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The Genesis of LEAP IN
LEAP IN is our chosen name for the statewide network of faculty who have been catalyzed through the Faculty Collaboratives project. In 2013, Indiana became a LEAP state through a resolution passed by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. There were significant goals: (1) to collaborate with other states, (2) to improve the quality of postsecondary education, and (3) to scale innovative models for teaching and learning. Leaders hoped to integrate state-level and campus-level initiatives, amplifying the impact on student learning. We launched our network eighteen months later.
Our fledgling network was shepherded into existence by a small band of committed faculty leaders from across Indiana University, and then strengthened through the energy and enthusiasm of seven faculty fellows selected from our public institutions. A cross-institutional steering committee was formed based on recommendations from chief academic officers, and a needs analysis helped to shape initial priorities. Our early goals were ambitious. We envisioned a virtual “hub” that would enable LEAP IN to help faculty engage in national initiatives, while also filling gaps that exist on our campuses for faculty support. At the same time, we wanted a collaborative workspace for projects that our Faculty Fellows hoped to pursue. We quickly learned that needs varied across institutions, with two-year campuses wanting help with new faculty and four-year campuses concerned with shifting faculty roles and responsibilities and tensions between teaching and research. Since Indiana has no statewide faculty network, it was challenging to focus on LEAP state priorities. Faculty saw value to networking, but their interest tended toward individual professional development. Keeping the “LEAP” in LEAP IN required constant care and tending, not to mention a strategic communications plan.
We have since built a statewide steering committee. Indiana University provides leadership for the hub. Other institutions help with meetings and professional development aligned with LEAP. We have developed a website with a portal to an interactive open-access Canvas site, a “virtual hub” supporting networking and leadership development. We aspire for our hub to change as issues in undergraduate education evolve. We also recognize that state-specific foci (e.g., Transfer Single Articulation Pathways) will likely continue to need a virtual home on our hub.
We have learned how to structure and to prioritize in our efforts. Communication requires us to let people know who we are and what we are about. Sustainability means creating a functional infrastructure allowing the project to live beyond the grant. Education ensures that visitors to the hub understand fundamental principles and the relevance that national proficiency initiatives carry for improvement of learning and student success. We had to learn that faculty do not intuitively understand the relevance of AAC&U’s LEAP initiative and the Degree Qualifications Profile to student success. These concepts are difficult to communicate, particularly if faculty have never thought beyond “what I teach” to “what we teach” across a degree. We had assumed that colleagues would see the value for themselves. Skeptical faculty sometimes dismiss these proficiency initiatives as irrelevant to their own practice or connected to administrative goals to standardize undergraduate education, against the values of shared governance. It is tempting to take “short cuts” with respect to communication and education by relying heavily on hyperlinks to the AAC&U website. We need trustworthy language and values that open learning-centered proficiency initiatives to faculty across the state. One fellow, Beth Goering, contributed by formulating a communication plan to help tackle these challenges.
Overcoming inertia and finding relevance can be obstacles when the work that faculty already do has achieved merit and been deemed good of its kind by the institution. Faculty often do express passion for teaching, but that passion may not extend easily to pedagogies and practices of reform initiatives for teaching and learning. Our fellows have helped to improve the relevance of the hub by embedding work on disciplinary tuning and high-impact practices into our Canvas site, inviting faculty within their networks to contribute to it.
Currently we have a growing network of enthusiastic collaborators from public and private institutions connected through a listserv. We have successfully held two statewide conferences and have been invited to hold a standing “track” at the Indianapolis Assessment Institute each fall. We are decidedly optimistic about the future. Our leadership team and members of our statewide steering committee have expressed commitment to remain engaged for the long haul. We have models and partners in other states. We’ve found trust, shared purpose, and friendship. Senior leadership at Indiana University has taken responsibility to support this work. Connections opened through our multi-campus system to other networks, including IU’s Faculty Academy on Excellence in Teaching, known as FACET. Finally, we are exploring a self-sustaining dues-based membership process, based in part on what we have learned from LEAP Texas.
Implantation and Sustainability
Leading change is said to entail three key stages: crafting a shared vision, implementing change, and then sustaining the change that has been implemented, often while adapting to new environmental contexts. Cultivating a shared vision across institutions and among people that did not know each other was challenging, but we have done a credible job. During the first year of the project, we leaned heavily on AAC&U publications as well as colleagues in other LEAP states who have articulated so passionately and compellingly the value of liberal education for our students as future citizens, and especially the importance of equity as a core principle. Implementation occurred primarily through the distributed projects of the faculty fellows as well as planning for the annual conference and the building out of our virtual hub. Sustaining these changes will rest heavily on the leadership of Indiana University, Ivy Tech Community College, and other campuses that are AAC&U members. We recognize that our efforts to ensure sustainability must allow for transitions in roles. Faculty members lead busy lives, move in and out of institutions, and in and out of administrative roles at more senior levels. Sustaining the network depends on distributed leadership and it must be augmented by intentional communication through social media and in-person meetings, and by way of conferences that are clearly aligned with the goals of LEAP IN.
What we know for certain after three years of the hub’s existence and two very successful conferences is that faculty are hungry to learn more about best practices in pedagogy and to converse with their colleagues about the future of teaching and learning. This hunger originates in the great passion within our faculty to ensure that students are successful. As long as that commitment holds true, dedicated faculty will take advantage of opportunities to innovate and to find support for their own learning and practice with their colleagues.
Kathy Johnson, Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis; T. J. Rivard, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Indiana University East; and William J. McKinney, Senior Advisor for Regional Campus Affairs, Indiana University