Department Chairs and Leadership During the Global Pandemic

The global pandemic has been difficult for many in higher education.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the key assumptions and beliefs that serve as the foundation of higher education” (Brazeau, 2020, p.688).

Recognizing that the pandemic has impacted people very differently, Dr. Klodiana Kolomitro and I highlighted a few of the challenges the pandemic has created at a session earlier this year with the educational development community in Canada (Kolomitro and Kenny, 2021). We summarized that the pandemic has:

1) increased workload for students, administrators, educators and teaching and learning centres;

2) disproportionately impacted equity-deserving groups including Indigenous and racialized peoples, women, persons with disabilities and 2SLGBTQI+ communities;

3) increased feelings of uncertainty and emotional exhaustion;

4) caused physical, social and self-isolation and loneliness; and,

5) resulted in overall poorer mental health, wellbeing and quality of life (Aristonvnik et al., 2020; Brazeau et al., 2020; Naffi et al., 2020; Xiong et al., 2020).

Although hopeful for healing as we approach the 2021/22 academic year, the uncertainty of the fall semester continues to exacerbate many of these same issues.

The Department Chair and the Pandemic

In a recent article published in Innovative Higher Education, Gigliotti (2021) explored the impact of the pandemic on department chairs. This article highlights the critical role that department chairs hold at institutions, described as, “…agents of influence in leading the reinvention of policies, practices and patterns of behavior at the departmental level and throughout their academic discipline” (p. 430). Christensen-Hughes and Mighty (2010) further emphasized the role that these local leaders can play in either helping or hindering the decisions, cultures, behaviors, norms and practices we most aspire to see.

It won’t come as any surprise that Gigliotti (2021) found that the COVID19 global pandemic intensified leadership challenges, added complexity, and contributed to continuous emerging issues for department chairs. 

“The findings of this study underscore the important work of academic leadership, particularly the role of department chairs, in triaging immediate concerns, advocating on behalf of one’s colleagues and students, providing frequent and timely updates to facilitate an institution’s crisis response, ensuring the safety and well-being of others, and helping to restore hope when others experience a breakdown in collective sensemaking” (p.442).

Throughout this study, chairs acknowledged challenges related to pivoting to remote teaching, navigating remote meetings, and exploring methods to ensure some degree of research continuity throughout their department. They struggled with maintaining consistent and clear communication channels with senior administration, maintaining meaningful relationships and connections with colleagues, acknowledging and coping with emerging mental health issues experienced by themselves and departmental colleagues, balancing personal and professional commitments, ensuring the health and safety of students and staff, planning under constant uncertainty, ongoing budget constraints, and concerns related to ongoing pressures for renewal and reinvention.

The authors highlight the crucial role of relationships, connection and communication as departments negotiated and responded to the COVID19 pandemic:

“What we learn from the insights of the responding department chairs is a desire to connect with others— connections that are made more challenging in light of the global pandemic—and to care for others in navigating the uncertainty of the current moment. By shaping and interpreting how others react and respond to a crisis of widespread magnitude, leadership is made possible; and by recognizing both the personal and professional worries, fears, and goals of one’s faculty, staff, and student colleagues, department chairs can provide bridges of trust and goodwill.” (p. 442)

Leadership Approaches for Healing and Rebuilding Teaching and Learning

In their article, Gigliotti (2021) called explicitly for more opportunities to support departmental chairs, including providing additional support for their development as academic leaders. As we embark on healing and rebuilding our teaching and learning practices into the future, the following leadership approaches adapted from Gibbs and Knapper (2008) may provide a helpful guide and starting point for reflection for academic chairs:

