Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning is supported by a generous grant from the Davis Educational Foundation.
The idea of a Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning (FCTL) at RIC has been under discussion for a number of years. Exploration of an FCTL was a stated goal in the college's current strategic plan, Plan 2010. Specifically, under Institutional Goal 1, "Ensure high-quality learning opportunities for all students," Objective 1.9 was to "Explore the feasibility of creating a Center for Teaching and Learning for college faculty and submit a feasibility plan by 2009."
To achieve this objective, in fall 2008 a committee of the RIC governance council of faculty, staff, and administrators was asked by the Vice President for Academic Affairs to review the structure and function of centers at other schools, assess interest level among faculty at RIC, and make a recommendation to the administration. Committee members made site visits to six different centers at area colleges, ranging from Worcester State College to Connecticut College to Brown University. A report on these centers was disseminated to the faculty at large, and two faculty-wide forums were conducted at which about 80 faculty attended to voice their support. Many other faculty wrote e-mails expressing support for the idea. The outcome of this effort was a strongly-worded proposal to establish an FCTL, submitted by the Mission and Goals Committee to President Nancy Carriuolo in May 2009. Establishment of the FCTL is now included in the new strategic plan being developed for 2010-2015. Specifically, under draft Goal #1, "Foster and sustain rigorous academic programs that demonstrate student-faculty collaboration, cultural inquiry and intellectual engagement," draft Objective 8 is to "Establish a Center for Teaching and Learning to demonstrate and facilitate our systemic commitment to faculty development."
A number of factors have led to the college's desire to establish an FCTL now:
- The college is experiencing a surge in enrollment and a rising dependence on adjuncts. In 2008-09, 38% of the student credit hours were generated by part-time faculty, a percentage that is increasing due to a 6% rise in FTE undergraduate enrollment in fall 2009. With only 10 new full-time faculty this fall, there is an urgent need to engage part-time faculty in college life and teaching development.
- The demographics of the faculty are changing due, in part, to retirements. Currently, 35% of the full-time faculty are assistant professors.
- The demographics of the students are changing. RIC currently serves a population of about 7,900 undergraduates and 1,400 graduate students. Of this group, 67% are women, 83% are white, and 87% are from Rhode Island. Over the next ten years, the number of graduates from Rhode Island high schools will fall by about 25%, with the number of white students dropping by 40% but the number of Hispanic students rising by 36%. The college will need to reach a more ethnically diverse population, non-traditionally-aged undergraduates, graduate students, and adults in need of continuing education. Our success in understanding, reaching, and teaching these populations will benefit from an FCTL.
- Student learning-outcomes assessment has been, and will continue to be, a major focus of campus efforts. As a college-wide responsibility, the FCTL will permit sharing of assessment practices and findings across departments and schools.
- While many faculty are well versed in technology, the college lags other institutions in online learning. Blackboard 9.0 is just coming available after years of dependence on an older technology. A sustained faculty-development effort is needed to create a community of practice around online teaching and other emerging modes of pedagogy.
- Several consecutive years of fiscal constraints have created, more than ever before, the need to be effective in our teaching and to use our scarce faculty resources to the greatest effect possible. Maintenance of the faculty's sense of freshness and engagement with new teaching practices requires an investment in faculty development.