I’ve been working on organizing a project I’ve called “Learning Communities” here at UCalgary. It’s still a bit amorphous, but that’s actually part of the plan. What I’m going to do is offer resources and support to any communities on campus so that they can effectively get together and share what they’re doing. I’ll facilitate meetings, find guest speakers, search for resources, organize presentations, or whatever else is needed for these communities to share the interesting things they’re doing (or want to be doing) on campus.
The project has been directly inspired by two existing projects that have been extremely successful. First, is Cole Camplese‘s really amazing Community Hubs project at Penn State. The PSU ETS team has rolled out support for 13 communities that have been identified (so far) across the various PSU campuses. The communities share resources in both face-to-face sessions, and through the website created by ETS just for that community. Support and services are provided as needed. And, the activities culminate as sessions in the annual TLT Symposium conference at PSU. I haven’t been lucky enough to attend one of the Symposia, but from all accounts they sound like incredibly powerful events that solidify the physical and tangible sense of community, resulting in a highly effective professional development programme for PSU faculty and staff.
The other primary inspiration has been Jennifer Jones‘ work with Viral Professional Development at Bellingham Technical College. This is an equally inspiring project, where resources are provided and shared, and the professional development activities are really run by the faculty members themselves through a series of “play and learn” sessions. Instructors play with new tools, discuss pedagogy and techniques, and explore together in a safe environment before trying what they’ve learned in their own classes. By putting the faculty members themselves in the driver’s seats, Jen has been able to model and reinforce some amazingly powerful strategies – with a very strong pull from the grassroots levels of the institution.
So, how have these two radically different projects inspired what I’m trying to set up here at UCalgary? I really want to borrow heavily from the PSU model, where resources and support are offered to a wide variety of communities. I love that these communities are primarily face-to-face, and that the discussions are extended through websites provided by ETS. And the annual TLT Symposium is definitely something I’m going to try to get going here as well – taking the learning communities and providing them a showcase to gather and share not only with each other but with others who may be interested.
And, I want to take the grassroots and viral nature of Jen’s VPD work, and try to scale that across a fairly sizable campus. The most direct way I’m going to try this is by not predefining the communities. I’m going to handpick one or two just to get things going, but will work hard to make it easy for faculty members (and staff, and grad students, and possibly others) to identify, create, organize and join their own learning communities on any topic. And I’ll work hard to find resources to support all of these communities. Ideally, these communities will be about more than just technology – I’d love to see learning communities form around topics such as “large enrollment classes” and “storytelling” – with several technology-related topics also forming. I’m hoping to keep things extremely flexible, open, and organic, so there may be overlap between various communities (technologically and/or pedagogically).
Is it going to be successful? It’s way too early to tell. It could fly like a lead balloon. But, I think it’s important to try to put as much of an effort into providing effective professional development for our faculty as is possible, so it’s worth a shot.