Faculty Learning Communities

A faculty learning community (FLC) is a specifically structured learning community of faculty and staff in higher education that includes the goals of building community, engaging in scholarly practice, and developing the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL).

The FLC model was initiated at Miami University in 1979 and is now used in colleges and universities across the U.S. and the world.

Overview

An FLC is not a committee, task force, or book club. These structures lack community or SoTL. An FLC is a small-group learning community with a process that enables participants to investigate and provide solutions for just about any significant problem or opportunity in higher education. It is a specifically structured community of practice.

FLCs can be cohort or topic based. Cohort-based FLCs address the teaching, learning, and developmental needs of an important cohort of faculty, for example, at Miami, the Alumni Teaching Scholars Community for early-career faculty or the department chairs learning community. Topic-based FLCs have a curriculum designed to address a special faculty or campus teaching and learning issue, for example, diversity, technology, or team-based learning. Topic-based FLCs offer membership to and provide opportunities for learning across all faculty ranks and cohorts, but with a focus on a particular theme.

The outcomes of implementation science confirm that FLCs provide the most effective educational development programming for implementing evidence-based interventions and innovations in teaching and learning in higher education.

Leadership Roles

The initiator, the person at an institution who has an idea for a particular FLC, determines the FLC name and goals, applies to have the FLC offered, and advertises and recruits FLC membership. The initiator is usually a faculty or staff member who wants to investigate a problem or opportunity with colleagues. At Miami University, the call for FLC initiators takes place in January for the following year. Once the FLC is approved and moves to the meeting stage, the initiator transforms from leader to facilitator, assuming a support position and assisting the FLC in meeting its objectives.

The FLC Program Director or Coordinator organizes, advises, energizes, champions, supports, and helps sustain the FLCs in place at the institution. This person is usually in a teaching and learning center. At Miami, this is the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE).

Deliverables

Whether FLC members generate individual and personalized deliverables or a single group deliverable, members are responsible for disseminating what the FLC has learned to enhance teaching and learning in broader local, national, and/or international communities. As FLC work progresses, the scope and features of the deliverable(s) may change. However, a substantive deliverable requires planning, time, and effort invested by the FLC members. Select deliverable dates far in advance. Examples of deliverables include a manuscript that is submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, a proposal for a presentation or poster that is submitted to a major teaching and learning conference like the Original Lilly Conference on College Teaching, a grant proposal that is submitted to a private or federal funding agency, new or revised curricula, a seminar or panel proposal that is submitted to the institution's teaching and learning center for presentation, or digital resources such as these:

  • Resource page (at Miami, these are published on the CTE website)
  • Whitepaper for the institutions's Scholarly Commons
  • Canvas Commons module
  • Blog (multiple posts to an existing blog or a new blog for a professional audience)
  • Podcast

16 Recommendations for FLCs

Here are the recommendations for designing, implementing, facilitating, and sustaining FLCs and FLC programs.

