Developing a Framework for a Customized Faculty Development Evaluation Plan

Faculty development programs exist, at least to some degree, to help faculty become better teachers, better scholars, and better members of the campus community. Schools invest in faculty development in different ways and at different levels. Yet increasing calls for accountability in higher education are demanding evidence of return on investment. In other words, colleges and universities that are spending time, money, or other resources on faculty development need to determine and show what is working—and improve or abandon what isn’t. Hence the need to evaluate faculty development efforts and to determine their impact

The first step in creating a comprehensive evaluation plan is developing a framework. Center staff can build on this framework over time, creating additional evaluations, assessments, and reviews as well as enriching those already in place.

Determining where to start is one of the biggest challenges in developing any kind of plan. Fortunately, no one has to reinvent the wheel: there are numerous models to replicate for all kinds of planning. Yet for a faculty development evaluation plan, relying on a curricular model is often the most fruitful approach.

The curricular lens
Faculty developers come from a wide variety of disciplines, but all share experience in instructional development. Everyone can understand and relate to a curricular model and approach to instruction. In this instance, faculty development is just another form of instruction.

So to begin, consider an academic degree program. That academic degree program is usually one of several offered in an academic school or department. The academic degree program is broken down into individual courses. Each course is broken down into individual classes.

Use that same framework for faculty development. The faculty development center is analogous to the academic school or department. Specific center programs—brown bag series, grant programs, mentoring programs, etc.—are analogous to academic degree programs. Within those programs you have individual offerings, such as monthly topics in a brown bag series or social events in the mentoring program.

Programs and offerings vary from institution to institution, but common programs include the following: new faculty orientation; a first-year teacher series; instructional technology; faculty learning communities; consultations services; mentoring programs; grant programs; brown-bag programs; midcareer programs; TA programs; scholarship, teaching, and learning programs; book clubs; and intensives (a series that extends over several months with a variety of offerings connected to the development effort) focused on various initiatives such as active learning, scholarship, grading, critical thinking, or writing.

Important differences
While the curricular model is incredibly useful in creating a framework for a faculty development evaluation plan, there are two key difference between academic curriculum and faculty development instruction programs. First, the curricular model is based on the assumption that students matriculate through academic degree programs and graduate. These programs are terminal. Faculty development, on the other hand, is continuous.

The second important difference is that while students can choose an academic degree program within a school or department, there are some set requirements that they must meet. Faculty development is entirely optional. Faculty pick and choose what—if anything—they want to attend. In most cases nothing is mandatory, and that can affect evaluation strategies.

Levels of evaluation
Different programs or offerings require different measurements in terms of both content and degree. Imagine throwing a pebble into a pond. Sometimes the pebble is small. In the case of faculty development, that would be a workshop. The impact—like the workshop itself—will be small. Other times the pebble is large, more like a rock, such as a course redesign that involves much of the faculty and requires large investments of staff time and energy. In that case, the effort is intended to make a big difference and its impact should be large.

The idea is to determine what kind of impact is expected given the nature of the offering. The measures should match that expected impact in degree. In other words, measure only where you expect to see an impact. Measuring low-impact efforts at deeper levels will not produce any information or results. Only high-impact efforts—intensive programs—will ripple to the outer levels.

Excerpted from How to Evaluate the Impact of Faculty Development Programs, a whitepaper based on Magna Online Seminar of the same title presented by Dr. Sue Hines, who directs the faculty development program and teaches in the Doctor of Education in Leadership program at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

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