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The Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning was supported by a generous grant from the Davis Educational Foundation.
The idea of a Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning (FCTL) at RIC had been under discussion for a number of years. Exploration of an FCTL was a stated goal in the college's Strategic Plan 2010, cited under Institutional Goal 1 "Ensure high-quality learning opportunities for all students," and Objective 1.9 "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 members wrote e-mails expressing approval for the idea.
The outcome of this effort was a well-endorsed proposal to establish an FCTL, submitted by the Mission and Goals Committee to President Nancy Carriuolo in May 2009. Establishment of the FCTL was included in the strategic plan developed for 2010-2015. Draft Goal #1 read, "Foster and sustain rigorous academic programs that demonstrate student-faculty collaboration, cultural inquiry and intellectual engagement," and draft Objective 8 read, "Establish a Center for Teaching and Learning to demonstrate and facilitate our systemic commitment to faculty development."
A number of factors led to the college's desire to establish an FCTL during this time:
- The college experienced 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 increased due to a 6% rise in FTE undergraduate enrollment in fall 2009. With only 10 new full-time faculty members that fall, there was an urgent need to engage part-time faculty in college life and teaching development.
- The demographics of the faculty changed due, in part, to retirements. At the time, 35% of the full-time faculty members were assistant professors.
- The demographics of the students changed. RIC served a population of about 7,900 undergraduates and 1,400 graduate students. Of this group, 67% were women, 83% were white, and 87% were from Rhode Island. Over the next ten years, projections suggested the number of graduates from Rhode Island high schools would fall by about 25%, with the number of white students dropping by 40% but the number of Hispanic students rising by 36%. The college would need to reach a more ethnically-diverse population, non-traditionally-aged undergraduates, graduate students, and adults in need of continuing education. Success in understanding, reaching, and teaching these populations would benefit from the FCTL.
- Student learning-outcomes assessment has been, and continues to be, a major focus of campus efforts. As a college-wide responsibility, the FCTL would facilitate sharing of assessment practices and findings across departments and schools.
- While many faculty members were well versed in technology, the college lagged behind other institutions in online learning. Blackboard 9.0 was just becoming available after years of dependence on an older technology. A sustained faculty-development effort was needed to create a community of practice around online teaching and other emerging modes of pedagogy.
- Several consecutive years of fiscal constraints created, more than ever before, the need to be effective in teaching and to use faculty resources to the greatest effect possible. Maintenance of the faculty's sense of freshness and engagement with new teaching practices required an investment in faculty development.