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Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning

In the fall term of 2008 Ron Pitt, VPAA invited the Committee on College Mission and Goals to explore the question as to whether Rhode Island College faculty were interested in the possibility of establishing on campus some sort of "center" that would serve as a central hub for faculty development efforts related to teaching and learning.

Mission and Goals researched teaching and learning centers, visited local campuses and re-ignited a conversation that had been going on for a long time among certain faculty. Next, Mission and Goals invited all faculty to one of two campus-wide meetings on the question of whether RIC needed-and would support--some sort of Faculty Center devoted to dialogue about teaching, learning, and professional development. Such a center had to be, we realized early on, "by faculty for faculty."

Based upon its findings, early in 2009 Mission and Goals submitted a formal proposal to the administration in favor of developing a Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning at RIC. Soon after the administration decided to support the effort and seek a Davis Educational Grant as a major source of funding. Lisa Smolksi and Ron Pitt oversaw that effort. After numerous go-rounds and a final campus visit by trustees, the Davis people agreed to fund Rhode Island College's Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning with a three-year, $187,000 dollar grant. What follows is the grant proposal funded by Davis. It is a brief, comprehensive document that represents blue-print for the FCTL.

Proposal to the Davis Educational Foundation

Rhode Island College seeks the Davis Educational Foundation's support to establish a Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. A campus-wide center to support faculty development in teaching is needed to help the college better serve a changing student population. A grant of $187,826 over three years will provide the initial investment needed to develop a center that, we expect, will quickly become an integral part of the college's academic life. The college is prepared to assume the cost of the center after three years, assuming that the project is successful and the center meets the goals documented in this proposal. With a high level of documented readiness and preparation, we have every expectation of success. Funding from Davis Educational Foundation will permit us to launch and assess the center in a way that will maintain and improve the excellence of teaching and learning at the college.

Institutional Background
Rhode Island College (RIC) was established in Providence in 1854 as the Rhode Island State Normal School. The dedication of a new building in 1898 launched a period of steady growth, with the college evolving into a teachers' college, Rhode Island College of Education. The institution moved to its current campus in the Mount Pleasant section of Providence and was renamed Rhode Island College in 1959, reflecting its new purpose as a comprehensive institution of higher education.

Today, RIC encompasses schools of Arts and Sciences, Education, Management, Nursing, and Social Work. Enrollment stands at about 9,300 undergraduate and graduate students, 48% of whom are first-generation college students and over half of whom work more than 20 hours/week off-campus for pay. There are 342 full-time faculty and about 400 part-time faculty.

Project Background
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.

1.a. FCTL Purpose
An FCTL would be devoted to the professional and personal growth of faculty and have, as a central tenet of its mission, the goal of fostering a dynamic and committed campus community from across distances and disciplines and supporting the college's new strategic plan.

As described by faculty members themselves, an FCTL at RIC will:

  • provide much needed faculty support in a rapidly evolving profession and teaching/ learning environment. The FCTL will foster a safe space for honest, productive dialogue informed by scholarship and experience from all disciplines, ranks, and full-time and part-time status.
  • promote communication and collaboration across disciplines. An FCTL will serve as an institutional hub that fosters a dynamic and committed campus community across disciplines.
  • create an ongoing, coherent discussion of pedagogical practices in and out of the classroom. Current faculty-development programs operate without coordination, collaboration, or a central source of support. An FCTL will coordinate faculty development activities, resources, and information.
  • respond to new ideas and trends in teaching and learning. With faculty bringing in ideas from their outside contacts and the center monitoring trends in higher education, the FCTL will ensure that the campus as a whole remains up to date in current pedagogical thinking.
  • have a broad impact beyond our campus. Over 90% of K-12 teachers in Rhode Island have a degree from Rhode Island College. Across all fields, the majority of our graduates remain in the state for their professional careers. Thus, an FCTL will have a wide impact on the professional population and on K-12 students across the entire state.

