February 13th, 2017

Let’s Practice What We Teach: Flipping Faculty Development

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faculty development meeting

Faculty everywhere are flipping their classes, but can we flip faculty development? That’s the question I asked myself when I flipped the pre-conference workshop at the 2016 Teaching Professor Technology Conference. What I discovered is that we can “practice what we teach” and design faculty-centered learning experiences much the same way we design student-centered learning experiences.

In this article, I provide a few recommendations for flipping a faculty development workshop. For further inspiration, the article concludes with a showcase of the work created by the participants in my workshop last fall.

Define the flip
In my work, the FLIP means to “Focus on your Learners by Involving them in the Process.” The flip is a philosophy, a model, and an approach I use to engage my learners in higher level thinking during class time. My learners are faculty and my “class time” is the time I spend with them in workshops and programs. This definition of the flip can work really well for faculty development professionals since we often don’t know who will attend an event or if they have access to pre-workshop materials.  Additionally, many of the faculty development events I lead are stand-alone workshops or “one and done” events, which makes it difficult to create continuity or build community among the participants as I would with students in a semester-long course.

If you’re thinking about how to flip a faculty development workshop, my first recommendation is to define what the flipped model means to you and your learners. Don’t let definitions from other contexts and environments limit what you can do when you work in a professional development or continuing education setting.

Shift the focus
When you think about planning a flipped lesson in your class, I recommend starting with the question, “What are students going to DO in class today?” When you ask yourself this question, it shifts the focus of the physical learning environment and encourages you to think about how students can connect with each other, with the course material, and with you. You’re not the focus. What if we asked the same question when we plan a faculty development workshop? Ask yourself, “What could faculty DO together during this workshop?” Or, “What are they going to create together?” Make sure at least one of your learning outcomes allows for a higher level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Design the workshop so faculty can apply, analyze, or create something to apply what they’ve learned or to prepare something for their own class.

This works well in professional development workshops because faculty have experience. They bring stories, examples, and new ideas to share in every learning environment. When we flip it, we can leverage their expertise, advice, and creativity to enhance the learning environment and allow opportunities for colleagues to learn from each other within and across disciplines. They’re not just listening to a speaker. They are involved in the process of sharing, analyzing, and creating something.

Showcase the results
Finally, if you decide to flip a faculty development workshop, share the work beyond the scope of the event. Show faculty how their contributions matter and how their work (and time) is valued. Speaking of sharing, it’s time to showcase the work from the participants who attended my flipped pre-conference workshop. Here’s how I flipped it!

Context:  The title of the workshop was, “Don’t Waste a Minute of Class Time: How to Use Focusing Activities in the Flipped Classroom.” It was a three-hour preconference workshop with approximately 50 participants. During the first two hours, faculty participated in 10 different focusing activities, just as if they were students in a classroom. Then we debriefed the process and they used a worksheet to plan a focusing activity for one of their own courses.

The FLIP:  During the final 30 minutes of the workshop, I flipped it and asked faculty to “create a resource for your colleagues who want to learn more about focusing activities.” I gave them creative freedom to choose their format; they could create blog post, compile a list, record a video, develop an infographic or picture, create a checklist, or develop their own idea. It was entirely up to them. There were 11 groups representing a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. Here are two projects the faculty created:

It was exciting for me to see their creativity and to observe their different processes, and I’m inspired by their interpretations of the workshop content. If you want more inspiration, visit my blog to see all 11 group projects.

Now, it’s your turn. Have you flipped a faculty development event? What advice do you have for others who want to try it?

Barbi Honeycutt is a speaker, scholar, and author. She is the founder of FLIP It Consulting in Raleigh, N.C., and has published several books and developed an online course for faculty who want to learn how to FLIP it. Connect on Twitter @BarbiHoneycutt and on her blog.


  • Rebecca Brent

    What a great article! Richard Felder and I recently developed a new workshop on teaching higher level thinking skills. We wanted to be sure that all the participants knew how to write learning objectives and conduct short active learning exercises in their classes because our suggestions were going to build on those two skills. We put together a short online article on each topic and included a quiz so that users could test their understanding. These links were sent out a few days before the workshop to those who were registered. Then in the workshop, we had a couple of brief review and application activities on the pre-workshop reading and answered questions. The approach let us jump right into the topics of the workshop where we used lots of additional activities.

    • Hi Rebecca! Thanks for taking time to read and comment. I’m glad you had success flipping your faculty development workshop. It sounds like it was a great way to integrate both active learning strategies and assessment. Thanks for sharing!

