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Attributes of Faculty Learning Communities that Influence Faculty Attitudes and Practices
Faculty learning communities (FLCs) have been proposed as a mechanism for facilitating faculty adoption of more effective, student-centered teaching practices (SCTP). We refer to FLCs as groups of faculty members who meet regularly to overcome the isolation and lack of pedagogical expertise that constitute barriers to educational reform. Previous research has supported this contention, but FLCs vary widely in their attributes and little is known about which attributes are important for facilitating teaching reform.
We surveyed 66 faculty members from 11 FLCs in our research-intensive university. We asked the respondents to characterize their FLC along several dimensions. Then we explored the relationship between a faculty member's sense of community and their reported engagement in an FLC, their beliefs about teaching, and their use of SCTP. Sense of community was measured using a modified Sense of Community Index (SCI). Engagement, beliefs, and attitudes were measured using the modified Science Teaching Beliefs and Practices (STEP) survey. Quantitative data were analyzed using stepwise multiple regression and analysis of variance. Qualitative data were analyzed by grouping open-ended responses into common themes that were then quantified.
Characteristics of FLCs that were positively associated with SCI included frequent meetings, multidirectional communication within the group, having food at meetings, collaborative projects, and open-ended duration. High SCI was associated with belonging to more than one FLC and valuing SCTP more highly. Most (56%) respondents reported that their participation in an FLC had an impact on departmental colleagues who were not in the community, and 64% reported an impact on their colleges or the institution.
To our knowledge, this is the first systematic investigation of the impact of the psychological sense of community on university teaching. It fills a critical gap in our understanding of how faculty learning communities can be designed to promote departmental and institutional change.
Poster (Acrobat (PDF) 823kB Jun3 21)
Attributes of Faculty Learning Communities that Influence Faculty Attitudes and Practices -- Discussion
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14666:46481Share edittextuser=99608 post_id=46481 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=14666
No, unfortunately we moved on to another FLC project and didn't have a chance to follow up on that aspect with the campus-wide study. On the subsequent project, we had hoped to explore departmental climate for change, but it got to be problematic to measure (the leadership of the project was the leadership of the department/college, so it was awkward to ask the questions about institutional climate and support).
14666:46493Share edittextuser=22564 post_id=46493 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=14666
We looked at this in a bit more detail in a subsequent project. The participants had really high motivation to adopt evidence-based teaching practices at the beginning of the project and stayed highly motivated (there was a definite ceiling effect, so we couldn't tell if they went from "super motivated" to "super, super motivated."
As far as practice, the folks who reported less use of active learning at the beginning reported more at the end. The folks that were already high users didn't change. So the main effect was to bring the less confident and experienced folks to about the same place in their use of these teaching practices as the ones who started out confident. We have a lot of qualitative data that backs up the interpretation that the increase in practice was due to learning, interactions, and collaborations that happened within the community. I'm not sure there's a way, though, to tease apart the influence of the community and the influence of what they learned because they were in the community. I'd have to think on that some!
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