1.b. FCTL Leadership
The selection of the director will be the first activity of the FCTL and will take place in the spring 2010 semester. An open, transparent, and inclusive process will be used to recruit and select the center director from among RIC faculty ranks. The director will be a tenured faculty member at the associate or full professor level with at least seven years' teaching experience and a record of participation in faculty development in teaching and learning, scholarly and/or artistic achievement, and some academic administrative and financial experience.

The director's ability to work with faculty from across campus will be crucial. The director must be open to serving and working with all faculty, including adjuncts, temporary full-time faculty, non-tenure track appointments, and full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty, from all backgrounds, disciplines, and experience levels. A search committee consisting of faculty from all five schools with a mix of rank, gender, experience at the institution, and other demographics will be recruited. Applicants will be evaluated on the basis of a statement of interest, a CV, and a daylong interview with all faculty and administrators.

1.c. FCTL Methods
After a director is identified, a faculty member from RIC's Applied Research and Training Project of the School of Social Work will participate in the design of a needs assessment and an impact-assessment system that gauges FCTL effectiveness from day one. The director will carry out the needs assessment, and from these results will emerge the priorities for FCTL activities through new programming over the next three years. The FCTL will also coordinate existing programs in collaboration with various entities on campus and establish new programming in the form of workshops, discussion groups, brown-bag lunches, web resources, and/or one-on-one consultations.

Specific activities that have already enjoyed faculty support and will be considered for potential inclusion under the FCTL include: (1) the January Faculty Development Day in association with the Writing Board; (2) a weeklong workshop in online learning during the summer; (3) the all-day teaching/research forum entitled "Engaging Conversations: The Subject of Honesty" scheduled for May 19, 2010; (4) the faculty Educational Technology Day in association with the Academic Technology Advisory Committee scheduled for May 2010 and (5) the "Promising Practices" conference in association with the Dialogue on Diversity Committee, which brings over 200 pre-service and in-service teachers and faculty together for an all-day dialogue on inclusive teaching.

Thoughts on new programs to be considered by the FCTL are already being suggested by our faculty. Some of these include: (1) new-faculty orientation programming during the fall and spring semesters; (2) an online journal entitled Issues in Teaching and Learning to provide a forum for RIC faculty reflections on teaching practices; (3) workshops and resources that support learning-outcomes assessment in association with the Committee on Assessment of Student Outcomes; (4) a Teaching Fellows Program of monthly discussions on teaching at RIC led by senior faculty; (5) an Adjunct Brown Bag hosting monthly meetings of adjunct faculty to discuss their specific concerns related to teaching first and second-year students; (6) monthly meetings on the scholarship and practice of teaching a changing demographic of students entitled, "Pedagogy Round-Up"; and (7) Across the Colleges, a bi-annual meeting that gathers faculty members from across the five colleges to discuss issues related to pedagogy, community and professional development.

Support already shown for existing programs, as well as ideas for potential programs, make clear the level of enthusiasm the FCTL would enjoy among our faculty. Developing and coordinating these programs and resources under the FCTL umbrella will strengthen each program, improve communication and coordination among entities, and create a more effective and cost-effective system for supporting faculty development in teaching.

1.d. Timeline for First Year
Spring 2010 Develop director position description; charge search committee; conduct open call; evaluate applications; interview; appoint; physically locate and set up center; apprise faculty of developments and progress.
Summer 2010 Hire evaluator to design needs assessment and evaluation methods; begin needs assessment with available faculty; dialogue with existing committees; review other institutions; set up web site; create outreach plan.
Fall 2010 Continue needs assessment; initiate programming; set up data collection, observation, feedback, and reporting systems with evaluator; determine best support and coordination mechanisms for current programming; implement plan to announce ongoing calendar of events to faculty; participate on Faculty Development Committee to award grants for faculty development activities.
Spring 2011 and beyond Conduct programming; evaluate impact; provide feedback for continuous improvement.

