Create Change Among Faculty

How to Create and Promote Change among Faculty

The initial idea for the April First-Friday Think Tank was about a (relatively) narrow topic: how can we do a better job at UT supporting the career development for associate professors? Active mentoring programs and conversation across campus tends to focus more on mentoring assistant professors, so as an institution we might be missing the chance to support and foster change among newly-tenured faculty.

The bulk of the conversation at the Think Tank, though, was around a broader issue: how does one create and promote change among faculty across campus? After a round of introductions where all present shared some thoughts and challenges in their own units around promoting change. Erin Dolan, from the Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Science (TIDES), introduced the group to the idea of Diffusion of Innovation.

Diffusion is a communication theory that suggests innovation spreads through a group through communication, from innovators and early adopters on through the late majority and laggards.

The process of a person adopting a change (e.g., flipping a classroom or experiential learning) moves from becoming aware of the potential change to gathering information to attempting change and then evaluating how it went.

Michael Starbird and others were especially excited about the idea of doing more to encourage faculty to observe each other:

  • identifying top faculty with different skills in the classroom
  • then inviting faculty to see what they do in the classroom

This could be a great tool for all faculty – new junior faculty, as well as tenured faculty considering change in the way they teach – to see excellent teachers doing what they do best and help great ideas and teaching innovation spread across campus.

Pat Davis talked about how post-tenure review could have been a great systematic way to “force” this kind of career planning and development. Instead, Penne Restad suggested that establishing a charter of some kind – similar to what PTFs do for their initiative – could be a way for faculty to sit down and develop a plan for the year.