Faculty Development in an Age of Evidence: Current Practices, Future Imperatives
reviewed by Julie A. Mooney & Luciano da Rosa dos Santos — August 15, 2017
Title: Faculty Development in an Age of Evidence: Current Practices, Future Imperatives
Author(s): Andrea L. Beach, Mary Deane Sorcinelli, Ann E. Austin, & Jaclyn K. Rivard
Publisher: Stylus, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 1620362686, Pages: 176, Year: 2016
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In an era of ongoing financial constraints across higher education, greater focus for administrators has shifted to creating systems that are both efficient and competitive. Greater numbers of contingent faculty positions and the increased age of professors due to postponed retirements, combined with the ever-increasing use of educational technologies to foster efficiencies in teaching and learning practices, have prompted re-evaluation of faculty development offerings. In such a challenging environment, Andrea L. Beach and colleagues provide a useful overview and detailed analysis of the current state of faculty development in North America.
The purpose of Faculty Development in the Age of Evidence: Current Practices, Future Imperatives is to examine faculty development today: its purpose, the role of development, key priorities, and new directions (p. 1). In order to achieve that, the book reports on a second iteration of an extensive survey of practices around faculty development in the United States and Canada. Surveying 385 faculty developers representing various roles and levels within higher education institutions in both countries, this is one of the most comprehensive portraits of the field of faculty development to date. The books main argument is that faculty development within higher education institutions must move towards an age of evidence. The book is focus[ed] on evidence-based teaching and learning, interest in research on teaching practices in the disciplines, assessment of student learning outcomes, and institutional needs for quality improvement (p. 108). This emerging age of evidence calls for faculty developers and faculty members to engage in meaningful reflection on teaching and learning, paired with evidence-based practices that strengthen the quality of learning in higher education.
The first five chapters present the results of the survey in terms of identification of the demographics, goals, structures, and services offered by faculty development centers and programs. Some interesting findings show that the typical faculty developer is female (73% of the respondents), Caucasian (90%), past 55 years old (41%), and has a background in education (42%). In terms of primary goals guiding faculty development, 75% of respondents cited their top priority was to create or sustain a culture of teaching excellence (p. 31). The authors also highlight the prevalence of central units as the structural model for organizing faculty development (59%), followed by a single individual leading faculty development initiatives (29%). Furthermore, centers rely on services such as new faculty orientation, technology integration, and active pedagogical approaches to develop faculty teaching capacity. According to the study, in order to do so, the most common faculty development approaches are hands-on workshops, individual consultations, and web-based resources.
Chapter Six discusses future directions in faculty development and core assumptions that the field may need to reconsider. In the original study (Sorcinelli, Austin, Eddy, & Beach, 2006), the authors reported five directions for the field, namely, integrating technology in teaching and learning, deepening active pedagogies, addressing new and expanding roles of faculty and helping faculty balance those roles, building interdisciplinary communities of practice among faculty, and addressing issues of diversity for students, faculty, and institutions (Beach, et al., 2016, p. 91). Beach and colleagues argue that the field has progressed considerably since the original study, having achieved many of the goals identified in 2006. The 2016 results highlighted both a near-term set of priorities, and a long-term set of directions for the field. In the near-term, faculty learning communities are identified as a priority approach. In the long-term, the field aims to continue its focus on technology, and its assessment of programs and student learning. Another important consideration highlighted by the authors is an expanding engagement with and practice of the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Chapter Seven focuses on assessment of teaching and learning, of faculty work, and of faculty development practices. The authors briefly discuss challenges and requirements for evaluating the effectiveness of faculty development initiatives. The vast majority of centers reported in the study that they use simple metrics for assessing faculty development work: attendance and satisfaction. The authors discuss the challenge of developing and implementing assessment practices that are more complex, citing literature to support the argument that faculty developers cannot and should not need to become educational researchers to demonstrate the worth of their program (p. 114). Although we agree that faculty developers do not necessarily need to be specialists in educational research, competencies in epistemologies and research methodologies in education would enhance assessment of faculty development work.
With the completion of the second iteration of the survey on faculty developers across North America, the book closes with a discussion of key learnings. Commenting on points such as pathways into the profession, scholarship of educational development, enhancing faculty diversity, and the future of the profession, Beach and colleagues argue that faculty development is taking a more central role in shaping teaching and learning practices in higher education institutions. In addition to serving as consultants, the authors claim that faculty developers can play an important role in leading change in their institutions. Faculty developers can lead change through meaningful conversations supported by the growing body of evidence collected by practitioners and researchers in the field.
Although the book gives a comprehensive overview of the current field of faculty development, and presents a detailed analysis of the past, present, and future of the field, there were three areas we wished the book could have explored in more detail. Our first wish is for more balance between qualitative and quantitative data reported by the researchers. Our field relies on discourses in teaching and learning in tandem with the development of collegial relationships. The book reported quantitative figures disproportionately to participants narratives, especially in the first five chapters. The report would be enhanced by presenting more voices of participants throughout the book.
Our second wish is for greater emphasis on the discussion around assessment of the work of faculty developers. The authors highlighted the point that faculty developers should choose metrics that the field values, rather than measurements that are easy to collect. This position begs the question: what are the most effective and relevant metrics for measuring faculty development work? In times of financial constraints, it is imperative that faculty developers investigate a wide range of evidence in order to support our claims of enhancing teaching and learning practices and experiences in our institutions. To do this, we need to develop strategies to more holistically assess the effectiveness of faculty development practices. The fact that this can be a challenging task should not stop us, but instead should inspire us to harness our most creative and innovative skills and approaches.
Finally, while we appreciate the inclusion of a Canadian representation, and that these data were delineated from other institutions, we wished there was greater granularity in the Canadian data. The postsecondary Canadian context is significantly different from the U.S. higher education system. For instance, most postsecondary institutions in Canada are public institutions. Acknowledging this point in the data does not add much to our understanding of it. Rather, it would make more sense to distinguish between three types of Canadian postsecondary institutions: a) colleges/polytechnics/institutes/CEGEPS, b) undergraduate universities, and c) research-intensive universities.
Overall, Faculty Development in the Age of Evidence is an essential resource for the field of faculty development and for the higher education sector. Beach and colleagues provide an updated examination of the status of the field, and create meaningful arguments in favor of continually strengthening faculty development. Beyond that, the book asks important questions for practitioners to reflect and act upon, in order to continue evolving the field of faculty development and the overall impact of higher education in society.
Sorcinelli, M. D., Austin, A. E., Eddy, P. L., & Beach, A. L. (2006). Creating the Future of Faculty Development: Learning From the Past, Understanding the Present. Boston, MA: Anker Publishing.