Liberal Education

The Neglected Learner: A Call to Support Integrative Learning for Faculty

The last two and a half decades have featured increasingly louder calls to change and expand the structure, practices, and culture of higher education. Messages touting the importance of engagement now proliferate on the grounds that reciprocal relationships with community partners add “value to the community and the scholar’s discipline.”1 Many first-order institutional changes, such as revised institutional mission and vision statements, signal a trend toward engaged campuses that respond to the needs of local and global communities. The academy also faces external demands to adapt to a world of shared knowledge creation and to contribute more deliberately to our immediate communities. Students and families, legislators, and business and industry leaders demand cost-effective higher education that produces graduates with not only technical expertise, but also critical-thinking and problem-solving capacities, collaborative savvy, enhanced communication skills, and the ability to navigate ambiguity and change. These calls for greater engagement in communities, across disciplines, and between the traditionally bounded domains of teaching, research, and service “reflect a fundamental epistemological position underlying the shift in the locus of education to include the community.”2

Central to all such changes are the faculty members whose scholarship, pedagogy, and training must adjust to these new demands on the university. Gaps appear, however, between where universities want to be, where the public expects universities to be, and how to support a critical mass of faculty in pursuit of the institutional change needed to get there. On the one hand, integrative learning and engaged work have emerged as key strategies for student success. Integrative learning promises to prepare students to respond to complex, unscripted problems with informed judgments that draw on interdisciplinary connections, experiential knowledge, cocurricular learning, and more. On the other hand, faculty learning has been overlooked as a cornerstone of these efforts. Ample research has demonstrated the value of collaborative, integrative student learning.3 Moreover, Ernest Boyer’s charge to enlarge the vision of scholarship to include integrative scholarship, applied scholarship, and the scholarship of teaching and learning rings ever truer amid contemporary changes in higher education.4

Nevertheless, faculty reward structures, professional support, and messages from senior faculty and other academic leaders tend to limit possibilities among faculty for collaboration, integrative work, and engaged scholarship. We see little evidence that universities have developed practices that support integrative and engaged faculty learning. Rather, we see growing misalignment between the support that faculty receive and the current trends in, and the future of, higher education. Therefore, we argue that current practices and structures in higher education neglect faculty as learners and that the ambitions of liberal education at engaged universities can only be actualized if integrative learning for faculty becomes foundational.

Faculty as (neglected) learners

Successful members of the academy are exemplars of outstanding lifelong learning, so why must we understand faculty as neglected learners? We argue that faculty members represent neglected learners because we see only limited evidence that institutions have devised new practices and support structures to better align faculty’s day-to-day work with institutional goals and the future of higher education. Many institutions have already initiated what Larry Cuban calls first-order changes, as mission statements increasingly reflect the values of integrative learning and engaged work.5 Although institutional missions call for collaborative work and engagement, the everyday practices of faculty life and the culture and practices of higher education often undermine the aspirations for engagement and integrative scholarship and teaching.6 Fundamental second-order transformations—nonreversible, systemic changes that broaden the framework for faculty development—are required to support the calls for integrative learning and engaged scholarship. Current models and practices of faculty support fall short of the requisite second-order changes that our various constituencies demand. Instead, formidable institutional challenges often stymie engaged and collaborative scholarship and, ultimately, prevent faculty from engaging in integrative learning themselves.

The traditional model of faculty work imagines a solo researcher with strong disciplinary allegiance. Institutions reward the disciplinary expertise of faculty who establish scholarly reputations around clearly and narrowly defined research identities. Faculty success and evidence of excellence derive from publishing in disciplinary journals, writing monographs, or receiving external grants that will garner individual, and thus institutional, prestige and accolades. This paradigm constructs and maintains a tripartite division of faculty effort into domains of unequal value—research, teaching, and service—with research typically dominating the hierarchy. Interdisciplinary learning, innovation in teaching, and applied research in service to one’s community are positioned as career risks and liabilities.

Graduate education bolsters this traditional framework, training doctoral students to be lone researchers and to privilege the track to a tenured professorship, complete with ever-heightened research demands, as the best or the only viable path in academia. Doctoral education emphasizes disciplinary allegiance and socializes future faculty to embrace traditional divisions of labor—research, teaching, and service—with self-directed research at the top of the hierarchy.

