Higher Education, Reflections, StudentAffairs

A Kinder Campus to Collaborate

Be Kind

There are a  number of students, staff, and faculty in my life who I have gotten to know along my academic and professional journey – as colleagues and as friends. I have been fortunate enough to experience college/university life as a student, professional, and instructor  at various types of institutions and in more than one country.  Each new experience has afforded me to work with insightful colleagues, learn about effective practices, understand a variety of student populations, and consider innovative ways to  support students, staff, and faculty.

In a recent Inside Higher Ed article I shared my thoughts on why our divisions in higher education need to think beyond their own areas. Some of the challenges ahead in higher education will require our departments/divisions to step our of their silos to collaborate and reach shared goals for our institutions. It does require some risk; however I think there are larger rewards for reaching out and conversing with others. In considering some of the opportunities and challenges in higher education – such as financial, legislative, staffing, and more – perhaps it is just the right time to sit down to chat and connect to others on campus. Institutional units will need to put their heads together to think creatively and collectively about some of these issues – if they are not doing so already. 

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about what a “kinder campus” means in higher education. I am currently participating in a Collaborative Learning Community (CLC) at UNT that brings students, staff, and faculty together to work towards a shared solution to a problem/challenge at our institution [more to be shared on this later]. Since we have diverse representation on this CLC, as the co-chair with another faculty member we have been considering the following needs to keep our group moving forward:

  • introductions are important – find out what everyone “does” on campus
  • use common language and define terms
  • establish purpose and goals for the CLC
  • share and distribute information/facts that are not known
  • establish a meeting time/day of the week
  • create agendas to guide, not limit the conversation/sharing
  • record meeting minutes for those who might be absent
  • online space for resource sharing 
  • flexibility and understanding for attendance is a must
  • define roles to guide actionable items & project initiatives
  • bringing food/treats is never a bad thing

Although cross-departmental meetings can be challenging, as it requires stepping outside our own domains and sharing across disciplinary boundaries, I have had some of the most productive conversations and ideas to emerge from these gatherings.

Are you part of a collaborative working group at your higher ed institution? What tips do you have to “be kind” and connect with colleagues outside your division/department?

 

 

 

Learning Community, PLN

Building Communities of Practice in Higher Ed

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Milton Cox from Miami University, met with a group of students, staff and faculty to share ideas on how to build effective communities of practice at UNT known as Collaborative Learning Communities (CLC).  In his lecture and our discussion, Dr. Cox shared suggestions on how to “mind the gap(s)” in higher education and consider the broken spaces between our current disciplines, departments and silos on campus.  The process of connecting to establish a community of practice (in his example, faculty learning communities) it is to connect faculty and their institutions to think beyond their department, discipline and separate goals for the campus.
Image c/o Dr. Milton Cox
It is all to common to see department loyalty being rewarded and interdisciplinary activity questioned in higher education. There are also disconnects between student development and academic affairs priorities. For higher education to move forward it will be critical for faculty and staff to engage students in new ways of learning and scholarly activity. Although many students want to see the sage on the stage, to just consume information, it will be increasingly critical for our learning institutions to encourage inquiry-based learning and promote self-regulated scholarship.
One way to close the education gap and challenges in higher education, is to consider forming communities of practice (CoP) that work together. There are a number of students, staff and faculty need to collaborate to discuss civic engagement, learning communities, and pedagogical shifts to our higher education curriculum. Dr. Cox introduced the concept of Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs), which tend to be more structured than the organic CoP, and they are voluntary, structured, and at least a yearlong commitment from the members. Here are some other suggested practices for setting up FLCs:
  • size: 8-12 faculty, professionals, Administrators, TAs, students
  • voluntary membership by application
  • Affiliate patterns: consultants, mentors, student associates
  • multidisciplinary and from different departments
  • encourage participant curiosity
  • allow for richness of innovations
  • permitted relief from dysfunctional units
As we connected and discussed ideas around our own Collaborative Learning Communities (CLCs), we found sharing ideas could help work towards resolving institutional challenges and support the strategic goals for our campus. As our CLCs gather and collaborate, I am looking forward to connecting, brainstorming, and creating initiatives that will enhance what we do on campus.
Along with this idea for collaborative learning communities, Sue Beckingham, Jeff Jackson, Eric Stoller and I hope to discuss this topic as a #sxswEDU panel in 2013 => Communities of Practice in Higher Education as we hope to answer the following questions:
  1. How can communities of practice and learning networks play a critical role in meeting the challenges of higher education across the globe?
  2. As professional and personal learning networks (PLNs) develop, how can these informal entities support and contribute to the future of higher education?
  3. What are some actionable items and issues that higher education communities of practice can take on both at the local and global level?
Sign in and CAST YOUR VOTE HERE.

References:

Cox, M. & Richlin, L.  (2004). New Directions for Teaching and Learning:  Building Faculty Learning Communities.  Vol. 97.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wenger, E. (2002) Communities of practice. Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Volume 1.5, Article 5. Elsevier Science, Amsterdam.