Amid busy schedules of teaching classes, grading assignments, conducting research, writing papers and attending meetings, it can be difficult for faculty to find the time to stop and think deeply about effective ways to teach students, much less talk about tips and best practices with colleagues.
To offer a format for digging into pedagogical topics, UGA’s Center for Teaching and Learning hosts annual faculty learning communities as a way to get faculty talking with each other about instruction. A faculty learning community, or FLC, is a specifically structured community of practice that includes the key goals of building community and engaging in scholarly teaching.
“I like to think of a faculty learning community as a place and time for faculty to slow down and have a conversation—based in research—on pedagogical practices and what works well in instruction,” said Chase Hagood, CTL’s assistant director for faculty development and recognition.
UGA FLCs, which can range in topics from instructional technology and techniques to issues of diversity and sustainability, meet regularly throughout an academic year with the goal of completing a product, report or presentation about what the FLC discovered. FLCs began at UGA in 2007 and since then have had 1,300 faculty participants.
Registration is open until Aug. 26 for 21 faculty learning communities at http://ctl.uga.edu/flc/future-flc. Groups will start meeting this fall about their given subject, each with the ultimate goal of “fostering excellence in teaching and learning.”
In addition to strengthening instruction, FLCs have the added benefit of bringing together faculty from a variety of disciplines to talk about what works in their classrooms.
A 2015 study by UGA researchers published in the International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education documented the benefits of this shared experience for faculty.
Study co-authors Leslie Gordon, associate director of the executive Ed.D. program in higher education management in the Institute of Higher Education, and Tim Foutz, Meigs Professor of Engineering, conducted a study on an FLC designed for faculty teaching in the inaugural year of the First-Year Odyssey Seminar Program in 2011.
“We wanted to learn what happens when diverse faculty come together to meet a shared teaching challenge,” Gordon said.
What they found is that the learning community provided valuable information needed for preparing future faculty to teach FYO seminars.
“Faculty began their FYO courses excited to show students the full mission of the university through the lens of their disciplines,” Gordon said. “They encountered challenges and, within the FLC, helped each other adjust techniques and find new resources. The result was that participants grew as teachers and understood more about their students.”
The fortuitous by-product of this community was that it promoted collaboration beyond the discussion of the FYO Seminar Program.
Several faculty members continued to collaborate after the faculty learning community ended, including collaboration between Gordon and Foutz on their study.
Gordon and Foutz said instructors from across disciplines were able to share experiences and lessons in teaching, which improved individual instruction but also allowed the faculty to build relationships with each other. In turn, they became involved in interdisciplinary research with members of the cohort.
“I think a lot of faculty need that interdisciplinary interaction,” Foutz said. “There’s so much you can learn from looking outside your own area.”
For additional information about the FLC program, contact Chase Hagood at firstname.lastname@example.org.