Accelerate Adoption: Communicate within and among Faculty Peer Groups

Originally posted on December 15, 2010 by Brian Beatty

Note: I advocate the HyFlex delivery approach for faculty, students, in courses or disciplines where instruction can be effective with both classroom and online delivery. This discussion is targeted at situations where HyFlex delivery make good sense, solving important problems or leveraging some significant new opportunity.

It takes more than just a good idea to bring about change, especially with the majority of faculty. Communication is just as important as a good idea. When HyFlex delivery is applied in the right situations, it is a good idea. When HyFlex is implemented thoughtfully, it becomes approachable even to pragmatic faculty. (See previous posts for more along these lines.) But that’s not enough to facilitate widespread change.

The majority of faculty are pragmatic or conservative when it comes to their beliefs and practices of teaching and learning. Change doesn’t come easy, and new ideas are not naturally attractive to most. Most faculty (including me) are comfortable with their teaching, believe that most of their students are learning effectively (or at least adequately), and that there is no compelling reason to change.

Peer-based communication. Who do pragmatic or conservative faculty listen to? Where do they hear about new ideas that they’ll listen to and consider for their own practice? Whether in faculty meetings, informal discussions about teaching methods, or through reading professional journals and participating in conferences, faculty listen to their peers. Peers can be trusted in ways that others cannot. Faculty may not be ready to listen to the great ideas of technology support staff if they don’t closely identify with that group. Faculty may not listen to the ideas coming from members of the administration if they don’t trust them. Faculty may not listen to other faculty teaching in another discipline (or even another academic department) if they believe there are significant differences in content, students, or delivery context between them. Overall, if the faculty is content with the status quo, they may not be willing to consider any other teaching approach, even one that promises significant improvement, unless they hear about it from a highly trusted peer.

Well-connected faculty are key players. Faculty who belong to multiple peer groups are valuable connectors. If one of these faculty adopt HyFlex, the effect may be multiplied as they communicate within and across several distinct peer groups. Faculty who are effective connectors may include those with multiple academic appointments, those with strong connections in their professional organizations and who communicate new ideas regularly at conferences, in publications, or through blogs. Faculty with administrative duties (in addition to teaching) may also be valuable connectors, since they may have peers that can become visionary sponsors in other groups.

Why change? Pragmatic faculty change their practice when they see a groundswell of support and success in a new practice. When many of their peers adopt a new practice, they tend to go along with the crowd. Conservative faculty change their practice when it becomes harder to continue with their old ways than it is to adopt an innovation. In the case of Hyflex delivery, if students and other key stakeholders (administrators, research funders, etc.) start requesting flexible delivery options – because there is some real value to them – it may become hard to resist.

Two SF State Instructional Technologies faculty share a few of their insights into their HyFlex experience – what they’ve done, what has worked well, and what has been (and in some cases remains) challenging:

  1. Jeff Brain:
  2. Patricia Donohue:

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