  1. Limit your FLC to a workable size of 8 to 10 members (6-12 perhaps, if your facilitator is experienced). Members may be faculty, staff, and administrators.
  2. Make FLC membership voluntary; use an application and selection process; include department chair/supervisor sign off. Have a "What Is and FLC?" seminar before the call for applications.
  3. Consider having affiliate members: mentors for early-career faculty nd student associates to provide student perspectives on FLC projects. Affiliates may include librarians, technologists, and consultants who can attend meetings at the group's invite.
  4. Select applicants for diverse FLC membership: multidisciplinary, campus role, rank, experience; 3 reasons: participant curiosity, robust innovations, broadened perspectives.
  5. Meet for one or two semesters depending on FLC outcomes desired. Meet every 3 weeks for 2 hours. Decide meeting times before the first meeting; 3 options: (1) State when the FLC will meet in your call for applications; (2) Have the FLC applicants include their schedules for the first item in their applications; then select members who have a joint open time; (3) Find a common time after members have been selected; this may require two rounds as members reschedule office hours or arrange child care for 5 or 6 times during the term.
  6. Provide social moments and food at meetings to foster community and commitment. An FLC is not a committee, task force, or course. Provide opportunities for colleagues to enjoy each other's company.
  7. Train FLC leaders/facilitators. In planning, an FLC initiator is a leader. Once the FLC starts meeting, the leader transitions to facilitator as a participating FLC member who models behavior and assists the group in planning and process.
  8. Let members, with the facilitator, determine objectives, meeting topics, procedures.
  9. Focus on obtaining and maintaining FLC member commitment. Plan productive meetings. Note progress made, outcomes to be achieved, and deliverable dates.
  10. Assess 3 areas of the FLC's impact: member development, student learning and/or effectiveness of the FLC's innovation, and value of FLC approaches engaged.
  11. Employ evidence-based, scholarly approaches leading to SoTL. Do learning and planning in the first term with project implementation and assessment in the second.
  12. Present FLC deliverables to the institution near the FLC's end. Examples include outcomes of teaching innovations attempted or new or revised curricula. Share results at sessions on campus and presentations at conferences.
  13. Blend online/distance FLCs with initial and closing F2F meetings, for example, a conference. Challenge: Find a platform to build community and commitment.
  14. Include enablers and thank yous such as member professional expenses (not stipends), recognition, and a celebratory ending. Small budgets can work.
  15. Imbed and FLC Program in a teaching and learning center, and have an FLC Program Director who assists FLC facilitators in planning and process.
  16. Adapt the FLC model for your institution's readiness, interest, and culture.

Goals and Objectives

The long-term goals of a faculty learning communities program for the University are to

  • build University-wide community through teaching and learning: Create a learning organization
  • increase faculty interest in undergraduate teaching and learning
  • investigate and incorporate ways that difference can enhance teaching and learning
  • nourish scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and its application to student learning
  • broaden the evaluation of teaching and the assessment of learning
  • increase faculty collaboration across disciplines
  • encourage reflection about liberal education and coherence of learning across disciplines
  • increase the rewards for and prestige of excellent teaching
  • increase financial support for teaching and learning initiatives
  • create an awareness of the complexity of teaching and learning

Each faculty learning community has its own specific goals and objectives, which the facilitator and members determine.

Activities

Each year the activities for these communities vary somewhat but are likely to include the following:

  • Seminars on teaching and learning. Recent topics include assessment of student learning, enhancing the teaching/learning experience through awareness of students' intellectual development, sharing student and faculty views of teaching and learning, and topics selected from articles or books that participants of the communities select to read. Some seminars are led by guest faculty; others are conducted by the participants themselves. In the second semester, the group presents a seminar for the entire campus.
  • Retreats. An opening/closing retreat may be held in May, with the "graduating" community sharing information with the new participants on various aspects of the program, such as seminar topics, student associate selection, and teaching projects. In the early fall, another campus or national teaching conference is the setting for seminars with faculty from other universities.
  • Teaching projects. Community members pursue self-designed learning programs, including an individual teaching project, for which they receive financial support. Past projects have included developing expertise and courseware for computer-assisted instruction; redesigning an ongoing course; and investigating, learning, and trying a new teaching method. These projects are shared with the faculty at a campus-wide seminar.
  • National conferences. In November, each community is invited to participate in the annual Miami Lilly Conference on College Teaching, where nationally known teacher-scholars interact with Miami faculty and guests from other campuses.
  • Faculty partner. Each community member selects a colleague to work with during the year. In the case of junior faculty, the person is an experienced faculty member who serves as a mentor. Senior faculty community members pair up as in the New Jersey Partners in Learning model.
  • Student associates. Each participant selects one or two students who provide student perspectives on teaching, learning, projects, and topics encountered in the community.
  • Course mini-portfolio. Each participant selects a focus course in which to try innovations and prepares a course mini-portfolio that analyzes and provides evidence of student learning.

Follow-Up

Each FLC participant agrees to prepare initial, midyear, and final reports and program assessment about achievement of objectives, outcomes, deliverables, and interaction with FLC members and student associates. This also includes SoTL that involves assessment of student learning as a result of a course intervention connected with the FLC topic.