Reviews Teaching Writing

“Professors Can Learn to Be More Effective Instructors” by Coleen Flaherty

Coleen Faherty reviews Faculty Development and Student Learning: Assessing the Connections (Indiana University Press), a book based on a multi-year study of faculty development at Washington State and Carleton University.  They found that faculty development improves faculty’s teaching and positively influences students’ development.  Developing outcomes the faculty believed in was important, the study found, and the improvement to faculty’s teaching persisted over many years, even spreading to others who did not attend the same development.

Like our Writing Across the Curriculum program at Mason, Washington State and Carleton University have their own WAC programs that provide development programs for the faculty in the study.  The study considered their WAC faculty development programs as well as separate initiatives at both colleges: the Critical Thinking Project at Washington State and Quantitative Inquiry, Reasoning and Knowledge (QuIRK) at Carleton University.  The WAC development included “specific workshops on how to use writing as a pedagogy in multiple disciplines, as well as portfolio assessment of student writing.” Study participants were interviewed and submitted course materials (syllabi, assignments, etc) to show the efficacy of their training.  This data revealed professors were “assigning multiple drafts as part of assignments, scaffolding assignments to build up skills over the term, and helping students use more data in their work.” Such training resulted in growth of students’ critical thinking skills.  For instance, when researchers rated student papers written after the faculty development, the writing showed improvement “in argument, conclusions, higher-order thinking and student point of view.”

This study has rich potential for faculty development programs connected to student progress, like the Center for Teacher and Faculty Excellence here at Mason and our own WAC program.  The researchers recommend collecting and studying faculty development materials and student work examples, and then re-designing faculty development that matches the desired student progress.  Further, they recommend beginning “with broader outcomes such as writing, higher-order thinking, information literacy and quantitative reasoning” and setting a standard for data collection.  While faculty buy-in is important to the success of development programs, a “culture of teaching and learning” is even more important.  Such a culture, the study suggests, will expand the effects of faculty development to students and other faculty.

For faculty in the disciplines, this study encourages them in their professional development.  Researchers found that faculty development has benefits extending beyond the time when faculty are trained and beyond faculty members themselves, to students and other faculty.  Further, the book encourages faculty to seek out professional development themselves and to accept the risk involved in trying new methods, as faculty who do so often have greater gains.  Most of all, the study encourages faculty that their faculty development can truly improve their teaching, through their syllabi, course materials, and student assignments.

Read the full text here:

William Condon at Washington State University; Ellen R. Iverson, Cathryn A. Manduca, and Carol Rutz at Carleton College; and Gudrun Willett of Ethnoscapes Global conducted the study.