  1. Establish credibility and trust: foster open communication; listen carefully and solicit ideas actively from the departmental community, especially from individuals and groups that have historically been marginalized; identify, seek and advocate for additional institutional support and resources for change; establish a network of mentors and colleagues to support on-going reflection, growth and development.
  2. Identify and address departmental strengths and challenges: actively identify departmental strengths and challenges; represent the department honestly; leverage strengths; lean into and address challenges; speak up to actions and behaviours that are harmful; focus on building and moving forward through incremental change.
  3. Articulate a clear vision and rationale for change: learn about what others internal and external to the institution are doing; seek guidance from evidence-based and culturally relevant practices; collaboratively identify and articulate a clear narrative for the future; gather evidence and feedback on change initiatives; admit mistakes, apologize and change direction as necessary.
  4. Distribute leadership: build and support a collaborative team of departmental leaders; create leadership pathways for those in formal and informal roles; surround yourself by a team that helps you address your leadership blind spots and areas for growth; ask for help; thank and give credit to others for their influence and impact.
  5. Build communities of dialogue and practice: foster debate, discussion and reflection around issues that matter; use multiple forms of engagement to involve the entire departmental community; actively create opportunities to make teaching and learning practices public.
  6. Visibly reward and recognize teaching and learning: provide leadership pathways for strong and committed educators; evaluate contributions to teaching and learning using multiple methods, lenses, and perspectives; actively identify and support individuals to be recognized for their contributions to teaching beyond the department.
  7. Involve students as partners in change: actively seek student input; involve students meaningfully in initiatives, innovations, and decision-making processes; intentionally provide space for and amplify student voices; create leadership pathways for students.

There are likely other leadership approaches you would recommend for departmental chairs as we embark on an ever-evolving and somewhat uncertain pathway for teaching and learning in higher education.

What do you think are key considerations, challenges, and recommended leadership approaches for department chairs as we begin to approach teaching and learning during the 2021/22 academic year?

References:

Aristovnik, A., Keržič, D., Ravšelj, D., Tomaževič, N., & Umek, L. (2020). Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on life of higher education students: A global perspective. Sustainability12(20), 8438.

Brazeau, G. A., Frenzel, J. E., & Prescott, W. A. (2020). Facilitating wellbeing in a turbulent time. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education84(6).

Christensen Hughes, J., & Mighty, J. (2010). A call to action: Barriers to pedagogical innovation and how to overcome them. In J. Christensen Hughes & J. Mighty (Eds).Taking stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (pp. 261-277). Queens School of Policy Studies.

Gibbs, G., Knapper, C., & Piccinin, S. (2008). Disciplinary and contextually appropriate approaches to leadership of teaching in research‐intensive academic departments in higher education. Higher Education Quarterly, 62(4), 416-436.

Gigliotti, R. A. (2021). The impact of COVID-19 on academic department chairs: Heightened complexity, accentuated liminality, and competing perceptions of reinvention. Innovative Higher Education, 1-16.

Kolomitro, K. and Kenny, N. (2021). Caring for our community: when will well-being be a priority.  Keynote Presentation.  Educational Developers Caucus of Canada Online Conference. https://edc.stlhe.ca/conference-2021/keynote/

Naffi et al. (2020) Disruption in and by Centres for Teaching and Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Leading the Future of Higher Ed. White Paper ISBN: 978-2-9818996-5-1

Xiong, J., Lipsitz, O., Nasri, F., Lui, L. M., Gill, H., Phan, L., … & McIntyre, R. S. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in the general population: A systematic review. Journal of affective disorders.

A framework for influencing change in teaching and learning cultures, communities, and practices.

As a leader of a teaching and learning institute at a large-research intensive institution, I reflect a lot on how change and learning happens in organizations.  

How do teaching and learning centres work to influence teaching and learning cultures, communities and practices?

A couple of years ago, I presented at the Educational Developers of Caucus of Canada Conference, and tried, in one slide to communicate all that I have learned about the complex work of teaching and learning centres.  Below is a version of that slide.  

This framework builds upon the work of others (see for example: Brew & Ginns, 2008; Finkelstein, et al., 2016; Fields et al., 2019; Hannah & Lester, 2009; Jarvis, 2010; Mårtensson & Roxå, 2016; Roxå & Mårtensson, 2009;  Simmons, 2016; Trigwell, 2013; Webster-Wright, 2009; Wright et al., 2018).  I also highlight it in a forthcoming paper with Dr. Sarah Eaton (Kenny & Eaton, in press). 

Most people would point to teaching and learning centres for the workshops and courses they offer individual educators.  These formal, planned events are a visible part of the work of educational developers.  But, as one of my favorite colleagues, mentors and leaders Dr. Leslie Reid shares,

“Change happens one conversation at a time.”  

