Straddling the Chasm: Rethinking Faculty Support


Today I had the honor and pleasure to share a keynote presentation at the NUTN Annual Conference (#NUTN15) in Savannah, GA. NUTN (National University Technology Network) originally started in 1982 as a group of representatives from institutions delivering distance learning through tele-courses. This was my first time attending a NUTN conference and it was a fantastic experience! There were a few familiar faces in my audience (Alex Pickett, John Sener, Christi Ford, Deb Adair) and I have enjoyed making many new connections.

Prior to my session, I attended a presentation by MJ Bishop and Anne Keehn, who shared the results of a national survey about the impact of Teaching and Learning Centers. Their findings show a significant trend underway in higher education organizations that connects Centers of Teaching and Learning with efforts to bring about organizational change. In short, the findings underscore the pertinent role that the intersection of learning and technology play in organizational transformation.

While the findings weren’t surprising to me, it was refreshing to see this trend highlighted and recognized as a significant shift. During the presentation, I recalled a memory from one of my previous positions in which I suggested renaming the faculty support group I was a part of to a name that included “learning” and “innovations.” My idea was returned with a cold, blank stare and the comment, “That sounds like a group that would get eliminated in the next budget cut.” It’s good to see times are changing in higher education.

But the changes that Teaching and Learning Centers are tasked with are deep-rooted organizational changes, which conflict with organizational cultures and histories. The most talented TLC staff cannot bring about this type of change on their own.  In her presentation Dr. Keehn shared that organizations spend $9B annually on organizational change consultants.  She wanted to break that statistic out for her study to understand how much of that spending occurs in higher education — but, apparently, data is not collected for higher education because no money is spent on it (citation needed). This leaves me with a far greater understanding and appreciation of the conflict and tensions experienced by so many who are in roles that connect learning and technology.

The presentation I shared today was a new for me. It was an exciting opportunity to try to bring together several ideas I’ve been contemplating with findings from my dissertation study and another recent study I conducted with Jill Leafstedt and Jaimie Hoffman. The title of my presentation was Straddling the Chasm: Rethinking Faculty Support (slide deck also embedded above) and its focus was on investigating the gap between the support needs of higher education faculty and the types and formats of support that are provided today. For example, 80% of higher education faculty are contingent employees (part-time or graduate assistants); yet, at 9 out of 10 institutions faculty who teach online are required to come to campus for online professional development. Sitting in a room with peers listening to a conversation about effective online teaching strategies does not immerse faculty in the online learning experience, which is the only way to have a person learn the potential and power of an excellent online class. But that is not the only problem with this model. Many faculty who are part-time teach at multiple institutions, some which may be located hundreds or thousands of miles from campus. This is just one disconnect in motion today with faculty support. Our models of faculty support are out-dated remnants of machine-age thinking and we are missing rich opportunities for collaborative solutions. We must begin to understand each higher education institutions as members of a complex ecosystem. Each is an organic system that is in a continuous state of change and very much affected by its exterior situation.

Another of my goals for the presentation was to encourage my audience members to relate to how it feels to a faculty member at the various stages in the diffusion of innovation. I showed the great graphic from Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein that illustrates faculty on both sides of ed tech chasm and had each person in the room identify themselves with one of the groups illustrated in the image. Then we discussed how it feels to “straddle the chasm.” And to support this experience, I referenced the powerful comment George Station shared with me on Google+ about his own experience straddling the chasm (see slide 3 of my prez). There were many nods shared during the presentation.

This is an ongoing conversation and research topic for me and it’s one I feel very committed to. I truly believe that our social era is rich with opportunities to transform the traditional model of faculty support and, I also believe, that faculty who are early adopters and innovators are those who will lead this change and encourage others to jump across the chasm.  I feel proud and excited about the my team at CSU Channel Islands is doing as we strive to support both sides of the chasm with online professional development and CI Keys.

Many thanks to the NUTN Board for inviting me to speak in beautiful Savannah today! I will enjoy my evening ghost tour before I head back to California. Brooohahahaha!!

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