Bringing It

Bringing It #119: Empowering Faculty Changemakers–Sensemaking for Student Success

March 21, 2024

Dear friends,

As part of our work on the Paradigm Project, our effort to promote equitable, engaged learning for all students, we’re proud to share important new innovations through this platform. Today, we’re highlighting the work of Dr. Elizabeth Wardle, Dr. Alex Arreguin, and Professor Stacy Wilson and their project, Sensemaking for Student Success: A Cohort-Based Faculty Change Method. A key effort in enacting paradigmatic change is enlisting, training, and empowering those putting change into action. This inter-institutional model does just this–it empowers faculty to work as changemakers for deep learning.

The Faculty Fellows Writing Program

Elizabeth Wardle is the current Director of the Howe Center for Writing Excellence at Miami University. Her approach to faculty-facing work has always been to think beyond a singular assignment, teacher, class, or even department. “How do you support teaching and learning in a way that is transformational?” Wardle says, “We need big change, we need deep change.” As Wardle affirms, deep change doesn’t happen alone. The cornerstone of the Howe Center’s work is the semester long, team-based Faculty Fellows Writing Program. Participating faculty members from multiple departmental teams work with Wardle and the Howe Center to identify problems using scaffolded activities and various sensemaking methods, eventually developing solutions to the challenges they select. So far, this program has served 177 faculty members across departments, and the work done by those faculty is highlighted in the 2022 book Changing Conceptions, Changing Practices: Innovating Teaching Across Disciplines.

“This is a way to leverage faculty expertise for deep change,” says Wardle. The Fellows program is carefully scaffolded and sequenced. Rather than just reading, talking freely, or engaging in one-off workshops, the faculty teams are exposed to reflective activities that build capacities for changemaking across an entire semester, with follow up. The program also builds interdepartmental collaboration. “Faculty often feel they have control of their own classrooms. But the control of a program or system that’s broken isn’t something they typically think about,” Wardle says. The connections that this program fosters enables faculty changemakers to do change-work at the level of systems—programs, departments, divisions, and beyond. In sharing their field’s threshold concepts, data and ideas from their own experiences, and resources and findings from their projects, faculty empower one another to make innovative changes in their classrooms, departments, institutions, and their fields of study.

This method of team-based, integrative faculty changemaking inspired Alex Arreguin and Stacy Wilson of the Maricopa Community College network to reach out to Wardle and her team. Though these institutions are very different—geographically, administratively, and in terms of student demographics—the Maricopa team instituted their own version of the Faculty Fellows Program to great success. Over the past two years, 70 faculty members have participated, and Maricopa’s Provost has now funded the program to be offered across the 10 campuses in the network.

Sensemaking for Student Success

The evidence from these initiatives points to a clear link between faculty empowerment and student success. “Higher ed has seen a lot of institution-level efforts to support student success, but they’re really all about completion,” says Wardle. Reorienting student success efforts to center on crafting inclusive and transformative learning environments, and giving faculty the reins, has led to more inclusive classrooms and programs that produce meaningful student success. In order to implement these efforts, faculty needed to learn that, as Wardle says, “you don’t need to have positional authority to lead.” By supporting Fellows alumni with additional resources such as faculty learning communities, department-specific workshops, and a recent multi-day retreat, Wardle hopes to break down the roadblocks that hold faculty changemakers back—helping them to think of themselves “as the University.”

Now Miami University and the Maricopa network are poised to bring this methodology to higher ed at large. The Lumina Foundation recently gave Wardle and the Howe Center a $300,000 grant intended to provide faculty teams from across Ohio the opportunity to join a Sensemaking seminar. Arreguin and Wilson will co-lead the seminar, slated for this July. Applications are currently open and due April 1st.

Sensemaking for Student Success is a great example of the holistic innovation BT2P aims to support. And it’s not alone. Other initiatives that link faculty community, leadership development, and student success include the Student Experience Project (discussed in a recent Bringing It) and the Teaching and Learning Hubs across the North Carolina community-college system (organized by the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research at North Carolina State University). Such innovative efforts underscore that empowering faculty to make change is an often untapped resource for empowering students.

Thanks so much to Elizabeth Wardle for sharing about this wonderful new initiative and her inspirational work

The Paradigm Conversations continue on April 4th:

We launched the Paradigm Conversations in partnership with the Future Trends Forum on March 14th with an engaging discussion of the Paradigm Project’s vision of change. You can access a full recording of the session here

The next conversation in the series will be on Thursday, April 4th from 2:00-3:00pm ET featuring Paradigm Working Group member and President of Hollins University, Mary Dana Hinton, discussing her new bookLeading From the Margins: College Leadership from Unexpected Places. We will share more details and the link to access the conversation closer to the date. 

Be sure to also save future dates of the series in your calendar at 2pm ET:

  • May 2: Advancing equitable student success and completion through holistic innovation.
  • May 30: Educating students for the changing world of work by blending ‘vocational,’ experiential, and liberal learning.
  • June 13: Responding to enrollment, fiscal, equity gap, and other stresses with holistic change.

With thanks for you and all you do,

David, Gianna, Gillian, Kate, Paul, and Todd

Bringing Theory to Practice
Elon University