The Faculty Development Metagame

One of the things I most enjoy about faculty development – consulting with faculty about their teaching and professional development – is what I have begun to think of as the “faculty development metagame.”  It’s not really a game but it’s so enjoyable that I’m reluctant to give up the word for one that is, strictly speaking, more accurate.

The metagame goes like this: In my interactions with faculty, particularly more formal and planned ones such as workshops, I usually have to find ways to explicitly model and use whatever I am discussing or presenting to form the basis of the interaction itself.  In the broadest sense, that means that I can’t continue to champion “active learning,” “student engagement,” and other ideas that are built on the idea that people learn best when they practice and receive feedback if I don’t actively model and practice those ideas myself.  In other words, I can’t tell faculty that lectures are usually a terrible way to teach students by lecturing those faculty.

In a more specific sense, this means trying to find ways to model and use the specific techniques, tools, or whatever is the topic of discussion as the framework for the interaction. The topic of discussion is used to create the discussion itself e.g., a discussion about collaborative tools takes place using tools such as Google Docs and Twitter, a workshop about flipping the classroom requires participants to have watched videos and done other preliminary work prior to the workshop (and of course some will not have done so so they – like students in their classroom – will have to figure out what to do about the group members who aren’t prepared!).  Of course, that means that the interaction will contain little actual discussion in the form of me lecturing and quite a bit of activity both on my part and on the part of the faculty with whom I am working.

I believe this metagame is necessary for at least three reasons:

  • Authenticity: My credibility is injured when I put forth ideas about teaching and learning that I do not myself practice or believe.
  • Efficiency: I am more efficient when I can save time by introducing and demonstrating something at the same time.  If I can get others involved at the same time then that’s even more time saved!
  • Effectiveness: I genuinely believe in the ideas, techniques, and tools that I try to pass along to my faculty.  Just as I believe that they will be more effective teaching their students if they use them, I believe that I am more effective teaching faculty if I use them, too.

Just as importantly, this metagame also makes faculty development very challenging and very fun!  It’s often difficult to figure out ways to employ the techniques and tools being presented in a particular consultation as the consultation itself, especially in ways that are genuine and not facile. Figuring out to meet that challenge makes my job much more interesting and fun.

Often it’s obvious when I’m modeling something and using it as the basis of a consultation or workshop.  But every once in a while I get to have a fun little moment at the end of the interaction where I tell my colleagues: “And that cool thing we’ve been talking about for the past hour? We’ve been doing it!” That makes it even more fun.

A brief example may be helpful: This fall I’ll be teaching a pedagogy class for graduate students and one specific technique they’ll learn is a technique called a “concept lesson.”  Two of the key elements of a concept lesson are a solid metaphor – not an example – for the idea on which you’re focusing and an actual example.  I will, of course, use a concept lesson to teach about concept lessons so I will need an appropriate metaphor and example.  I will teach a concept lesson about concept lessons; that is the metagame.

It’s not always possible to do play the metagame.  There are some tools or techniques that simply take too much time to play out or are so situation- or discipline-specific that they can’t be realistically employed in an artificial setting.  That can make them a tough sell and that’s when it’s incredibly helpful to have (a) others who have experience with it to provide examples and testimony, (b) video, or (c) other artifacts that make the idea real and concrete instead of just an abstract discussion.







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