At times, the increasing adjunctification and deprofessionalization of faculty lives across higher education can seem downright discouraging. Yet, we have many reasons for optimism. Various innovations, supported on college campuses, are taking place, including “Faculty Work and Student Learning in the 21st Century.” I witnessed this Teagle-funded initiative firsthand having served as the external evaluator for the work over the past three years. 

The “Faculty Work” initiative focused on the ways that colleges can improve student success and learning by making important changes in faculty roles and how faculty approach their work. Projects implemented through the initiative took on an array of projects – distance mentoring, integrative learning, sharing faculty appointments, renewed professional development, on-line courses, hybrid and flipped courses, utilizing research from neuroscience on how students learn, metacognitive teaching strategies, civic professionalism, and new approaches to departmental and customized evaluation processes. These projects and the lessons learned from them, detailed in the Scaling and Sustaining Change & Innovation report, challenge us to consider new ways of faculty work that respond to fresh tools for teaching and knowledge about teaching and learning. These changes also respond to calls for higher education to be more cost effective and build in ways to share resources or benefit from technology while always keeping student learning at the fore. The projects had buy-in and support from the faculty at the 10 initiatives and ultimately reached nearly 100 campuses through extended meetings and dissemination.  

What were the major lessons learned in this endeavor about implementing, scaling and sustaining these changes? 

In terms of implementing, shared leadership was repeatedly identified as crucial to ensure buy in, motivation and the right input to overcome challenges. The report, Scaling and Sustaining Change & Innovation, outlines the type of leadership needed from faculty, administrators, staff to ensure greater success of implementation. For technology-related innovations, framing the work was critical. Too many faculty fear that technology is being foisted upon them without careful thought to how it will improve the learning environment. Campuses developed key ways to involve faculty from the beginning and ensure their voices framed the initiative, including surveys of faculty about technology needs and required professional development; being attentive to disciplinary and field differences in implementation of technology; and creating cheat sheets about technology tools to ease adoption and scale.  

What about scaling change? Using faculty learning communities to support uptake of new practices worked better than individual approaches to professional development to achieve scale. Faculty and administrative leaders successfully resisted the typical inclination to work in a more individualistic fashion or through “one and done” meetings or events. 

We learned a lot about sustaining change, too. One key lesson is that previous innovations have been stalled or not sustained because tenure and promotions, rewards, evaluation, and policies are not realigned to support new work. The campuses in this initiative have started the work to adjust such structures to support the innovations. Sustaining change means that the innovation likely alters the traditional structure, and if it does not result in structural change, the innovations are likely to face significant barriers and ultimately not be sustained. Part of institutionalizing innovations is that it challenges our traditional ways of doing things. Faculty that work to support a more integrative curriculum or hybrid course, for example, need to rethink rewards for this work.  

All in all, the projects and report point to ways to re-imagine faculty work to adjust to today’s environment and maintain the integrity of historic faculty work and roles. Yes, there is much reason for optimism.

Hear more from Adrianna Kezar on faculty roles and expectations in her latest book:

Kezar, A., & Maxey, D. (Eds.). (2016). Envisioning the faculty for the twenty-first century: Moving to a mission-oriented and learner-centered model. New Brunswick: Rutgers.