A Wicked Problem: Defeating the Monster of Faculty Development

Concurrent Session 1

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Brief Abstract

This session shares a wicked problem we’ve encountered: faculty teaching and technology support. We will break down why this is a challenge for our institution and share our human-centered design approach for addressing it. Join us to tackle the monster of faculty development and solve our wicked problem.



Breana is a Learning Experience Designer for the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology at Michigan State University. Her philosophy is to design strong learning experiences that meet students' needs, and she is eager to explore new ways to meet those needs. Work experience at MSU includes supporting the College of Engineering to put two graduate programs online; conducting Quality Matters reviews; interviewing students to develop student personas; and working with academic advisors on the Proactive Advising Student Success Initiative to change the culture and practices in academic advising, and incorporate predictive analytics tools into academic advising.
Nick Noel has been an Instructional Designer with Michigan State University for two years. Prior to that he worked in a variety of jobs related to media production and classroom technology support. He recently graduated from the Master's in Educational Technology Program at MSU.

Extended Abstract

In this educate and reflect session, we will share a wicked problem our learning design team is working to address: offering teaching and technology support for faculty. Two instructional designers at a Big Ten institution were tasked with creating a resource to provide teaching support to faculty. Our previous efforts to address faculty support needs have been reactive and not strategic because defining these needs has proven elusive. As a diverse population faculty experience diverse needs, making it difficult to clearly define their needs and why previous efforts became ineffective.   

In our research to unravel the problem, we interviewed faculty on campus and uncovered several challenges that impact their work as teachers. One notable issue is the prioritization that organizations place on the development of their employees. This has been illustrated by Minter (2009) who highlights the difference between corporate employee development, which is conceived as a “process” (Minter, 2009 p.67) that provides for multiple trajectories of career advancement, and the traditional academic model, which is focused on a single, predefined track. Often the work of professional development is placed entirely on the faculty members shoulders, with little advice or input from their organizations (Minter, 2009).

One example of this is that we are a highly decentralized institution, which leads to silos and breakdown in communication about central support services. In his Faculty Development Continuum, Minter (2009) connotes decentralized institutions with unstructured and self-propelled faculty development because “there is no relationship to the university’s strategic plan” (p. 66) Related to this, we found faculty were frustrated when central support resources changed their name on campus; while this initially seems minor, the problem was exacerbated by the large size and decentralized nature of our institution.

Another example of this is the prioritization of research. As Minter (2009) states, “Unfortunately, faculty development often turns into a sideline activity at the institutional level” (p. 67). This corresponds to findings from Mitten & Ross (2016): “the primary role of faculty has shifted from teaching and mentoring to a focus on research and the generation of funded projects” (p. 1348). With more pressure and duties assigned to faculty, their time becomes increasingly limited and spending time on faculty teaching development becomes a lower priority. Decisions to seek out or utilize central support resources must pass through a careful process to calculate time investment, networking opportunities, compatibility, and the value of take-aways. As such, rather than contact someone new or attend hosted events, faculty most often seek out support from local peers as it requires the least time investment and is compatible with their field. This amplifies the work in silos and breakdown of communication characteristic of decentralized institutions.

In our presentation, we will share with participants our research and findings from conversations with faculty, and our response to the challenges raised, including a small set of faculty personas and our development of an online teaching orientation. During the presentation, we will break out into small groups for participants to discuss their own challenges with faculty teaching support and construct a “monster of faculty development” to represent their experience with this wicked problem. At the end of the session, each group will discuss and share solutions for defeating their monster and untangling the wicked problem. We will use the following questions to guide the work of discussing, constructing, and defeating these wicked monsters:

  1. What challenges do you experience at your institution with faculty teaching support?

  2. Why do you think you experience those challenges?

  3. What is one thing you do that works really well for faculty teaching support?

Attendees will:

  • Explore the process of human-centered design as a means of problem-solving.

  • Identify the challenges of providing teaching and technology support to faculty.

  • Discuss solutions for providing teaching and technology support to faculty.

Works Cited:

Mintner, R. (2009). The Paradox of Faculty Development. Contemporary Issues in Education Research. Vol. 2, No. 4. Retrieved from: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1056952.pdf

Mitten, C., Ross, D. (2016). Sustaining a commitment to teaching in a research-intensive university: what we learn from award-winning faculty. Studies in Higher Education. 43:8, 1348-1361, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2016.1255880