The definitions, structures, and outcomes of faculty work have been steadily pushing against this dominant paradigm. Increasingly, faculty appointments disrupt these traditional models and dissolve the constraining boundaries of research, teaching, and service: for example, research scientist, professor of practice, and public scholar. Faculty must increasingly work as valued team players, rather than as solo scholars. Funding agencies and thought leaders demand new frameworks for inquiry that will facilitate translational, problem-based, and interdisciplinary work. Furthermore, in response to greater expectations for accountability, relevance, and civic engagement, faculty are more likely to engage with nontraditional collaborators and develop new ways to partner with the various communities they serve.

Faculty outputs are also being transformed as more faculty engage in interdisciplinary work, develop partnerships with nonacademic collaborators, and generate co-constructed knowledge. The future of scholarship includes nontraditional outlets and products, such as interdisciplinary blogs, e-journals, and materials produced for and with community partners. Technology and globalization also change our relationship with knowledge in all professions and disciplines. Moreover, the growth of service and administrative roles complicate notions of faculty workload. John Ziker, chair of the anthropology department at Boise State University, discovered that faculty spend a great deal of time outside of teaching, research, and service on administrative and compliance tasks associated with running the university.7

Despite these changes in faculty roles and work, faculty development and support practices continue to privilege traditional faculty models. Specifically, these practices police the tripartite division of labor and enforce narrow notions of success and excellence. Faculty are encouraged to “protect” research time in order to ensure that it receives the largest allocation. Teaching and time with students must be similarly restricted to avoid “stealing” effort from one’s scholarship. Junior faculty are cautioned to “just say no” to anything beyond the minimum service requirements. Mentoring programs, chair workshops, and time management guidance often reinforce distinct divisions between research, teaching, and service. There has been significant growth in administrative functions for faculty, yet university service is not rewarded and is, instead, devalued. Traditional practices frame faculty effort as a zero-sum game; effort spent on one activity depletes productivity in another domain. The growth of a contingent, part-time faculty workforce further compartmentalizes and creates hierarchies for faculty work according to rank and effort; adjunct faculty teach, tenure-track faculty focus on research. This neglected group of part-time faculty learners, already on the margins of the institution, misses the benefits of learning through scholarship, through pedagogical development, and through institutional support for more innovative approaches to learning and scholarly work.

Institutions impose the demands of collaborative work on an environment designed to support and reward individualistic work. Faculty are told both to justify their relevance to local, sometimes nonacademic audiences, and to demonstrate rigor in their scholarship according to the standards of their disciplines. They are expected to meet the demands of these competing masters, while only one side will garner tangible benefits for their careers and advancement in their institutions. A lack of tangible institutional rewards, particularly promotion and/or tenure, for engaged work and a wider range of scholarly products discourages faculty learning and growth in areas of engaged scholarship and integrative work. The hierarchal organization of research, teaching, and service animates debates about what kind of faculty work will “count” toward positive evaluation and promotable evidence of excellence. Moreover, work that does not fit neatly into the standard “buckets” of labor can cause confusion for tenure and promotion committees and external reviewers. When institutions revise performance guidelines to include contemporary forms of scholarship, senior faculty on evaluation and review committees continue “to apply narrow interpretations of what constitutes scholarly activity,” despite the revisions.8

These examples of misalignment bear consequences not only for faculty learners interested in integrative, engaged work, but also for institutional leadership and student success. Expectations for faculty to assume administrative and compliance-related functions have grown. Yet faculty are not rewarded for taking on such tasks and are discouraged from doing so. This disdain for leadership weakens faculty governance, and shrinks the pool of future leaders in higher education. As described previously, faculty are instead encouraged to develop national reputations in discipline-specific research. Institutional leadership and service to support the local community’s problem-solving efforts are not typical pathways for career success. Inadvertently, then, institutions discourage and disincentivize faculty investment in their particular institutions and local communities. This limited connection to place compounds the lack of alignment between faculty practices and institutional goals for integrative learning among students.

