Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Faculty Experiences in a Research Learning Community

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Faculty Experiences in a Research Learning Community

Article excerpt

The current study examines the experiences of faculty in a research learning community developed to support nexo faculty in increasing scholarly productivity. A phenomenological, qualitative inquiry xoas used to portray the lived experiences of faculty within a learning community. Several themes were found including: accountability, belonging, interconnections, mentoring and expectations. The implications include suggestions for implementing college-wide research learning communities in higher education institutions.

Supporting faculty development is becoming an increasingly important venture for academic institutions. Currently, many different options exist that support junior faculty including action learning sets (Cox, 2004), mentoring programs (Borders et al., 2011; Greene et al., 2008), writing groups, and faculty learning communities. Over the past several years, faculty learning communities have been developed at intuitions on a national scale to intentionally foster the growth and development of faculty, particularly with regard to teaching (Richlin & Essington, 2004). This article will briefly review the utility of faculty learning communities and then describe a qualitative study focused on the understanding the experiences of faculty after participation in a year-long research-focused learning community.

Background

The tenure process, while deeply embedded in academic culture, is uniquely developed at individual institutions. This process holds significant consequences and responsibilities for the individuals seeking tenure as well as the institution at which they are seeking it (Rhoades-Catanach & Stout, 2000). Although the tenure and promotion process has a longstanding history within American academia, it has recently been a topic of debate. On the one hand, tenure and promotion are identified with a tough reputation stemming from perceptions including never-ending work days, impossible work-life balance (Mason, Goulden, & Frasch, 2009), unclear and overwhelming expectations regarding research, teaching, and service, and low salaries (JacksonWeaver, Baker, Gillespie, Bellido, & Watts, 2010), among others. On the other hand, tenure is regarded as serving several constructive purposes including job security despite lower pay, protection of employees from myriad internal and external political forces, and a reward for professional achievement (Hassel, Kowal, Ableidinger, & Flassel, 2011).

If the granting of tenure is, ultimately, a university's goal for all tenure-track faculty, one might assume that the university has significant stake in the success and development of each new hire. As such, more can be understood about exactly how universities can deliberately and successfully support all faculty through their succession on the tenure track. In fact, research points to indications that new faculty actually request formal mentorship and support, specifically in the form of research assistance (Greene et al., 2008).

Overview of Faculty Learning Communities

While there are many supports in place for junior faculty including action learning sets (Cox, 2004), mentoring programs (Borders et al., 2011; Greene et al., 2008), and less formal types of writing groups, this article will focus on the experiences of faculty within a learning community focused on the development of research (Cox, 2004; Fíershberger, Cesarini, & Chao, 2005). Cox (2004) defines learning communities as a "group of members who engage in and active, collaborative, year-long program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning (p. 8)." Additionally, these groups can be topic-based, built around a chosen shared topic, or cohort-based, built around a specific group of people (i.e., junior faculty; Cox, 2004).

Faculty learning communities (FLC) have been discussed in the literature as having multiple benefits for faculty members including increased feelings of support within the university setting, increased sense of professional identity, higher rates of achieving tenure, as well as increased skill and knowledge base (Cox, 2004; Dodge & Kendall, 2004; MacKenzie et ak, 2010; Stevenson, Duran, Barrett, & Colarulli, 2005). …

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