Written by Catherine Ford and Deidra Peaslee from Anoka-Ramsey Community College (Minnesota, USA)
In 2014-2015 Anoka-Ramsey Community College undertook a collaborative strategic planning process, resulting in five institutional goals, including promoting academic excellence. While academic excellence is something all institutions pursue, we quickly conceded that there was little research conducted by community college faculty with community college students to frame “excellence” in the community college classroom. Simultaneously, the college was also developing opportunities for students to engage in classroom-based undergraduate research opportunities. These two factors seemed to be at odds with one another, how can we say we value engaging in research if we were not willing to undertake it ourselves? If as an institution we wanted to strive and promote these values, then it only made sense to turn the lens inward and model the research and self-reflection we are trying to develop in our students.
In order for an initiative like this to be successful, faculty support is critical so release credits were provided to Catherine to develop a framework and support faculty one on one. It was not too far along in this process that it became apparent to us that what we wanted to pursue already had a formal name: the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. During the first year, time was spent trying to recruit faculty while we read the “big names” in SoTL work. This was very similar to the old adage, “flying the plane while building it.”
Other than the funds for the release credits, during the first year the initiative did not have a budget, but Catherine worked with faculty to obtain institutional innovation grants up to $1000 each to support research. The plan was to develop a research study in the fall, complete with IRB approval, and collect data in the spring with the intent to share results beyond the institution. Our purpose is to “focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) as a means to enhance the teaching experience of faculty and the learning experience of students.”
During the second semester of the first year we attended a Lilly Conference, and two things were apparent. First, few models of community colleges doing this work existed and in order to be effective, we needed to turn our initiative into a formal program. Unfortunately, a Google search did not return the step-by-step approach to develop a sustainable SoTL program at a community college, so using knowledge gained from the conference, we developed a program and budget proposal based on what we knew for certain: the program needed to be a joint collaboration between administration and faculty. This collaboration assures that the college views this as important work, deserving of time, money, and attention.
Our proposal for the second year, now named ARCC Scholars, focused on developing a two-year (four semester) faculty learning community of 5 faculty from across disciplines. These faculty receive a stipend for each semester and travel expenses to attend an educational conference in the first year and present at an educational conference in the second year. We grandfathered our original four faculty participants into Year 2 of the commitment and developed a learning community. In the one-year together, they have leaned on each other for pedagogical and research support and have developed invaluable networking and connections.
The ARCC Scholars program selects five faculty through a competitive, yet non-threatening application process. We don’t require faculty to know exactly what they want to study before the program begins. The activities of Year 1 – semester 1 supports faculty as they develop a research question, complete a literature review, explore methodology, design the study, and submit an IRB application. Year 1 – Semester 2 is designated for data collection of the implemented study. Year 2 is dedicated to analyzing and preparing to share the study results outside of the institution via conference presentation or submitting study results for publication.
At the community college, faculty come to the SoTL Scholars Program with a wide range of experience with research. This includes everything from no research experience with human subjects to previous publication of pedagogical research. We aim to support faculty while creating opportunities for faculty to learn from one another, strengthening the campus environment. We also remove barriers that might prevent faculty from pursuing or completing SoTL work. This has included assistance in narrowing a research question, providing templates for requests to use instruments, reviewing the IRB application before submission, collecting data for anonymity and privacy, acting as a second coder, and assisting with statistical analysis.
Just as we meet our students where they are when they enter our institution, we meet our faculty where they are at with no judgement. This is another reason why we find it beneficial to have a smaller cohort. Cohort meetings are a safe place to be vulnerable in our quest to improve our teaching and learn various aspects of the research process. This one-on-one work in addition to the support the cohort provides is pivotal to the success of our SoTL Scholars program and is anecdotally supported by comments from cohort members.
During the school year, faculty cohorts meet three times in the fall and three times in the spring. These meetings provide structure as to support and next steps as well as allow for individual work time or time to ask questions of the group or Catherine. In order for SoTL work to be successful at the community college level where publication is not rewarded with tenure and the teaching loads are heavy, the key is support. Although the financial support and travel stipends are appreciated and an added “bonus,” faculty would likely not pursue this work at an institutional level (versus independently), if the support through the process was absent.
Admittedly, funding this model as designed does present a question of scalability, however the college has a history of utilizing innovation incentives to get ideas launched and then modifying incentives for sustainability. As we attempt to quantify the value add of this program not just on faculty but on students, we look to surface level measures of success by counting participation and number of faculty who apply as well as qualitative faculty satisfaction data. By these accounts, we are heading in the right direction.
Blog Contributor Contact Info:
Catherine Ford (Catherine.Ford@anokaramsey.edu)
Deidra Peaslee (Deidra.Peaslee@anokaramsey.edu)