Faculty Personas - Creating Empathy with Faculty

Concurrent Session 5
Streamed Session Leadership

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session explains the need for creating faculty personas by university administrators and faculty development staff using a Design Thinking Project Management Approach. It guides on how to create faculty personas by analyzing their univesity faculty at department/program/academic discipline level and then how to apply these depending on project initiatives at their university. 

Extended Abstract

This presentation discusses the importance of the creation and use of faculty personas for universities for all kinds of projects and initiatives at all levels. COVID-19 forced rush to remote teaching has changed the directions for Higher Education. Universities are facing different kinds of challenges in relation to technology, teaching and learning, faculty training, budget and finance, and student learning. 

Design thinking Project Management Approach is one of the best approaches to solve problems in higher education (Mintz, 2017; Ford et al., 2017; Gilbert et al., 2018; Freels, 2020). This approach offers a creative and structured approach to solve problems and challenges. The most important is that it is very user-centered (Dam & Siang, n.d.). Meaning it helps to first understand the end-user thoroughly via ‘Empathize’ before jumping on to any implementation of a solution (Dam & Siang, n.d.; Jones, n.d.). The best solutions are user-centered. Putting the user at the center of the process can help us innovate and move forward. This approach guides to first understand the end user and empathize with them. The very first phase of this project management approach is ‘Empathize’ where we thoroughly understand the end-user or be human-centered or focused (Dam & Siang, n.d.). By centering our users, we create empathy with them. To achieve empathy with our users we use tools like surveys and focus groups. These traditional methods are good and can give us basic information but these have limits, because sometimes what people say they do and what they actually do can be quite different. This is not deliberate but can happen due to misreading or memory reasons (Morris & Warman, 2015). To deeply empathize with these users and understand the core to the problem we managers/leaders may need to go deep down and dive into creating specific example type interview questions for them and also be observing these users in the direct context of the problem (Morris & Warman, 2015; Gibbons, 2018). This will help with responsive design. One such method is by creating personas (Gibbons, 2018; UXDESIGN.CC, 2019). For this presentation context, I provide information helpful and useful to empathize with the faculty for higher education administration. Design thinking approach has thus by far been very important and useful methodology and framework in higher education which directly applies to solving problems for faculty at a university and improve for overall administration and management of a university as well (Morris & Warman, 2015; Mintz, 2017; Ford et al., 2017; Gilbert et al., 2018; Freels, 2020; Faller, 2019).

Faculty Personas are fictional characters that can be created to represent different types of faculty within a university (Faller, 2019). This can be done thoroughly by understanding a variety of faculty data within the university database, faculty focus groups, faculty semi-structured interviews, and surveys (Faller, 2019). Creating faculty personas can help university administrators with faculty development, faculty promotions, institutional strategies and vision, online program and course development, and success with Information Technology (Mintz, 2017; Ford et al., 2017; Gilbert et al., 2018; Freels, 2020). It will make the design work for all projects and initiatives for a university very easy and will also help administrators to keep in mind all faculty needs. It can help universities recognize that different faculty have different needs and expectations, and it can also help to identify and include all kinds of faculty personalities and their needs designing for. Faculty Personas can make the design work less complex. These can guide ideation processes in various departments of a university for a variety of projects and initiatives related to faculty. For example, online teaching, faculty development, faculty promotion design, technology selection and integration, technology training, and planning. Faculty are the jewels of a university. University administrators need this key data on what types of faculty their institution has and keep in mind their diversity when they finalize their projects, strategies, initiatives, technologies, courses, delivery methods, online programs and so on that relate to faculty implementing these and their success. It can really help achieve the goal of creating a good faculty experience at the university. It can help the university to be socially responsible and diverse and inclusive of all their faculty needs. 