The seminal work of Roxå & Mårtensson (2009) and Roxå et al. (2011) suggests that teaching and learning cultures, communities and practices are strongly influenced by the small, but significant conversations we have and networks we create with colleagues we trust.  A recognition that teaching and learning in higher education is influenced by FORMAL processes (i.e., policies, programs, structures, resources and committees) and INFORMAL activities (i.e., significant networks, relationships, conversations, and communities) is fundamental to the work of teaching and learning centres, and this framework.

Take a moment to reflect on where and how these formal processes and informal activities occur across your institution. How and where is your teaching and learning centre influencing these formal processes and informal networks, conversations and communities?

The centre of the framework highlights four key components to influencing teaching and learning cultures: 1) High-impact professional learning for individuals and groups, 2) Local-level leadership and microcultures, 3) Scholarship, research and inquiry, 4) Learning spaces, pedagogies and technologies.

High-impact professional learning activities can be informal or formal, but are intentionally designed to be contextual, embedded in practice, and to facilitate on-going reflection and action (Webster-Wright, 2009).

How is your centre providing initiatives to support meaningful and sustained professional learning and growth for educators across higher education?

The influence of local-leadership and microcultures are often overlooked in higher education (Mårtensson & Roxå, 2016; Kenny et al., 2016). Formal leaders (who hold roles such as Dean, Department Head/Chair, Associate Dean) and informal leaders (who may not hold a formal title) are catalysts for action and change.  They have an incredible influence on the development of microcultures (behaviours, norms, values, actions) that either support or hinder the development of the teaching and learning cultures, communities and practices we most aspire to see (Christensen Hughes & Mighty, 2010).  We need only to look at the complexities, sheer exhaustion and pressures that Department Heads/Chairs faced related to teaching and learning during the global pandemic – Gigliotti (2021) calls for more training, support and development for those who hold these roles.

What does your teaching and learning centre do to support informal and formal teaching and learning leaders?

Scholarship, research and inquiry provide a means for investigating, sharing and disseminating knowledge about teaching and learning in postsecondary education.  This work includes inquiry in individual classrooms, as well as how teaching and learning are more broadly supported across multiple organizational levels within higher education. Knowledge sharing and dissemination about teaching and learning are important, and we are also coming to understand that the very process of intentionally engaging in scholarship and inquiry related to teaching and learning, helps us become better educators, as we focus on the student learning experience and develop stronger abilities as critically reflective practitioners (Brew and Ginns, 2009; Trigwell, 2013).

How does your teaching and learning centre encourage and support engagement in scholarship, research and inquiry in teaching and learning?  

I have also been thinking a lot lately about how these supports are (or aren’t) inclusive of multiple ways of knowing, being and understanding?

Learning spaces, pedagogies and technologies have an incredible impact on teaching and learning communities, cultures and practices in higher education.  Learning spaces can be designed intentionally to foster engagement, collaboration and to create a shared learning community between students and instructors (Finkelstein and Winer, 2020).  Never has the power of learning technologies become more prevalent as during the COVID19 pandemic when millions of learners across the globe accessed their higher education from remote locations. When thoughtfully integrated, learning technologies can strengthen connection, collaboration, flexibility and innovation. Pedagogical approaches that are intentionally structured, promote active engagement, encourage meta-cognition and self-regulation, foster deep learning, and establish relevance improve student learning outcomes (Freeman et al., 2014, Deslauriers et al., 2011; Kember, Ho & Hong, 2008; Pintrich, 2002).

How does your teaching and learning centre support learning spaces, pedagogies and technologies that improve student success and promote deep learning?

How are we ensuring our learning spaces, pedagogies and technologies support our commitments to equity, diversity and inclusion, and Indigenous Ways of Knowing?

The framework is grounded by the recognition that these four core elements (i.e., high impact professional learning, local-level leadership and microcultures, scholarship, research and inquiry, and learning spaces, pedagogies and technologies) are influenced across multiple organizational levels (Hannah & Lester, 2009; Kenny et al., 2016; Simmons, 2016; Roxå & Mårtensson, 2009).  At the institutional (macro-level) senior leaders, policies, and committees can establish a clear vision, resources, governance processes and structures for teaching and learning.  At the faculty and departmental level (meso-level) integrated networks of knowledge sharing can be established, and local leaders can be provided with appropriate support to help influence change and decision-making related to teaching and learning.  And finally, at the individual level (micro-level) individuals must be supported, recognized and rewarded for their work to advance teaching and learning.

