Peer Review

Faculty Evidence

In order to better understand faculty perspectives on participation in the project, the thirty-five faculty from the seven institutions who participated were encouraged to respond to thirteen critical reflective prompts over the course of the project—addressing their goals for participation, knowledge they hoped to gain, descriptions of the process of making their courses transparent and assignments problem-based. Since other tools in the project assessed and analyzed student performance and perceptions, the project leaders thought it was important to have at least one dimension of the project focus exclusively on the faculty. This article will focus on a few of their reactions and thoughts on their participation in the project and offer a few strategies for improving faculty transparency based on this project

The faculty had shared goals for participation in project. They all sought to improve the learning and the learning experience of students by improving their teaching. They cited a desire for knowledge about more intentional, deliberate, and student-centered teaching practices along with strategies for effective teaching for a range of students. The faculty also sought out a network of engaged scholars focused on teaching—allowing them a new group outside their discipline to engage in discussions on pedagogical matters.

They also described the process of making their courses more transparent and designing problem-based assignments. For designing more transparent courses, they all cited syllabus and assignment redesign, changes in the use of class time, sharing sample work and rubrics with students, and making connections between course and institutional learning goals. In order to design problem-based assignments, the majority were guided by the Problem Solving VALUE Rubric and/or the steps of problem solving, concrete applications and/or connections to real-world problems, and connections to real-world problems, and a couple found the process very challenging.

Strategies to Improve Faculty Transparency

Five strategies were identified to improve faculty transparency of intentionality and communication of goals to students: communication of the value of transparency, time to do this work, consistent professional development, faculty learning communities, and time in class for transparency.

The connection between academic success and transparency has not been made for most faculty according to the reflections of faculty in this project. Faculty members are truly unaware that the difference between success and failure for many students could depend on the inclusion of text in a syllabus and/or additional instruction on an assignment. Furthermore, some faculty do not have a clear understanding of what transparency and intentionally actually mean, and a clarification would be helpful.

“The most important strategy is to make sure that faculty members understand the importance of being intentionally transparent in communicating their goals. Based on my observations, faculty assume they are being transparent but fail to truly understand the different facets of what transparency in the classroom means.”—Faculty Member

“I think that making faculty aware of what transparency is and how it could help to un-code academic culture is helpful. A minority, low-income, older, and/or first generation student doesn’t always understand the nuances of academic culture, and simply thinking of how assignments and courses fit into a wider picture of themselves and their futures can be helpful.”—Faculty Member

Faculty who participated in this project had paid time to engage in project work. This allowed course release time to learn and develop transparent teaching practices and reflect on the process of intentional, transparent teaching. This time was invaluable to faculty, and they wondered if other faculty would be able to do it. It was clear that course release time was essential to the success of course transformation. Paid time off was a part of the change.

“Receiving course releases allowed me to spend time developing the products I needed. It is a big investment to develop sample annotated assignments, develop PowerPoints to explain assignments with greater details, and to develop explicit rubrics.” —Faculty Member

Continuous, high-quality, professional development, as stated above, is another element that was mentioned by the faculty as an essential element. It ensures curricular support for course and assignment revision—integration of transparent elements into the syllabus and assignments—technical support and the addition of sample assignments and models of transparency teaching tools.

The establishment of faculty learning communities, also mentioned above, provided faculty with opportunities to learn from and with colleagues from across campuses. Faculty needed space to brainstorm, exchange ideas, gain feedback from others doing similar work, have facilitation by instructional design specialists, and support from outside faculty development consultants. They also really enjoyed the opportunities to engage with faculty from other disciplines. This interdisciplinary faculty community of practice met the goal of sustained professional development that many of the faculty had.

Finally, the vast majority of the faculty cited the importance of giving up class content time to incorporate and communicate transparency-related information. This was a real shock to many of the faculty, but they felt it was truly critical to student success. They really needed to take the time out of class to provide assignment and rubric-related descriptions to ensure students fully understood what was expected even if it meant there was less time devoted to course content.

“I spent almost an entire class period developing the assignment, asking for feedback and interpretation, individually and in groups. I modeled the assignment as a class using anonymous student work samples, and the email burden was reduced almost 100%! As were the harried questions and excuses, ‘I didn’t get it.’”—Faculty Member

“I had to make adjustments to the amount of content, which may be difficult for some faculty. The reward for me was having homework assignments that aligned clearly with my expectations making them easier to grade. But I did have to give up some content, and place other content on the web in the form of videos.” —Faculty Member

Conclusion

The reflective prompts provided an insight into the faculty members’ experiences across the life of the project, and it allowed us to draw conclusions from the project that the student data did not. While it affirmed some of that data, it also helped us to understand some of the challenges the faculty experienced as they sought to make major changes to their courses to improve the experience of their students. It also helps us understand steps department chairs and faculty developers may want to take as they consider working with faculty to help make courses more transparent.


Dawn Michele Whitehead, senior director, global learning and curricular change, AAC&U

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