer.

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

One of my colleagues, Lisa Levinson, taught me the term, “learn with you,” and I’ve been using it for a few years now. “I’m looking forward to learning with you.” I am here to collaborate with faculty. I’m here to learn with you and from you. I’m here to teach you things and have you teach me things. Alas, I’ve begun to think of myself as a faculty learning facilitator. #FacLearn?

The other piece of this is that over the past two years, I’ve realized that we need a lot less development and a lot more support (I bet that’s true for staff and students as well). As part of the Camp COOL initiative that I co-facilitated with the OLT Faculty Development team in the summer of 2020, early COVID times, each of the four facilitators held a weekly office hour for our faculty learners. Folks would sometimes show up with specific pedagogical or technical questions about the work of designing and teaching online courses, but mostly, they showed up to laugh, cry, and vent together. We’d gather each week to tell the truth about the hard stuff, the hard stuff of teaching and of life. #FacSupport?

Lately, I care less about developing anything or anyone, and a lot more about supporting people.

2. Wordle’s Origin Story

I was reading this morning about the Wordle origin story. First off, the creator made Wordle to entertain his partner during pandemic times, not to make a million, which makes me feel a little less hopeless about humanity. But also, check out this gorgeous nugget of wisdom from Josh Wardle:

“It’s something that encourages you to spend three minutes a day,” he said. “And that’s it. Like, it doesn’t want any more of your time than that.”

A little bell is going off in my brain. Why is the 60-minute workshop the gold-standard in faculty development/learning? I’ve started offering 90-minute workshops to allow more time for questions and discussion. And here’s this romantic wordsmith telling me that he created a worldwide phenomenon that only asks people for three minutes of their day?

But you know that it’s more than that, right?

A completed Wordle ending in the word “Prick”
A recent Wordle

Wardle designed Wordle in such a way that it’s three minutes, EVERY day. And really, it’s a few additional minutes each day where we’re engaging with our loved ones to chat about it or tweet about it (hopefully using alt-text). Set aside the fun factor for a minute, and focus on time.

Wordle is a small investment of time that is consistent and meaningful.

What if we designed faculty learning experiences that took less time, were more consistent, and were packed with meaning that compelled us to share and connect with our colleagues and students? What would that look like? I’d think I’d like to explore that question with all of you in 2022.

3. Meeting People Where They Are

The number one rule of design, at least my number one rule, is that we have to meet learners where they are. We have to design for reality, not some fantasy world filled with idealized humans.

Faculty are burned out, morally wounded, stressed, sick, and increasingly hopeless. But god dammit they still want to learn and connect, because learning and connecting are inherent parts of the human experience.

If you create a too-long, too-dense faculty learning experience, and no one completes it, have you really created a faculty learning experience at all?

If a tree falls in the forest…

Photo by Steven Kamenar on Unsplash

I guess my message here for folks who do the important, challenging work of #FacDev is this: Go back to the beginning. Go back to your empathy maps. Design for the faculty you have and meet them right in the middle of this mess.

I come back to the crossroads. Faculty protecting their time and energy. Rightfully so. And faculty development/learning/support professionals feeling guilt and frustration over how to plan and offer learning experiences in the midst of the mess.

TLDR:

Empathy. Design for who’s in the room.

Support. Treat no one as a negative to be turned into a picture. Capture the images of this chaos together. Show up in rooms with your fellow humans and tell the truth about the hard stuff.

Simplify. Be less willing to take people’s precious time. Focus on consistency and meaning that fuel connections. Less is more.

And as always, to my colleagues doing the work of learning with faculty, my hope is that these thoughts help you to feel more empowered and less anxious about your work. Just as teaching is increasingly emotional work, so too is #FacDev. Rest. Find joy. Ask for help. Step away from the screens. Rinse. Repeat.

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Karen Costa

I write about higher education. Here for my work through 100 Faculty, LLC, supporting faculty, staff, and student success.