  • Henry Kraebber

    I am working on a Faculty Development Workshop this semester. I designed the workshop to be delivered online to faculty at several locations across the State. I met with the participants and had them give me suggestions to improve my draft plan. The result was a workshop series that is tailored to fit the busy schedules of the participants. A Blackboard site guides participants to readings and video clips to prepare for our workshop discussions. The workshops are presented live using WebEx and recorded for future viewing. I try to make it interactive as much as I can within the limits of a one hour meeting.
    Supplemental narrated presentations and introductions to workshop sessions have been recorded and sent out to the participants and captured on the course Blackboard site. Participants have been asked to share their course development ideas with the group and to build posters to present their work and ideas at a faculty convocation later this spring.

    • Hi Henry! Thanks for reading and sharing your experience creating more active learning faculty development workshops. I like the integration of technology in your example. It sounds like you may be able to build a virtual community among your participants. I’m also glad to see you built in a way for faculty to showcase their learning and share their ideas in a poster presentation later this spring. Great ideas!

    • Rebecca Brent

      I especially like having participants share their ideas with the group. We almost never get the chance to do this sort of thing across locations.

  • goodsensecynic

    We’re doomed!

    • If creating more engaging learning experiences for faculty to connect with each other means we’re “doomed” then I guess we are. Wow.

      • goodsensecynic

        And this is why.

        Having a “lesson plan” in which faculty either passively “learn” by listening to others or actively “learn” themselves by “doing” something might be OK if the task is to undergo “training” to handle some new bureaucratic procedure, possibly involving some sort of information technology.

        It has nothing to do with “professional” development of an “academic” sort. That sort of thing requires thought, reflection, discussion and debate … otherwise known as “critical thinking,” but in the way intended by “critical theorists” (think Frankfurt School) and “critical pedagogues” (think Stanley Aronowitz, Samuel Bowles, Herbert Gintas, Henry Giroux,Peter McLaren, Ira Shor and so on, and as it is interpreted by the likes of Richard Paul, Linda Elder and the preponderance of educational entrepreneurs and “problem-solvers” whose epistemology leads to much talk about “thinking outside the box,” never realizing that it IS the box.

        Education, defined in terms of “measurable learning objectives,” Bloomian taxonomies and the whole catastrophe of instrumentalism trapped within a neoliberal political economy/ideology encourages us merely to defer to what is, with no fundamental basis for description, analysis, reflection and – most importantly – pertinent praxis. Hence, we confront the several existential crises facing our species and, perhaps, the entire biosphere, the most important of which is plainly environmental degradation and potential collapse.

        So, “doomed.”

        • As I said, I’m sure we are.

          • goodsensecynic

            Forgive me, but I am not sure you really mean it.

            At least I am not as pessimistic as Carl Brennert, an anthropologist from Columbia (I think), who died pretty much homeless and seriously addicted to alcohol at Bellevue Hospital about 1920.

            Brennert is mentioned at some length in an autobiography by Alexander King (1899-1963) “Is There a Life after Birth?” – Simon and Schuster, 1963), one of four he published after appearing on the old Jack Paar “Tonight Show” (pre-Johnny Carson).

            According to King, Brennert lived out his final years in a state of “rancorless disenchantment,” but a more sombre tone is set in this near-to-final observation: Things are bad, they will get much worse, and they will never get better again.

            Almost a century later, you might conclude with equal confidence that he was either right or wrong.

        • Laura

          I don’t know that I agree that sharp distinctions must be drawn between learning some “best practices” and thinking critically. I don’t think that these need to be mutually exclusive. There is lots of solid research to back effective teaching practices. That said, I’d certainly agree that the overall discourse of professional development in HE teaching lends itself very readily to abuse by those who prefer to think of education as “training for work.”

          • goodsensecynic

            I have nothing against “best practices,” but the question remains: Best practices in the service of WHAT?

  • Steve

    Barbara, your definition of “flipped” is a bit different than I’m used to, although the “what are students going to DO in class today?” fits well. In most flipped models there is some content delivery/acquisition that occurs BEFORE the session and this information or skill is then applied in the session (e.g. video, reading assignment, etc.). Have you tried pre-conference assignments with faculty development? It seems it could really foster progress in a FD session, but I wonder if many faculty (like our students if not incentivized) will show up prepared enough to have a productive experience. It’s true that these are busy folks and many are looking for maximum take away without a lot of investment of time.

    • Hi Steve,
      Thanks for taking time to read and comment. Yes, sometimes I use pre-workshop assignments for faculty development events. As you say, like students, some faculty members come to the workshop unprepared and they admit it.usually (sometimes with humor, sometimes as a challenge). I use this as a “teachable moment” for how to handle this situation when it happens with students. And then I just move on and continue with my original plan. I don’t stop to review or recap the pre-workshop assignment (modeling what I do with students).

