Engaging Communities of Practice Across the Disciplines and Generations to Promote Student Success: Inside Teaching MSU

Concurrent Session 8

Brief Abstract

Common approaches to faculty and graduate student pedagogical development may benefit individual participants but fall short of building sustainable transdisciplinary communities of practice. This project aims to involve faculty, graduate teaching assistant and undergraduate learning assistant participation and contribution to Inside Teaching MSU, a campus-wide intergenerational personal learning network.

Presenters

Stephen Thomas is a faculty member and the Associate Director for the Center for Integrative Studies in General Science at Michigan State University. He also serves as the Digital Curriculum Coordinator for the College of Natural Science at MSU. For his bachelor’s degree from Denison University, Stephen majored in Biology and minored in Art. This interest in the science/art intersection continued into graduate school as he freelanced as a biological illustrator while earning his masters and Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in Organismal and Evolutionary Biology and Entomology. Since coming to MSU his research focus has shifted from virulence of fungal pathogens of gypsy moths to visual communication of science in formal and informal settings. Stephen’s interests have broadened to include not just art and science, but also technology and teaching. He has worked on projects such as the use of comics to reduce subject anxiety in non-major science courses, the development of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to teach general science, and augmented reality and kiosk games to engage visitors in science museums. One of his more recent projects, Instruct2020, is looking at how to foster community generated visual curriculum for science instruction. His use of technology in teaching has won him multiple awards including three AT&T/MSU Awards for innovative use of technology in online classes, a James D. Hoeschele Endowed Teaching Award for excellence in teaching science to non-science majors, and funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Extended Abstract

PROPOSAL OVERVIEW

Common approaches to faculty and graduate student pedagogical development may benefit individual participants but fall short of building sustainable transdisciplinary communities of practice. In 2013, our institution began to address these issues as they pertain to graduate students by launching Inside Teaching MSU (ITMSU), a decentralized and mainly digital, teaching assistant (TA)-driven professional development effort. Despite early successes, much still needs done to build a “sustainable ecosystem” (Bronfenbrenner, 2005) of early innovations, balancing the digital and face-to-face, centralized and decentralized. MSU is now currently in the throes of an expansive student success transformation, restructuring teaching support for faculty and undergraduate learning assistants (ULA’s). We are at a crucial point in the organization’s and institution’s development and see considerable benefits to involving faculty and undergraduate learning assistants in developing and benefitting from the early innovations of ITMSU and building a campus-wide and intergenerational “personal learning network” (PLN) (Trust, 2012).

DESIGN CHALLENGE

Institutional approaches to faculty and graduate student pedagogical development have evolved over the past several decades from the launching of the first teaching centers, to investments in department and college-level pedagogical development programs, to the creation of learning innovation initiatives focusing on organizational development and curricular change. Regardless of the structures or innovations adopted, colleges and universities continue to wrestle with how to:

  • reach the largest number of faculty and graduate students within institutional resource constraints;
  • minimize the isolation instructors can feel (from students and each other);
  • promote pride in and enthusiasm for high quality teaching and student learning on our campus; and
  • elevate good work of talented faculty and graduate student instructors to become instructional leaders (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009).

Common approaches include orientations, workshops, and semester-long faculty learning communities. These in-person events typically benefit participants, however, the number of participants able to attend can be limited and they are not enduring experiences that also build community.

In 2013, our institution began to address these ubiquitous issues as they pertain to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows by launching Inside Teaching MSU. This launch coincided with the Graduate School at MSU assuming responsibility for the professional development of graduate TAs. Inside Teaching MSU (ITMSU) was designed to support professional development of teaching assistants, build community across disciplines, and provide opportunities for teaching assistants to engage in instructional leadership.

ITMSU continues to grow and evolve. Early on, ITMSU provided graduate fellowships, in-person teaching workshops, a weekly blog post (insideteaching.grad.msu.edu) on teaching and learning topics, and regular social media content (@insideteaching). The external success of our Twitter handle and blog has been larger than we would have ever imagined (1993 followers!). Graduate students and postdocs, in collaboration with the Graduate School, continue to produce ALL of the content in these channels.