How is your teaching and learning centre influencing change in teaching and learning cultures, communities and practices across the micro, meso and macro levels?

As always, I’d love to hear how this framework resonates for you.  It’s difficult to articulate what I have come to understand about the work of educational development and teaching and learning centres in one slide, and I am certain my thoughts will continue to evolve over time!


References

Brew, A., & Ginns, P. (2008). The relationship between engagement in the scholarship of teaching and learning and students’ course experiences. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education33(5), 535-545.

Christensen Hughes, J., & Mighty, J. (2010). A call to action: Barriers to pedagogical innovation and how to overcome them. In J. Christensen Hughes & J. Mighty (Eds).Taking stock: Research on teaching and learning in higher education (pp. 261-277). Queens School of Policy Studies.

Deslauriers, L., Schelew, E., & Wieman, C. (2011). Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class. Science, 332(6031), 862-864.

Finkelstein, A., & Winer, L. (2020). Active learning anywhere: A principled-based approach to designing learning spaces. In S. Hoidn & M. Klemenčič (Eds.), The Routledge International Handbook of Student-Centered Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (pp. 327–344). 

Fields, J., Kenny, N. A., & Mueller, R. A. (2019). Conceptualizing educational leadership in an academic development program. International Journal for Academic Development24(3), 218-231.

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415.

Gigliotti, R. A. (2021). The impact of COVID-19 on academic department chairs: Heightened complexity, accentuated liminality, and competing perceptions of reinvention. Innovative Higher Education, 1-16.

Hannah, S. T., & Lester, P. B. (2009). A multilevel approach to building and leading learning organizations. The Leadership Quarterly20(1), 34-48.

Jarvis, Peter. (2010). Adult Education and Lifelong Learning. Fourth Edition. Routledge, NY. pp.338.

Kember, D., Ho, A., & Hong, C. (2008). The importance of establishing relevance in motivating student learning. Active learning in higher education, 9(3), 249-263.

Kenny, N., Watson, G. P. L., & Desmarais, S. (2016). Building sustained action: Supporting an institutional practice of SoTL at the University of Guelph. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2016(146), 87-94. doi:10.1002/tl.20191

Kenny, N., & Eaton, S. E. (2021, in press) Academic integrity through a SoTL lens and 4M framework: An institutional self-study. In S. E. Eaton & J. Christensen Hughes (Eds.), Academic integrity in Canada: An enduring and essential challenge: Springer.

Mårtensson, K., & Roxå, T. (2016). Leadership at a local level–Enhancing educational development. Educational Management Administration & Leadership44(2), 247-262.

Pintrich, P. R. (2002). The role of metacognitive knowledge in learning, teaching, and assessing. Theory into practice41(4), 219-225.

Roxå, T., & Mårtensson, K. (2009). Significant conversations and significant networks–exploring the backstage of the teaching arena. Studies in Higher Education34(5), 547-559.

Roxå, T., Mårtensson, K., & Alveteg, M. (2011). Understanding and influencing teaching and learning cultures at university: A network approach. Higher Education, 62(1), 99-111. DOI 10.1007/s10734-010-9368-9

Simmons, N. (2016). Synthesizing SoTL institutional initiatives toward national impact. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2016(146), 95-102. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.20192

Trigwell, K. (2013). Evidence of the impact of scholarship of teaching and learning purposes. Teaching and Learning Inquiry1(1), 95-105.

Webster-Wright, A. (2009). Reframing professional development through understanding authentic professional learning. Review of educational research79(2), 702-739.

Wright, M., Horii, C. V., Felten, P., Sorcinelli, M. D., & Kaplan, M. (2018). Faculty development improves teaching and learning. POD Speaks2, 1-5.

Fostering Meaningful Postdoctoral Scholar Professional Learning and Development Opportunities in Higher Ed

Postdoctoral Professional Learning and Development Framework (Source: Nowell et al. 2021)

With leadership from University of Calgary’s Dr. Lorelli Nowell (https://twitter.com/lorelli_nowell), I recently collaborated with a fabulous group of scholars to publish a framework for postdoctoral scholar professional learning and development. The framework presents a holistic view of how we can better support postdoctoral scholars as they move forward in their academic and professional careers – recognizing that the vast majority of postdoctoral scholars do not enter permanent academic positions. With ever changing job markets and demands, higher education must better prepare postdocs for a range of careers, whether that be in higher ed, government, not-for-profit or private sectors (see Ålund et al., 2020).

