published November 7, 2012

Campus Initiative Report: Building Faculty Development Experiences that Matter

By Karynne Kleine, Caralyn Zehnder, and Julia Metzker

The Innovative Course-building Group, which sprouted from a SENCER sub-award in 2006, is a "grass-roots social network for learning that supports teaching faculty and staff across disciplines in their pursuit of transformative professional development" at Georgia College. From an early foray into course design and effective teaching instigated by three faculty members, our inclusive collective, known as IC-bG, has grown to over 25 participants from multiple disciplines including education, biology, art, sociology and others and expanded to foster faculty development for multiple issues related to teaching and learning. Faculty members of IC-bG have designed and developed a cadre of introductory to graduate level courses using important civic and social issues within a framework of realizing SENCER ideals as the impetus for course development. Moreover, we have facilitated workshops on our own and other campuses, sponsored a faculty discourse series, participated in ongoing collegial conversations to understand our context and our growth, been invited speakers for a conference regarding ingenuity and change, and recently successfully executed our first professional development institute dedicated to innovation in teaching.

Through an emphasis on revitalizing curriculum multiple SENCER ideals have been incorporated, realized, and enhanced at Georgia College. For example, food security, biomedical concerns of young adolescents, public discourse, mathematicians on the fringe, local water issues, creation of a soils center as a community resource and other current environmental dilemmas are a few of the concepts that have served as themes for organizing student engagement and learning. As effective as addressing civic engagement through curriculum has been for Georgia College, an even more critical outcome for IC-bG has been the formation of a supportive professional learning community for faculty and staff who are stimulated by broader concerns and questions about higher education. Those associated with IC-bG are, to a person, committed to the progressive view of accountability—higher educators are obligated to undertake their own professional development as an educational act and model for students, contributing to their own growth as well as the health of the profession itself. We have found that accepting responsibility for our professional development is satisfying. Beyond ourselves, however, the improvement in climate and the expansion of accomplishment that have come from reframing our perceptions of professionalism and inclusion has far greater impact than traditional hierarchical approaches to faculty development. For IC-bG, the opportunity to work collaboratively and autonomously, across disciplines, on self-selected projects has provided a space for faculty to meld the personal and the professional while achieving significant change on and beyond the GC campus.

It has become truly exciting to consider how work on the GC campus, in the southeast region, and indeed, the SENCER community as a whole, might benefit from expanding current notions of civic engagement and education. Wider conceptions on how to engage faculty in meaningful change might become a new SENCER ideal, one that stimulates innovation, enhances learning, and activates renewed commitment to grassroots change in higher education.