Despite these early successes, much still needs to be done to sustain and institutionalize these innovations. We need solutions to build a sustainable ecosystem (Bronfenbrenner, 2005) to support both the in-person and digital work of ITMSU. We want these solutions to both centrally support graduate students and postdocs, but also invite the participation of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at the academic unit level. MSU is currently in the throes of an expansive student success transformation with units and colleges, restructuring teaching support for faculty and undergraduate learning assistants, and sometimes duplicating efforts that ITMSU was created to address. We are at a crucial point in the organization’s and institution’s development and see considerable benefits in involving not just graduate students and postdocs but also faculty and undergraduate learning assistants in developing and benefitting from the ITMSU network.

IDEAS FOR THE SOLUTION/APPROACH TO CHALLENGE

We have already taken several steps to expand ITMSU to include more stakeholders. The Graduate School began partnering with Undergraduate Education/Student Success programs 18 months ago and have just started to have a number of “co-works” focusing on student success. McDaniels began modifying TA development curricula for undergraduate learning assistants. On December 1, 2016, we will be launching the first #iteachmsu Twitter chat on “Building Teaching and Learning Communities.” This launch represents an additional step toward involving more stakeholders in ITMSU and will: (1)provide both in-person and digital components to support individuals who have never participated in an online chat; and (2) bring together people from across campus and roles to plan further integration of teaching and learning efforts on the campus. We hope this chat launches the next stage of Inside Teaching MSU as a campus-wide Personal Learning Network (PLN) toward developing a more sustainable, dynamic, and vertically-aligned teaching support structure. We seek the support of the OLC to help us further imagine the institutionalization of ITMSU as a PLN for undergraduate learning assistants and tutors, graduate teaching assistants, postdocs, staff and faculty at MSU and beyond.

BENEFICIARIES OF SOLUTION

Faculty, graduate students, staff, undergraduate learning assistants and other community members committed to teaching, student learning and student success. Although our short term focus will be bringing faculty and undergraduate learning assistants on board, ultimately staff of all types and levels could participate. We plan to evaluate success of this initiative and disseminate the results through online publication outlets (e.g., Online) and conferences (e.g., Professional and Organizational Development Network).

DESIGN SUMMIT TEAM MEMBERS (Michigan State University)

Melissa McDaniels, PhD; Assistant Dean, Graduate School; mcdani73@msu.edu; @mmcdanielsphd; Co-created Inside Teaching MSU with PhD students and part of leadership team working towards vertical alignment of teaching and learning support at MSU.

Erik Skogsberg, MAET; Teacher Learning Designer, Hub for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Teacher Education; skogsbe2@msu.edu; @erikskogs; Launched Inside Teaching MSU blog and curates content for @insideteaching; part of leadership team working towards vertical alignment of teaching and learning support at MSU.

Reggie Noto, MSW; Neighborhood Director special focus on Learning Resources Center, Student Success Collaborative, Undergraduate Education; regnoto@msu.edu; leader in MSU’s redesign efforts of student learning support and training for undergraduate learning assistants; part of leadership team working towards vertical alignment of teaching and learning support at MSU.

Patti Stewart, PhD; Director of Faculty & Instructional Development, Academic Advancement Network (AAN); ps@msu.edu; @pattilyn; leader in MSU’s efforts to reorganize and further development MSU’s approach to supporting faculty and academic staff in their teaching and curriculum development efforts; part of leadership team working towards vertical alignment of teaching and learning support at MSU.

Stephen Thomas, Digital Curriculum Coordinator, College of Natural Science;  thoma549@msu.edu .

 

REFERENCES

 

Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Making human beings human: Bioecological perspectives on human development.

Jennings, P. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). The prosocial classroom: Teacher social and emotional competence in relation to student and classroom outcomes. Review of educational research, 79(1), 491-525.

Trust, T. (2012). Professional learning networks designed for teacher learning. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 28(4), 133-138.