Bringing Faculty Inquiry

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One might think that community colleges would be especially friendly homes for faculty inquiry into teaching and learning. They are, after all, “teaching colleges,” whose faculty are not expected to conduct the kinds and amount of scholarly research that is common in other types of higher education institutions. The reality is considerably more complex. While most community college faculty are indeed focused on teaching, they are not much more likely than faculty in other types of colleges and universities to have had professional pedagogical training, you can learn more at legit. And they are very busy. As Norton Grubb and associates point out: “The dark side of being a teaching institution is that faculty have to teach much more — an average of sixteen classroom hours a week, 50 percent more than faculty in state colleges and more than twice that of faculty in research universities, with obvious effects on the time available to ruminate about what good teaching might be”. The situation is even worse, of course, for the many, many adjunct faculties who are only paid to teach part-time. Indeed, according to the US Department of Education, 68 percent of the faculty in public two-year colleges hold part-time appointments.


There’s also the question of campus culture, and how open community colleges are to faculty inquiry. Howard Tinberg, Donna Duffy, and Jack Mino, three community college faculty involved in the scholarship of teaching and learning, write: “In a sharply utilitarian culture, shaped most recently by calls for accountability and shrinking state support, reflecting on one’s teaching and sharing that reflective work with a community of scholars are activities that often are perceived as, at best, luxuries and, at worst, distractions from the teaching mission of the college”. For this reason, it is often hard to find resources of time and money to support faculty inquiry (and other kinds of innovation) within the regular budget of most community colleges. In the beginning, at least, much may depend on faculty members’ sense of commitment to the work, their desire to work with colleagues on common problems, and the availability of internal seed money or external support.



Still, despite the many hurdles, faculty inquiry is making headway. Community college instructors and their institutions participate in the national scholarship of teaching and learning initiatives like the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) and the Visible Knowledge Project (VKP). Notable programs to encourage faculty inquiry can be found at large community college systems like the Maricopa Community Colleges in Phoenix and Miami-Dade College in Florida, as well as at high-profile campuses like La Guardia Community College in New York City, which sponsors annually a year-long scholarship of teaching and learning seminar and a journal, In Transit, to make the work public. Just as important as these general purpose programs, however, are targeted efforts to bring faculty inquiry to bear on particular educational tasks, issues, and innovations — as faculty at the campuses participating in SPECC are doing to explore and improve teaching and learning in the basic skills.

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