LEAP-ing Forward with Teaching and Learning Centers
AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative has provided an intellectual framework for college-level learning for nearly a decade and a half. It also provides a foundation and a set of principles that undergird a wide array of projects and collaborations launched by AAC&U in support of its mission of making quality and equity the foundations for excellence in undergraduate education. Since LEAP’s inception, AAC&U has published monographs, journals, and books; led summer institutes; and organized an array of conferences to accelerate higher education’s adoption of LEAP practices and principles. Indeed, the work of LEAP adoption is broad and systemic as it asks colleges, universities, community colleges, and state systems to make far-reaching educational changes. This is not the work of an individual administrator, unit, or department. This is the work of the institution collectively.
As such, successful LEAP adoption by institutions is complex. A senior leader launching LEAP-based initiatives will have little success without faculty collaboration and buy-in. Conversely, grassroots efforts by faculty will be hampered if they are not able to convince their colleagues to join the endeavor and the administration to invest significantly in their work. Faculty have always been seen as central to LEAP efforts, and AAC&U’s recent faculty collaboratives project was launched specifically to broaden faculty awareness of and engagement with LEAP and to provide mechanisms to manage complexities in the adoption process. As the name suggests, one of the goals of faculty collaboratives was to provide networking opportunities for faculty to learn about and share best practices in pedagogy, assignment design, and assessment. Leadership for the faculty collaboratives rested predominantly at the state level, leveraged the LEAP States network, and involved faculty fellows from individual campuses.
For example, LEAP Kentucky leveraged the faculty collaboratives project to facilitate key elements of its five-year strategic agenda, Stronger by Degrees. Leveraging faculty fellows who led conversations throughout the state, their faculty collaborative project focused on signature assignments and high-impact practices with the goal of increasing student success.1 In Massachusetts, the initial faculty collaborative goals were to increase faculty awareness, adoption, and leadership in a range of areas, including LEAP, the Degree Qualifications Profile, and best practices in assessment. Transfer from two-year to four-year institutions, a significant emphasis of their faculty collaborative project, continues to be a focus for LEAP Massachusetts.2 These two examples highlight commonalities among efforts in all LEAP States. Specifically, they embrace core elements of the LEAP framework, and they integrate LEAP with their other state initiatives, projects, and goals. Additionally, faculty are placed at the center of this work, and increasing their engagement and embracing their leadership on campuses is a hallmark of various projects.
Reflecting on the successes of the faculty collaboratives project, chronicled in the Summer 2017 issue of Peer Review, it is clear that faculty innovation, pedagogy, and leadership are central to the success of LEAP efforts on college campuses. There are several strategies institutions can take to further engage faculty in the service of LEAP. Institutions and systems looking to promote the LEAP Framework should develop strong partnerships with those involved with faculty development efforts on individual campuses. These units, most often called Centers for Teaching and Learning (or CTLs), are charged with the advancement of instructional excellence at their institution and, as a result, have a wide range of strategies in place to foster awareness and adoption of innovative and evidence-based teaching and learning practices.
Workshops, speaker series, and summer institutes are likely the most common types of CTL programming; however, faculty learning communities, in-depth faculty fellows programs, peer consultations, teaching observations, midsemester formative evaluations, instructional design assistance, course development guidance, learning technologies support, and even educational research and programmatic assessment assistance are among the strategies commonly found within CTLs in higher education today. CTLs also ground their work in adult learning practices and typically offer ongoing and/or drop-in support for those who desire immediate instructional assistance.
CTLs often have an array of approaches that can incentivize instructional change and improvement efforts among faculty. While varying from one CTL to the next, the menu of faculty incentive options often includes grants, equipment, awards (status or other forms of recognition), release time, merit pay or stipends, graduate assistant support, and travel funds or operating budgets. Those interested in learning more about the successful impact of faculty development efforts are encouraged to review Faculty Development and Student Learning: Assessing the Connections.3
In addition to the structures and strategies mentioned above, most CTLs already have a trusted network of faculty colleagues across their institution that they utilize in important and nuanced ways. Connecting LEAP efforts to these pre-existing campus networks of those who have already shown a commitment to excellence in learning is an essential LEAP adoption strategy. Undeniably, CTLs currently function as “faculty collaboratives” within higher education. Faculty and administrators seeking to promote LEAP on their campus or within their state system are encouraged to seek out CTL directors and their staff to determine how to partner for common goals.
- Molly Dunkum and Tracy Knowles, “Embracing LEAP in Kentucky,” Peer Review 19, no. 3 (Summer 2017), https://www.aacu.org/peerreview/2017/Summer/Kentucky.
- Robert J. Awkward et al., “Massachusetts Brings It All Together,” Peer Review 19, no. 3 (Summer 2017), https://www.aacu.org/peerreview/2017/Summer/Massachusetts.
- William Condon et al., Faculty Development and Student Learning: Assessing the Connections (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2016).