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LEAP Texas joined the Faculty Collaboratives in 2014, shortly after the state adopted six new core objectives that drive the Texas Core Curriculum. The state’s matriculation into the Faculty Collaboratives project coincided with the launch of a new fifteen-year higher education plan across Texas, 60x30TX. The title of the strategic plan serves as a reminder of the plan’s overarching goal: 60 percent of Texans aged between twenty-five and thirty-four will hold a higher education degree or certificate by 2030 (see http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/reports/PDF/9306.PDF). The three stages of evolution for the Texas Faculty Collaboratives—an initial stage of sense making, an intermediate stage of content creation, and a third stage of building sustainable practices—frame this article as we respond to the changing landscape of higher education in Texas.
LEAP Texas is unique among the LEAP States in that it is not driven by a single institution, system of institutions, or state office. Since its 2013 inception, LEAP Texas has been a voluntary organization; more specifically, it is a collaborative established to serve the fifty public community college districts and thirty-eight public universities (many of which are associated with one of the six university systems) across the state. Currently, fifty higher education institutions are subscribed as member institutions of LEAP Texas. Beyond the membership, the mission and vision of LEAP Texas speak to state-wide consortial outcomes for faculty, students, and institutions (see http://leaptx.org).
The Faculty Collaboratives project has built on the early success of LEAP Texas and contributed to the future vision of an organization with the potential to touch the student experiences of over half a million college students. This article outlines the work LEAP Texas is doing to consider, create content for, and sustain student learning and assessment in the state and, through Faculty Collaboratives, a network of states.
Stage 1: Sense Making and Sharing Understandings
Midway through 2015, LEAP Texas recruited a small number of Faculty Fellows and Assessment Fellows from two-year and four-year public institutions. The Faculty Fellows were charged with four main activities:
- Create networking opportunities for educators to share their experiences and ideas—with an emphasis on the use of social media.
- Implement a hub—a virtual space that collects information and resources for educators.
- Engage educators from across the state in conversations about assessment, the core objectives, and the application of related Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) VALUE rubrics.
- Support educators in adopting educational practices that have been encouraged by AAC&U and other nationally recognized groups.
The assessment fellows were charged with advancing authentic assessment of student work for the Texas core objectives. LEAP Texas promoted interinstitutional assessment involving both two- and four-year colleges and universities. Eight institutions participated in the Texas Assessment Collaborative (see http://leaptx.org/development-hub/texas-assessment-collaboratives/).
Reflection and online collaboration enabled the faculty fellows to refine and clarify the purpose and charge of each activity. The hub—what it was, what it could be, and how it would work—became a focus of initial conversation associated with the project. AAC&U proficiency initiatives were viewed as crucial resources and subject matter for the hub. Proficiency initiatives are viewed as design features of learning experiences and assessment that support student learning and the application of learning beyond the classroom.
Regular conversation and exchanges of ideas led to two key outcomes in this stage: first, the work of faculty fellows was separated into individual work on AAC&U proficiency initiatives and collaborative teamwork on state core objectives (see http://leaptx.org/coreobjectives/), and secondly, the hub came to be viewed as a website which would capture information, guidance, and resources associated with the work of the fellows (see http://leaptx.org/development-hub/). In January 2016, a three-day Faculty Collaboratives conference organized by AAC&U brought together the LEAP Texas faculty fellows. By listening to other LEAP States talk about their projects, the conference provided clarity and momentum for the Texas team to begin working on projects and the hub.
Stage 2: Content Creation and Audience Engagement
Individual project work on AAC&U initiatives and collective work on the Texas core objectives crystalized during early stages of the Faculty Collaboratives project. However, taking concrete steps towards the creation of web content for the hub and considering audience engagement dominated the next stage of project activity. In terms of content, a template was created for each proficiency initiative and associated project, as well as each core objective (see http://leaptx.org/coreobjectives/teamwork/), ensuring consistent, engaging design of information that would eventually be authored by the faculty fellows throughout the project. The following web pages were created to address proficiency initiative information and projects:
- The Degree Qualifications Profile and Tuning: http://leaptx.org/development-hub/degree-qualification-profile/
- General Education Maps and Markers (GEMS): http://leaptx.org/development-hub/gems/
- Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE): http://leaptx.org/development-hub/value-rubrics/
- High-Impact Educational Practices (HIPS): http://leaptx.org/development-hub/hips/
- Assignment Design: http://leaptx.org/development-hub/assignments-signature-work/
LEAP Texas promoted interinstitutional assessment involving both two-year and four-year colleges and universities. Eight institutions participated in the Texas Assessment Collaborative (see http://leaptx.org/development-hub/texas-assessment-collaboratives/).
Additionally, faculty fellows began using Twitter to engage an audience across the state using #LEAPTexas and, more widely across other projects, using #FACCOLLAB. Tweets and associated use of #LEAPTexas peaked during event weeks when faculty fellows concentrated efforts to engage faculty across the state in information associated with a select core objective (most recently Personal Responsibility). The LEAP Texas mailing list, with over 400 contacts, has been a useful tool to connect institutions and professionals across the state with the work of the faculty collaboratives project.
Stage 3: Building in Sustainability and the Idea of the Sandbox
The contributions of those involved in LEAP Texas must fit around, on top of, and alongside full-time teaching and administrative loads. This is not an issue unique to the Texas Faculty Collaboratives project, but in Texas this topic triggered a productive conversation about the future and sustainability of the hub. From this discussion, two new steps were taken toward the recruitment of new faculty fellows and a new view of the hub. First, the recruitment of faculty fellows was reframed with a focus on attracting “emerging experts” interested in exploring AAC&U and LEAP proficiency initiatives and sharing the endeavors of their own professional development with colleagues across Texas. Secondly, the hub was reenvisioned not just as a site of information and exchange but as a “sandbox” where fellows could experiment with project design and information sharing to inform future best practices.
In its first eighteen months, the Texas Faculty Collaboratives project has focused on sense making and experimental content creation. Future plans will continue to focus on the needs of LEAP Texas’s audience, how to serve them best, and how to work as the faculty collaborative team membership evolves. At the same time, expect to see more of #LEAPTexas and #FACCOLLAB on Twitter as the Faculty Collaborative work continues to explore how to support higher education professionals and their contribution to student success.
Terry Di Paolo, Executive Dean of Online Instructional Services, Dallas County Community College District; and Loraine Phillips, Associate Provost, Georgia Institute of Technology