Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The words faculty use to describe their activities

I am on the university strategic planning committee. Over the course of the last several weeks, we have held many information gathering sessions with stakeholder groups, including faculty, students, parents, employers, and staff. Right now, my subcommittee is analyzing the data from two specific questions asked at the information gathering sessions:

  • What did you learn about BSU over the last five years that you did not know before?
  • If you could choose one area of focus that will have the greatest positive impact on the university, what would it be?
A few minutes ago, I finished my first pass through the responses, and this was my first attempt at open coding. Most of the data came from faculty sessions, and I was struck by how often the word "teaching" was used. Practically absent from their responses was any discussion of learning. The words faculty used to describe themselves and their activity matched exactly those words most commonly seen in promotion and tenure guidelines and annual reports: professors are obligated to do some amount "teaching." 

Maybe I am reading too much into this, but it seems to belie a teacher-centric rather than learning-centric philosophy. I am reminded again of the advice of my colleagues, David Concepcion and Mahesh Daas: that the role of a professor is designer of learning experiences, and that to be a good teacher, one must be a humble learner.

The dean of my college, Michael Maggiotto, has been encouraging a transition from "teaching, research, and service" to "learning, scholarship, and engagement," as long as I have been here. At first, I dismissed this as simple alpha equivalence, and as potentially dangerous as it eschews the relationships among Boyer's four scholarships. However, reflecting on this in light of the data I just waded through, Maggiotto's approach may be a step in the right direction. The words we use shape the thoughts we think.

As an aside, I can't help but hope that I'm the first person to reference grounded theory and lambda calculus in the same post.

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