2.a. Anticipated Outcomes
In multiple discussions among faculty and administrators, three primary themes have emerged on the outcomes to be expected from a successful FCTL within three years:

  • The center will be recognized by RIC faculty as an essential and central part of:
    • Academic life on campus
    • The support system for faculty's professional development
    • The resources for meeting faculty needs
  • Faculty will feel a stronger sense of community, as evidenced by:
    • Widespread involvement in FCTL programming of faculty from all sectors of the institution and all demographics
    • A greater sense of connection to the campus community among adjunct faculty
    • Greater communication and collaboration across disciplines and ranks
    • Events and programs of varied topic, scope, size, and method
  • The FCTL will have changed faculty practice as evidenced by:
    • Faculty reporting a greater understanding of their own practices
    • Faculty being able to cite specific changes and improvements in their pedagogy as a result of the efforts of the FCTL
  • The FCTL will be an integral contributor to the college's strategic plan as evidenced by:
    • Specific metrics to be developed that gauge the college's achievement of its goal to foster and sustain rigorous academic programs

2.b. FCTL Outcomes Assessment
In year one, the internal evaluation team will design the data-collection and tools and observe the FCTL implementation process. Evaluation tasks during years two and three will include program observation, data collection, analysis, reporting, and monitoring of change. Program evaluation criteria include:

  1. Participation rates, e.g. number of faculty participating in FCTL events and programs over the course of a year;
  2. Distribution of faculty participants by department, rank, sub-discipline, experience level at the institution, full-time/part-time status, and faculty demographics;
  3. Participant evaluation of FCTL activities immediately after implementation, as well as pre- and post-participation surveys on knowledge and understanding of specific topics;
  4. Faculty assessment of the impact of FCTL on long-term changes in their teaching practices;
  5. Faculty assessment of the overall importance of FCTL to their professional development;
  6. Responses to questions in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) that reflect pedagogy and student/faculty interactions.

In sum, the faculty and administration of Rhode Island College are at a high level of readiness to establish a Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. A three-year, $187,826 grant from Davis Educational Foundation will provide the important seed funds to build a strong community of teachers and learners that will become an integral component of our college's academic life.

3. The Mission and Unique Qualities of Rhode Island College
The Rhode Island College Mission:
Rhode Island College is one of the region's leading comprehensive public colleges. Our mission is to offer accessible higher education of the finest quality to traditional and non-traditional students from around the state, the region, and beyond. Students here are members of a caring community that respects diversity and values academic excellence informed by cultural inquiry, civic engagement, and co-curricular activity. The college offers a wide variety of liberal arts, science, and professional programs in which dedicated faculty work with students to achieve the promise of higher education: an open and inquiring mind.

Rhode Island College's mission statement was revised in spring 2009 to capture more concisely the essence of the college's purpose as a teaching institution that emphasizes academic quality.

The challenges faced by RIC and its faculty are described in this proposal. Some of these include declining state appropriations compounded by a difficult economic environment, changing needs of our student population, and changing demographics of the state overall. Under the leadership of a new President and Vice President of Academic Affairs, following a period of long-term leadership, these challenges also arise at a moment of unique opportunity.

There is widespread recognition on our campus that we need to adapt the institutional culture of our school to work better in this new educational and fiscal environment. There is also acknowledgment that the cultural changes that are needed require a thoughtful, guided transition. Campus-wide discussions through a new strategic planning process and other committees make it clear that RIC is at a pivotal and transformational moment in its long history. The FCTL is regarded by our faculty and administration as a major step in making institutional shifts that will position RIC to better meet the educational needs of the state and the region.

RIC has a long history of providing academic opportunities to non-traditional and first-generation students. The average age of full and part time undergraduate students is 24, and 21% of the undergraduate population is 25 or older. Reflecting demographic trends at the state and national level, our number and percentage of minority students are increasing rapidly.

Page last updated: September 27, 2011