Most high-impact practices—such as internships, experiential learning, community engagement, and other out-of-classroom learning options—require strong relationships and collaborations with community partners in a particular location. If these practices are truly to have an impact, faculty must be invested in, and engaged with, the community in order to design the learning experiences and to ensure that the lessons learned translate to the student’s academic and career pursuits. However, when community-engaged work ranks low on the list of priorities for a faculty member’s career success, the potential shrinks for rich and integrative student learning experiences. If our development efforts do not foster engagement and integration across the multiple dimensions of faculty work, then there is less likelihood that faculty will make these connections on their own or be able to help students integrate learning across their academic experiences.

In sum, faculty enter the profession with a great deal to learn; yet institutions traditionally expect that “a scholar (i.e., faculty member) would and could easily self-educate to keep abreast of new developments and to maintain high skill levels.”9 However, the changing demands of higher education render untenable the presumption of the self-taught, autonomous scholar. Traditional models of faculty work, reward, and support fail to help faculty adapt to the future of higher education. The changing landscape of higher education demands that faculty work beyond their disciplines with non-academics and students; yet, institutional reward structures continue to privilege productive scholars who establish expertise in narrow disciplinary niches, and faculty support practices provide limited mentorship in interdisciplinary and translational research and in community engagement.

Institutions expect faculty to teach in a way that achieves assessable learning outcomes and aids student engagement and retention efforts through high-impact practices and integrative learning. While institutions increasingly provide pedagogical development for faculty, this professional development is considered separately and apart from the other roles and responsibilities that faculty assume. Furthermore, institutions ask faculty to contribute to governing and administering the university but provide little support for understanding the background, culture, and context of a fiscally and organizationally complicated system. Institutions hope that, over time, some faculty will become future leaders, yet faculty development efforts rarely take a long-term view of crafting careers. In the midst of these paradigm shifts, higher education neglects faculty members as learners by failing to provide vital guidance on what it might mean to be an integrated scholar.

Linking faculty learning and institutional change

Faculty working amid demands for engaged scholarship and interdisciplinary integration require their institutions to discover new practices for development, support, and professionalization. In reflecting on Boyer, Edward Ayers noted that “Boyer showed that our work could be stronger if we took advantage of all the resources within our reach, if we joined different ways of knowing, if we joined service and learning, scholarship and teaching.”10 Institutional support for faculty learning must similarly be revised and updated in order to change patterns of faculty behavior and commitment and to effect second-order change that attends to learning for all members of the university. All stakeholders will benefit when colleges and universities develop a faculty model that accounts for student success, institutional objectives and mission, external needs, and professional support and career advancement.

To change academic institutions and cultures, however, something more than an “initiative” or “program” is needed. The question must change from “What enhancement do faculty need to be better teachers or scholars” to “How can we better align the work of the faculty with the goals of the institution?” To realize the vision of a twenty-first-century institution, more faculty must be encouraged and supported in the integrative, engaged work that will animate such a university. Institutions must move from first-order change in the form of new programs or adjusted models of faculty development to transformative second-order change that would fundamentally alter higher education. This kind of irreversible shift requires a new model of faculty work.

The concept of integrative learning, so far reserved for students, provides a powerful lens for conceptualizing a new faculty model. Integrative learning describes a deep learning process that invites students to “build across the curriculum and cocurriculum, from making simple connections among ideas and experiences to synthesizing and transferring learning to new, complex situations within and beyond the campus.”11 Engaged scholarship can be understood as a faculty equivalent of integrative learning. Engaged scholarship requires co-constructed, decompartmentalized knowledge—both deep and broad—that reaches beyond the boundaries of the university and solves community problems, thereby fulfilling the civic mission of higher education. Applying the elements of integrative learning to faculty work could address current challenges in promoting and achieving translational scholarship and interdisciplinary collaboration. Faculty, too, require support as integrated learners and scholars if they are to help their institutions respond to calls for a more responsive higher education model. Integrative learning for faculty links lab, classroom, office, committee, and community, joining conversations about developing an area of excellence, a career, and a life.

If integrative learning were to become central to the work of the university—and to faculty work, in particular—it would call into question what institutions accept as knowledge and how they judge success. While traditional academic models treat knowledge as disciplinarily constrained, expert-driven, and confined within the walls of the university, integrative learning privileges co-constructed, decompartmentalized, shared, and applied knowledge. Adopting a model of integrative learning for faculty would mean disrupting the normative “buckets” of faculty work: research, teaching, and service. A faculty model of integrative learning would encourage new criteria for excellence that blur and transcend these bounded categories and that reframe a zero-sum game of effort allocation as one of integration that results in more than the sum of the parts. This model also would call on institutions to help faculty learn how to navigate the languages, frameworks, and methodological preferences of colleagues outside their own disciplines.