Moving beyond academe’s traditional focus on research skill development, the Professional Learning and Development (PLD) framework consists of four major domains:

  1. Professional Socialization (mentorship, community engagement, inclusivity & diversity, networking)
  2. Professional Skills (leadership skills, interpersonal skills, communication skills, careering planning)
  3. Academic Development (academic writing, academic service, critical thinking, teaching & learning)
  4. Personal Effectiveness (time management, work-life balance, health & wellness, project management)

The framework builds upon results from our previous research, which included literature reviews, document analysis, surveys, interviews, and consultations with key stakeholders (see Nowell et al., 2018, 2019; 2020). Through this research, postdoctoral scholars consistently communicated the need for professional learning and development that extended beyond research skill development. For example, areas of particular interest included teaching and learning, mentorship, academic service and well-being. I will note that COVID-19 has escalated the stress-related challenges that postdocs face, including burnout, work-life conflict, and social isolation.

Our research certainly has practical implications, including serving as a framework for institutions as they create, design and implement robust supports and a learning culture for postdoctoral scholars. We imagine postdoctoral supervisors and postdocs using the framework as a guide for mentorship conversations, developing learning plans, and fostering critical reflection and career growth. Teaching and learning centres, academic units, and postdoc offices could use it as a reference to develop robust professional learning programs. More broadly regional, national and international postdoc organizations can use this framework to amplify discussions to strengthen how we conceptualize and design meaningful postdoctoral scholar communities, cultures and practices in higher ed.

We’d love to hear how you imagine using this framework in your particular context, and successful examples of initiatives to meaningfully integrate postdoctoral scholars in the academic community, and to strengthen professional learning and development for postdocs across a variety of career contexts!

References:

Ålund, M., Emery, N., Jarrett, B.J.M. et al. Academic ecosystems must evolve to support a sustainable postdoc workforce. Nat Ecol Evol 4, 777–781 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-1178-6

Nowell, L., Ovie, G., Berenson, C., Kenny, N. and Hayden, K.A. (2018), “Professional learning and development of postdoctoral scholars: a systematic review of the literature”, Education Research International, Vol. 2018, p. 5950739.

Nowell, L., Ovie, G., Kenny, N., Hayden, K.A. and Jacobsen, M. (2019), “Professional learning and development initiatives for postdoctoral scholars”, Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 35-55.

Nowell, L., Ovie, G., Kenny, N. and Jacobsen, M. (2020), “Postdoctoral scholar’s perspectives about professional learning and development: a concurrent mixed-methods study”, Palgrave Communications, Vol. 6 No. 1.

Nowell, L., Dhingra, S., Kenny, N., Jacobsen, M. and Pexman, P. (2021), “Professional learning and development framework for postdoctoral scholars”, Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/SGPE-10-2020-0067

Asking Powerful Questions

flickr-2200500024-medium

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22206521@N03

Appreciative inquiry (AI) is an energizing approach for sparking positive change in people, groups, and organizations. It focuses on what is working well (appreciative) by engaging people in asking questions and telling stories (inquiry). The shift in focus to the positive and what is working well generates energy within the group or organization, allowing it to move more effectively toward its goals. As well as a process for facilitating positive change, AI is a way of being and seeing the world everyday.  (Cockell and McArthur-Blair, 2012, p. 13)

I have been inspired by this year’s Educational Developers Caucus (EDC) conference over many discussions related to asking powerful questions.  In the words of this year’s keynote speaker, Joan McArthur-Blair, “Positive questions inspire positive change.”  One of the things that I have quickly learned in the field of educational development and in my leadership roles is that it is often (if not always) better to ask a thoughtful question than to provide advice.  Although we may not always label it as appreciative inquiry, I have come to a deep understanding that educational developers are great at asking positive, solution-focused questions.  These questions form the basis of our practice.  They are inherent not only to our approaches, but to our sense of being. Through questions we seek to help others (whether it be individuals, programs or institutions) to identify and leverage their full potential, to awaken the passion within, to continuously improve, and, perhaps most importantly, to provide a sense of meaning and purpose to their everyday practices within higher education.  There is little doubt that this is an interesting and transformative time in higher education.  Change is occurring at unprecedented rates, and institutions are increasingly looking to the field of educational development to support the academic community in evidencing and communicating their many successes, identifying future possibilities and opportunities for growth and improvement, and determining key actions for moving forward.  Our most potent call to action may be in asking powerful questions that connect individuals and communities through meaningful dialogue and conversation.