      Of course with students, we have more structured accountability measures in place (grades, quizzes, tests, etc.) and we have a more ongoing relationship (a full semester or quarter) with our students. For many faculty events, they are “one and done” so it’s hard for me to establish this ongoing connection when I’m only at a campus or conference for just a day or two.

      However, most faculty do make the time to do the pre-work IF the pre-work is well designed, focused, and clearly has a purpose, they do come prepared (sometime overprepared!). Most faculty who attend professional development events are excited to be there, curious about what they will learn, and ready to jump in.

      A few times, I have used a brief 1-2 min. video to recap a concept and I play the video at the beginning of the workshop as faculty are getting settled and we’re almost ready to start. This is a way for those who aren’t prepared to “catch up” and be ready to participate. I wouldn’t recommend that strategy for students necessarily, but it can work well for these one-time faculty development events if you’re looking for a way to at least get everyone on the same page.

  • Jason

    Great thoughts on improving PD! What will they DO, perfect question. I recently read “The Transformative Power of Collaborative Inquiry” by Donohoo and Velasco, many points are reinforced for me by this post. It’s about facilitating learning with and for teachers, not AT them, that’s the key to provoke ownership, trust, and genuine participation.
    Your finishing point about ensuring the work created is disseminated afterwards goes a long way to demonstrating the value placed on the workshop, not only will that foster improved participation but begin to build a better community as well.
    As this type of PD is typically mandated, does anyone have tried methods of dealing with those who are disengaged and reluctant?

    • Hi Jason,
      Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment. And you ask a great question – I think it’s important to know where the resistance or hesitance is coming from when faculty (and students) are disengaged or reluctant to participate in PD. I try to dig a little deeper so I can learn more about what’s going on and what might be happening beyond the scope of the workshop. There could be issues that have nothing at all to do with my topic, the workshop, the event, or me.

      Your point about PD being mandated or required certainly influences faculty’s perceptions of the value of a PD event. I’ve been to campuses where the culture is “thou shalt ALL flip!” and that was not received well at all, as you can imagine. I just try to find some common ground with faculty in these situations. They don’t have to redesign their whole entire course or change the way they’ve taught for the past 20 years. But for the most part they do want to help students succeed and maybe they can walk away with a couple of new ideas to add to their classroom based on something they learned either from me or from their colleagues in a workshop. Or maybe they can offer something of value to the discussion which help another faculty member with a problem he/she has been facing.

      I guess my short answer is that I try to focus my energy on those who want to be there and want to participate…I do the best I can to engage those who are resistant, but I don’t spend my time or energy on them if they can’t at least meet me halfway.

      Just my two cents….

      • Jason

        Barbi, I appreciate your reply. Your thoughts help cement an attitude that is not always an easy one to uphold, that we must acknowledge that any given host of professional or personal situations may lie behind an individual’s behavior. Though this may not excuse this behavior, we must be cautious to judge.

        I agree too, that if someone can even find one positive take-away, or make one positive contribution, then the PD was successful, but ultimately unless the topics are seen as highly relevant, mandated participation will always produce less engagement.

    • Rebecca Brent

      Hi, Jason,
      I have a couple of thoughts about faculty who are disengaged and/or reluctant. One thing I do is to stress early on that there are lots of ways to act on the FD–some are simple and easy steps, while others may require more of a commitment. I also try to welcome the challenging questions that may come from reluctant participants. Often those questions raise important issues that may be either (1) bothering other participants too polite to ask the question or (2) a common reaction from colleagues to things participants may try in their classes. The discussion that follows is often very useful AND serves to pull in those reluctant or disengaged folks because it’s authentic and validates their legitimate concerns.

      Another strategy my workshop partner and I use is to make personal contact with faculty in the first break who may be raising challenging points or showing other signs of resistance. Sometimes just taking a moment to listen to their concerns or why they came can turn them around. It doesn’t always work, but it frequently does lower the hostility.

      If FD is mandated (and we recommend against that whenever possible), it’s helpful to acknowledge the fact up front with something like, “We know that you were required or strongly urged to come today. We appreciate that you’re here and hope you’ll find some useful tools to take back into your classroom.” Just simply saying it out loud and articulating your hopes for the session can make a difference for those who feel “put upon.”

      • Jason

        Hi Rebecca, thanks for the reply and well thought out response. Your approach echoes what I’ve recently read by Donohoo & Velasco, The Transformative Power of Collaborative Inquiry, in that we should embrace conflict. It can be seen as an opportunity to grow our understanding and see varying viewpoints. Very wise words as well to never assume we know why a person is acting a certain way, we have no idea what host of professional or personal situations an individual is dealing with on any given day.
        Thanks for the feedback!