The longstanding institutional reward structures that reinforce narrow pathways to, and models of, excellence also must be transformed to recognize and support engaged work. With such institutional affirmation, collaborative and engaged scholarship, as well as the risks typically associated with working across disciplines, would become opportunities for success, rather than threats to promotion and tenure. Thus, an integrative-learning framework for faculty would create space for the innovation and risk taking required for engaged scholarship.

Engaged scholarship and its scholarly products may neither comport with traditional norms of scholarly output nor lend themselves to traditional peer review procedures. Thus, a model of integrative learning for faculty would force reconsideration of our definitions of “expertise” and “expert.” Reframing these concepts has implications for how we assess faculty work and how we think about processes of peer review. While integrative learning celebrates both breadth and depth, traditional notions of expertise reward focused depth. The argument here is not that institutions need to abandon such notions of “expertise”; rather, we should also recognize expertise that balances deep disciplinary knowledge with breadth of application and connection. In other words, institutional reward structures must incentivize interdisciplinary collaboration that results in publication outside of disciplinarily sanctioned outlets or high-quality scholarly products that may be unrecognizable to disciplinary peers. Expanding institutional norms of expertise would require complementary models of peer review that reconsider who counts as an expert and what counts as evidence of expertise. Community-based projects and applied scholarship must be recognized as peer-reviewable applications of expertise. Moreover, a model of faculty integrative learning must acknowledge that not all our peers are academics, and that community partners might emerge as expert reviewers for products that have impact beyond the university. Academic leaders should work to develop guidelines for community partners that would help these collaborators effectively assess and review faculty work.

Such expanded understandings of “expert” and “expertise” productively challenge academic notions of prestige and reputation, and they require reimagining the traditional currency of academia. Faculty engaged in team-taught project-based learning, for example, blend applied research, excellence in teaching, and service to both university and community. A well-facilitated and guided project experience for students might yield a product that has great value for a community partner. If the educational outcome has value outside the university, then the institution should also value the work by supporting and rewarding the faculty who integrate classroom innovation with collaborative, applied research.

Responding to neglected learners with an integrative-learning framework would help institutions create stronger connections among their communities of scholars and prepare them to better address messy real-world problems in their communities. An integrative model of faculty learning would also enhance the vitality of the professoriate with more engaged and networked scholars akin to Schon’s “reflective practitioner” who has access to multiple frames for problem solving.12 The boundaries within and around an institution would be understood to be more permeable, and accordingly, faculty could enjoy a broader network of loosely affiliated colleagues.

An example of this institutional commitment to integrative learning for faculty might be universities convening and sponsoring shared work sessions that include campus members, community participants, and disciplinary colleagues. Currently, faculty attend conferences primarily as experts who present their research or collaborate with like-minded scholars on problems relevant to their research agendas. Conferences make these conversations happen in real time, but off site. A faculty model of integrative learning would call on institutions to bring faculty members’ disciplinary learning back to the campus and community, with regular report-outs or poster sessions that showcase this institutional investment in travel and conference attendance. Such cultural shifts have the potential to support engagement in an institution and to enhance a sense of belonging, characteristics as important for faculty success and well-being as they are for student success and well-being. Developing more drop-in, low-commitment, informal poster sessions, TED-style talks, and similar convenings that provide ample opportunities to connect across disciplines would complement and support the changing dynamics of faculty work. Such opportunities focus on connection and communication throughout the organization in order to promote boundary-crossing collaboration.

Similarly, institutions could facilitate the creation of team and networked projects. For example, institutions could develop cross-functional teams that enlist whole departments, units, and community partners to address retention issues, the use of decision analytics, enrollment management, curricular revision, the development of high-impact practices, or translational research problems in and with the community. These projects are not necessarily long-term committee assignments but are deep retreat-worthy conversations that would reconnect learning with the professional context of faculty work. These learning conversations should be more inclusive and involve staff, adjunct faculty, and students. Such models would encourage more attention to context and place as well as a greater investment in, and connection to, immediate communities. They would help faculty forge stronger connections among disciplines as well as to their immediate settings.