Below are some questions that have been pondered throughout the conference thus far.  What are some of the most powerful questions you ask in your ED practice?

  • What already exists that has value? What is the best of what already is?
  • If that is the issue, what are you yearning for?
  • What is the greatest strength that you have brought to the organization?
  • Where inside the organization do we have high engagement?
  • What does a highly connected, highly engaged academic community look like?
  • What will we be in 2020?
  • What would you be if learners were first?
  • Tell a story about the best experience you had last semester.
  • Tell a story of a moment, however tiny, when you felt excited coming to work.
  • What are you already doing in your organization that matters?
  • What is the most powerful and successful learning experience that you have ever had?
  • What are you yearning for?
  • What are you going to do tomorrow morning at 9am?
  • What is the proudest thing that you did in the last 3 years to help support our strategic plan?
  • What is the best thing that happened to you today?
  • If I imagine myself at work tomorrow, what is one thing that I will do differently?
  • How do you express what matters to you?
  • What has your time in education taught you?
  • Where have you had the most influence?
  • What is the most powerful gift you are giving to your organization right now?
  • How do you lift up the hearts and minds of faculty, staff and students within your institutions, to do their work in a way they never imagined?
  • What will your organization be calling on you to do in the next 10 years?
  • How can educational developers be revolutionary?
  • What are your options? What choices do you have moving forward? What is in your control?
  • What did you learn/discover?
  • What will you do differently next time?
  • What is the most important thing for you moving forward?
  • What key actions will you take based on this feedback?

References:

Cockell, Jeanie, & McArthur-Blair, Joan. (2012). Appreciative Inquiry in higher education: A transformative force: John Wiley & Sons.

SOARing through Curriculum Development Processes

As a foundational component of most curriculum review processes, we frequently engage in a Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Challenges (SWOC) analysis with faculty and instructors involved in the teaching and delivery of courses within a major or degree program.  The SWOC analysis framework is also often used as an effective framework for conducting focus groups to gather input and feedback from students, alumni and employers.

I have recently developed a strong affinity for the SOAR process (Stavros, Cooperrider, & Kelley, 2003; Stavros & Hinrichs, 2011), which provides a interesting alternative to the SWOC process. Based on an appreciative inquiry (AI) approach to strategic planning, the SOAR framework provides an extraordinary guide for conversations related to identifying and leveraging the key strengths and opportunities of academic programs. In collaboration with an incredibly insightful colleague, Dr. Gavan Watson, we recently adapted the SOAR framework within the context of a curriculum review process.  We used the questions below to guide discussion at a recent curriculum retreat (adapted from Stavros et al., 2003; Stavros and Hinrichs, 2011). Allotting approximately 2 hours for this discussion, we first divided the program’s instructors into three small groups.  There were three separate “flip chart” stations organized around the room, each focused on one of the following three SOAR topics:

 Strengths: What can we build on?

  1. What are we doing well?
    • What key achievements are we most proud of?
    • What positive aspects of the program have students/faculty/employers or others commented on?
  2. What are we known for?
    • What makes us unique?
    • Why do students choose our program?
  3. What key resources and areas of expertise give us an advantage?

Opportunities: What are our best possible future opportunities?

  1. What changes in demand do we expect to see over the next years?
    • What external forces or trends may positively impact the program?
  2. What future external opportunities exist for the program?
    • What are key areas of untapped potential?
    • What are students, employers and/or other community members asking for?
  3. How can we highlight our program strengths and distinguish ourselves from competing programs?
  4. How can we reframe perceived challenges to be seen as opportunities?

Aspirations: What do We Care Deeply About?

  1. What are we deeply passionate about?
  2. As a program, what difference do we hope to make (e.g. to learners, the institution, employers, the community)?
  3. What does our preferred future look like?
  4. What projects, programs or processes would support our aspirations?

