“Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds.”
—Alexander Graham Bell
Since 1999, the Innovative Teaching Showcase website has spotlighted the excellence of individual Western Washington University faculty members. This year the spotlight was enlarged to focus on groups of faculty who have worked together to improve the educational climate for students, and at the same time, improve their own professional lives. Known as faculty learning communities, they are based on the seminal work of Milton Cox, Director of the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, who led a FIPSE Project on Faculty Learning Communities. The concept of faculty working together on projects is not new (hence, the oft dreaded and sometimes lauded "committees"). But faculty learning communities are not committees, nor should they be. According to Dr. Cox:
A faculty learning community (FLC) is a group of trans-disciplinary faculty, graduate students and professional staff group ... engaging in an active, collaborative, yearlong program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning and with frequent seminars and activities that provide learning, development, transdisciplinarity, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and community building.
Once the theme of this year's Showcase was determined, the call went out to the campus community for nominations: Where on Western's campus are faculty working together in a learning community on a common project? The nominations received were sometimes surprising, and came from all corners of the campus, from the Woodring College of Education to the College of Science and Technology, from a small, cohesive group to a large NSF grant-funded project.
The Faculty GUR Group, led by Johann Neem (history) and Pete Stelling (geology), was the first faculty learning community nominated this year. The Faculty GUR group was formed with the idea that faculty—as well as students—need to sustain their own general education. During the 2008-09 academic year, each of the six faculty GUR Group members taught a 2-day mini-course for other faculty at WWU. The content of each mini-course was determined by the instructor, and was based on material addressed in his or her general education course, or designed to promote cultural literacy and exhibit teaching. Members of the Faculty GUR group also attended the annual conference on faculty learning communities held each year in Claremont, California, to learn from the expertise of faculty at other institutions across the United States who have faculty learning communities on their campuses.
The second group featured in this year's Showcase is the Multicultural Faculty Fellows from the Woodring College of Education, led by Kristen French (elementary education), who is also director of the Center for Education, Equity and Diversity. Faculty from several departments and programs at Woodring are working together on a two-year project to support and promote multiculturalism and transformative education. Using a critical inquiry process, and common study materials, meetings, and assignments, this 2-year project has the potential to inform multicultural practice in teacher education across the university.
The third group, the largest, is the result of a National Science Foundation grant achieved by George Nelson (physics), Director of Western's Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education (SMATE) program, and principal investigator for the grant. Carolyn Landel (biology) is the grant's project director. Known as the North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership (NCOSP), the program involves 28 school districts, two education service districts, four community colleges, and other partners, as well as faculty and students at Western Washington University. Even though the purpose of the grant was to improve science education, lessons from the project are generalizable to any group working together to reform or improve instruction. Based on established scientific principles of how people learn, the project sought to transform teacher education and preparation programs.
This year's Showcase publication includes portfolios written by members of the learning communities, videotaped interviews, and profiles of the individuals who comprise these innovative groups. Please explore these free-to-use resources.