Here is one sample of a faculty persona that was created to design and develop an institution-wide faculty development program to help faculty teach online and change their attitudes to technology: Sample Persona- Technophobe . This faculty persona was used to create an inclusive training strategy to help all kinds of faculty be able to teach online. It represents a group of faculty that belong to a university. It provides information related to faculty jobs, responsibilities, demographics, faculty goals for such a group, and their physical, social, and technological environments surrounding them. It also includes a quote that presents the attitude that this type of faculty may usually have towards the end goal which here was technology and online teaching. This sample persona (alongwith other set of persona for the university working in) was immensely useful to design and build a faculty development program that covered diverse and inclusive needs for such a faculty at a university institution. It helped to create a faculty development program on how to teach online using technology that was flexible and covered faculty at all levels with technology experiences like No Expereince at all, Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced. It helped with synchronous and asynchronous environments for training design. It helped the faculty development staff be very faculty-centered in all kinds of training for this program. This particular sample had limited information but there could be more based on the needs of a university. 


Similarly, such faculty personas can be created and used for the following different kinds of projects and initiatives at a university: 

  • Get into a partnership with an outsourced vendor. For example, purchase of a new technology tool like Echo 360, Kaltura or Lecture Capture. Such faculty personas can help with training on these tools when initiating them with all faculty at the university

  • Initiate online programs and online courses. Such faculty personas can help university administrators and program directors select from which faculty group can the faculty eb chose to teach for online courses and programs

  • Get into a partnership with an Online Program Management (OPM) provider or similar. When getting into a partnership with an outsourced OPM or instructional design services college administrators should also first try to understand the characteristics of faculty who will teach online. They should try to ‘Empathize’ with their faculty by understanding what their faculty audience needs and demands are, how much time and how many resources they have access to, and where their faculty currently stand in terms of their pedagogy and technological knowledge. Faculty personas can be really very useful for this situation to communicate to the outsourced provider and design communication and processes accordingly. 

  • University Strategy and Vision. Faculty personas can act as a faculty database for universities. They can help administrators make decisions according to the diverse needs of their faculty and be inclusive of all. They can make decisions that align with the diverse and inclusive needs of their faculty and can know ahead of time whether the respective strategy will be a fit or no for their school and align with their faculty. 

  • Faculty Promotion and Tenure Process. Such personas can also help understand and develop a framework for the faculty promotion process and evaluation.

  • Social Responsibility and Branding. This persona process can also help in the communication of the types of faculty within a university and in turn help with university marketing and branding and a bigger picture overview. 

This presentation session will cover how to create faculty personas at a university-based on the goals and intentions. It will guide on what kinds of data to collect and how to collect data to create all types of faculty personas. It will show sample templates that could be used as a guide for different kinds of projects and initiatives and could be kept for the overall needs of a university.  It will guide on how to create faculty personas by analyzing their university faculty at department/program/academic discipline level and then how to apply these depending on the university project initiatives pertaining and connected to online teaching and learning. It will also show how to use such personas for the Design Thinking Project Management Approach/Methodology. 

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of this educational session, participants will be able to:

  1. Explore the use and benefits of faculty personas

  2. Learn how to collect data to develop faculty personas at department/program/academic discipline level

  3. Design and Develop faculty personas for a variety of university projects and initiatives

  4. Apply/Use faculty personas for the Design Thinking Project Management Approach

Outline of the session:

Introduction/Learning Outcomes//Past experiences with faculty personas that worked and from where the idea was originated and developed (5 minutes)

Present and Explain- Benefits and Usage of Faculty personas/guidance on how to collect all data to create these/guide on how to create faculty personas by analyzing their univesity faculty at department, program, and/or academic discipline level/Connecting to Design Thinking Approach (10 mins)

Present samples of faculty personas and templates- A link to a project repository with sample faculty personas, sample templates, interview questions for data collection, faculty focus group questions, surveys, titles, and so on will be shard. The audience will spent some time to view and browse these during this session. (10 mins)

See a sample here:  Sample Persona- Technophobe 

Application-- The audience will perform an application activity. The audience will try to create a faculty persona template for their own university amd think about how they will apply these for some of their projects using the Design Thinking Project Management Approach/Methology (10 mins)

Share their plans- Participants will be asked to share their persona templates and approaches with others (5 minutes)

Questions (5 mins)


See all References here