Each group had 15 minutes to reflect on the guiding questions presented at the station.  After 15 minutes, the groups rotated to the next station, reviewed and discussed the key points summarized by the previous group, and added any additional points to the flipcharts.  After each small group had rotated through each of the stations, we collectively took 15 minutes to review the key points presented at the Strength, Opportunities, and Aspiration flipchart stations, to ensure that participants had an opportunity to provide additional clarification where necessary.  We then conducted a dotomocray to prioritize the key points presented at the stations (each participant was given 6 sticky dots to vote for what they felt were the program’s most important strengths, opportunities and aspirations). Based on this process, the top “3” points from each station were highlighted.

In the final step, the participants were divided into two groups, and given 20 minutes to discuss the key “Results” that they would like to see based on these priorities (see below guiding questions).  Each group then reported back up to 3 measures of success, goals, projects, and initiatives.

Results: How will we know we are succeeding?

  1. Considering our strengths, opportunities, and aspirations, what meaningful measures will indicate that we are on track in achieving our goals?
  2. What measurable results do we want to see? What measurable results will we be known for?
  3. What resources are needed to implement our most vital projects and initiatives?
  4. What are the 3-5 key goals would you like to accomplish in order to achieve these results?

The SOAR framework and process highlighted above resulted in a collective, collaborative, inspired and engaged discussion, that lead to the identification of key projects and areas of focus for continued program improvement. The strength-based focus of SOAR provides an important opportunity for participants to have meaningful, positive and solution-focused conversations related to the program’s potential, and provides clear direction upon which to create a desired future.

Note: More recently, we used the above SOAR framework to develop a future vision for one of our faculty development programs. I have quickly discovered that the framework is highly adaptable to many strategic planning conversations!

References

Stavros, Jacqueline M, Cooperrider, D L, & Kelley, D Lynn. (2003). Strategic inquiry appreciative intent: inspiration to SOAR, a new framework for strategic planning. AI Practitioner. November, 10-17.

Stavros, Jacqueline M, & Hinrichs, Gina. (2011). The Thin Book Of SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy. Bend, OR: Thin Book Publishing.

External Factors Impacting Educational and Curriculum Development in Ontario

In thinking about some of the external factors which are likely to impact and increase demand for Educational and Curriculum Development at the University of Guelph, the following five came quickly to mind.  All of the factors below will  impact areas that are core to the expertise, services and support areas that we provide including:  curriculum development, review and learning outcomes assessment; faculty and instructional development; evidenced-based classroom practice and research (e.g. student-centred and experiential learning); support for the use of educational technology; and universal instructional design. What other factors would you add to this list?

  1. Internationally, quality assurance processes and pressures for public accountability for academic programs have been increasing.  The Council of Ontario Universities’ Quality Assurance Framework (2010) requires each institution to develop and implement an Institutional Quality Assurance Process (IQAP). The IQAPs are core to quality assurance and continuous improvement, and ensure that all programs are consistent with their Institution’s Degree Level Expectations (e.g. University of Guelph 2012 Senate-approved Learning Outcomes).  The IQAP process has placed an increased focus on program-level curriculum review and development.
  2. PSE is one of the Ontario Government’s highest priority areas. This Government has committed to creating an addition 60,000 spaces in the PSE system and to ensuring that 70% of the population attains post-secondary credentials, while at the same time seeking to improve productivity through innovation and quality in our teaching and learning environments.
  3. In its discussion paper, Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge, The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) has called for transformation in the PSE system, with a clear focus on accountability and quality assurance, learning outcomes assessment, on-line/technology enabled learning, experiential learning, employability, acceleration of knowledge creation (e.g. 3 yr. undergrad baccalaureate degrees) and student transferability/mobility (of credits within the system and credentials across systems).
  4. The 2012 Auditor General’s Report evaluated University Undergraduate Teaching Quality, recommending: improved evaluations of courses and teaching; tenure and promotion processes that reflect the importance of teaching; greater participation in teaching development activities for all faculty; and, measuring the impact of various teaching resources (e.g. class size) on teaching quality and learning outcomes.
  5. The Provincial government has committed to ensuring accessibility for all learners through the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation and the AODA, placing increased importance on the practices and principles embedded in Universal Instructional Design (UID).