Challenges and Strategies for Advancing New Faculty Roles

July 19, 2017 § Leave a comment

Last Wednesday (July 12), I led a session at AAC&U’s Institute for Integrative Learning and Signature Work called New Faculty Roles in the Emerging Digital Ecosystem that focused on what new roles or identities faculty play as they advance integrative and applied learning in the emerging digital ecosystem. In the second half of the session, I asked four breakout groups to pick one of the new roles we had discussed or a role they could foresee being surfaced by their projects.  Breakout groups listed barriers and discussed strategies they might pursue to address those barriers.  I also asked them to consider the roles of contingent faculty in particular.  The ultimate goal was a toolkit for redefining faculty roles on their own campus. Groups discussed the following roles:

  • Experimenter
  • Data Guru
  • Designer
  • Learning Master

Below are the results of those discussions.


Academic Structure and Culture Barriers

  • P & T and vulnerability of contingent faculty
  • Course evaluations – especially for contingent faculty
  • Time: trying something new is time consuming
    • contingent faculty have more constrained time
  • Academic freedom and specialization (Don’t tell me how to teach)
  • Money and other resources
  • The naysayers and the ugly side of institutional knowledge (“innovation fatigue”)
  • The inertia principle
  • Stereotypes about our students and their limitations (“Our students can’t . . .”)
  • Grooming students to be more like us rather than be their best selves
  • Students wary of “wasting time” on courses/coursework that are not job/program/career-related

Strategies for Attacking the Barriers

  • Encouraging growth mindset
  • Not making mini-me’s instead of letting students find their own way
  • Implicit bias test and training
  • Transparency model/Transparent Teaching
  • Signature work (story of accomplishment, resume, skills they can talk about at an interview—look how I did it) and deliverables
  • Coalition of the willing: give resources to measurable innovations – get on board or shut up–look for champions
  • Get naysayers to buy-in in some way… (find some common goals)
  • Celebrate successes for the people that are doing good things.
  • Look for small wins and don’t swing for the fences.
  • Connect innovation to existing pedagogy and best practices to avoid “innovation fatigue”
  • Showcase the work/exemplars of out of the box thinking from faculty and from beyond our campus
  • Students give testimonials

Thanks to Amy Birge, Chera LaForge, and Anita Gustafson  for sharing their notes about the experimenter role.

Data Guru


  • Faculty not enthusiastic about assessment
  • Assessment data collection seen as an imposition to academic freedom
  • Additional workload


  • Share the definition of how we use data
  • Bottom line it—we have to do this for accreditation
  • Make the data meaningful
  • Make the data time effective—share results in a timely manner
  • Demonstrate that something was done with the data
  • Give small stipends for faculty to review sampled work
  • Create opportunities for social collaboration when reviewing work

Designer (of learning environments)


  • Need to create grading structures to evaluate the type of assignments that promote agency
  • Faculty uncomfortable with the skills and with taking risks
  • How do you get students to read?\


  • Use self-assessment in assignment/project evaluation
  • Give students the opportunity to practice first
  • Let students do some of the designing, e.g. give them the learning outcomes and let them design the syllabus
  • Use the book Reading for Understanding
  • Use videos instead of reading
  • Use journaling to make reading more valuable

Learning Master


  • Lack of comfort with discomfort
  • Having students take agency for learning and choosing classes
  • Advising barriers
  • Professional development needed
  • Most professional development focuses on the expert identity
  • Course evaluations may be biased to this work


  • Give faculty permission to fail
  • Be resilient
  • Structure work to allow students an opportunity to recover from failure
  • Don’t over scaffold (give students too much information/support); leave them room for agency
  • Remember that good pedagogy takes time
  • Encourage vulnerability in faculty and students
  • Model desired behaviors
  • Be transparent
  • Encourage productive discomfort among students

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