Making connections between one’s individual career aspirations and broader institutional goals fills a gap that hampers both faculty and administrators. We need to do a better job of aligning what the campus hopes to achieve with the rewards, incentives, communications, and related support designed for faculty. We believe that many faculty are interested in connecting their careers with their campuses and communities, but they feel ill-equipped to take on this challenge. These strategies move faculty learning from remediation or individual enhancement to faculty learning as institutional investment. We could develop incentives and rewards in the form of grants for mentoring or forming learning communities—providing a stipend for enrollment as fellows, for example, with the requirement to pay back and teach others—and, ultimately, have these efforts count in promotion and tenure reviews.

The goals of a liberal education cannot be achieved if faculty are not integrative learners. Importantly, a model of integrative learning for faculty would enhance institutional efforts to help students integrate learning across their degree and cocurricular engagements, as faculty would bring their own experience with, and perspectives on, integration back to the classroom. They would communicate the importance of integrative learning to their students and mentees, thereby sustaining second-order change and a cultural shift in priorities.

Conclusion

Viewing faculty as neglected learners opens up new conversations about how best to assist them in ways that also meet the challenges and goals of higher education in the twenty-first century. Faculty and the institutions they serve would benefit from this shift in focus because their colleagues are changing, their students are different, their disciplines are expanding and deepening, and their campuses are faced with external forces that require them to leave the lab or classroom and become engaged in on-the-ground problems. If we were able to address the needs of faculty as neglected learners, we would be more likely to achieve institutional goals because those goals would be more closely aligned with faculty development efforts. Furthermore, we would be better able to foster cultural change on formal and informal levels, resulting in more interdisciplinary, collaborative, innovation-friendly campuses. Such a culture would ultimately benefit students, faculty, and the communities we serve.

In fact, a campus would be better able to attend to the neglected learning of faculty if it operated more like a “learning organization”—one that engages in intentional, transparent, and planned reflection and communication. Research suggests that an institutionalized culture of learning is one that encourages a level of risk that does not typically exist in a university.13 We argue for strategies that make boundaries more permeable and that make learning—for everyone, including faculty—better aligned with campus goals.

Notes

1. Nancy Franz, “A Holistic Model of Engaged Scholarship: Telling the Story across Higher Education’s Missions,” Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 13, no. 4 (2009): 35.

2. Lorilee Sandmann, John Saltmarsh, and KerryAnn O’Meara, “An Integrated Model for Advancing the Scholarship of Engagement: Creating Academic Homes for the Engaged Scholar,” Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 12, no. 1 (2008): 48.

3. See, for example, Mary Taylor Huber and Pat Hutchings, Integrative learning: Mapping the Terrain (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2004).

4. See Ernest L. Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990).

5. See Larry Cuban, The Managerial Imperative and the Practice of Leadership in Schools (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1988).

6. See Adrianna Kezar, “Redesigning for Collaboration in Learning Initiatives: An Examination of Four Highly Collaborative Campuses,” Journal of Higher Education 77, no. 5 (2006): 804–838.

7. See Colleen Flaherty, “So Much to Do, So Little Time,” Inside Higher Ed, April 9, 2014, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/04/09/research-shows-professors....

8. Sandmann, Saltmarsh, and O’Meara, “An Integrated Model,” 53.

9. Lanthan D. Camblin and Joseph A. Steger, “Rethinking Faculty Development,” Higher Education 39, no. 1 (2000): 2.

10. Edward L. Ayers, “The Future of Scholarship,” Liberal Education 100, no. 2 (2014): 6.

11. Jillian Kinzie, “Taking Stock of Capstones and Integrative Learning,” Peer Review 15, no. 4 (2013): 29.

12. See Donald A. Schon, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action (New York: Basic Books, 1983).

13. See, for example, the work of the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success (http://www.thechangingfaculty.org).

To respond to this article, e-mail liberaled@aacu.org, with the authors’ names on the subject line.


Jonathan P. Rossing is assistant professor of communication studies at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, and he will take a position as associate professor and department chair of communication studies at Gonzaga University in August 2016. Melissa R. Lavitt is executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Washington Tacoma.

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