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Meeting People Where They Are in Wisconsin
In 2005, Wisconsin became the first LEAP State. After a decade of partnership with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), it is only natural that an innovation hub developed through the Faculty Collaboratives project would be relevant and welcome. The hub was intended to bring order to the burgeoning initiatives introduced by the University of Wisconsin System and AAC&U. A lattice of relationships needed to be created that would connect the initiatives and make them accessible to practitioners in a variety of settings. From the outset of this project, we had three tasks:
- To develop a team of faculty fellows that could spearhead the project
- To create a sustainable, dynamic socio-intellectual network that would allow practitioners to share, discuss, and craft approaches to learning that were student-centered and problem-centered
- To keep equity-mindedness in the forefront of our thoughts
Our team consisted of five faculty fellows, a state liaison, and two codirectors of the Wisconsin Innovation Hub. The first half of our project was dedicated to developing expertise among our fellows, as well as solidarity among the group. Early on, we adopted a collegial network approach, one which discouraged hierarchical or competitive communication. We found that organizing the work around the big initiatives of AAC&U’s LEAP and Lumina’s Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) was not as productive as integrating our activities around particular objectives. A steady stream of actionable items proved to be more productive for the group and also made our team more cohesive. Both characteristics were important to the project.
We learned that our own equity-mindedness needs to precede equity for our students; that is, practitioners need to come together to understand how their actions, institutional frameworks, and pedagogies contribute to education access and outcomes. So, how would we create a place where equity-mindedness could be developed? The power lies in collaboration, first among ourselves—and then extended to our students.
Even as we encouraged our team members to be “professionally literate” in the proficiency initiatives of the Degree Qualification Profile, VALUE, GEMs, and Tuning, their leadership needed to encourage other faculty at their home institutions and beyond to become leaders. We started with a state conference arranged around AAC&U initiatives, continued through hub presentations centered on communication and reflection, and ended with specific hub-based opportunities for sharing.
Designing Our Hub
The hub website is ambitious. It attempts to serve many needs of audiences from all disciplines. To some degree, this makes the hub complex. And while complexity does not always lead to easy, simple app-like interfaces and solutions, it often is necessary to explore multifaceted issues.
The team discussed, planned, implemented, rejected, and revised the hub, attempting to create the best learning space. Formative reflection on the hub in the middle of the project resulted in flipping the question—abandoning the old structure (the “if you build it they will come” approach) for a functional inquiry—meeting people where they are and asking what they need. The homepage addresses key questions that individuals who know nothing of AAC&U initiatives might have. This was not how we started. It took a launch and a year of experience to realize you have to meet people where they are.
Supporting pages showcase initiatives with video explanations by faculty fellows, and a blog on each initiative page is hosted by one of the fellows. In this way, the team was able to connect content and application demonstrating awareness of purpose and audience (see the Faculty Collaboratives Project rubric).
For those who have been doing the work of LEAP for some time, the hub is intended to make their work visible as well as support their efforts toward publication. In collaboration with library staff at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, we developed an online submission guide with “tell me more” links to AAC&U initiatives, links for local publishing opportunities through Wisconsin’s Digital Common or nationally via Creative Commons, and resources for inclusive excellence.
The searchable collection of learning objects is a key area where submissions are showcased. We are still assessing the balance between filtering the data for a particular need versus providing an efficient user data interface.
The Innovation Hub is designed to grow and adapt and has the capacity to change by combining examples, facts, or theories from more than one field and incorporating multiple tools for learning. The hub has changed, moving from a top-down model to one that offers multiple points of access, a rhizomatic structure that accommodates interests and experiences. Multiple points in the hub allow users to reference resources, participate in blog discussions, learn about initiatives, and participate in intellectual salons (informal sessions designed for small numbers of participants). The salon is the area on the hub where the community of practice progresses creatively and intellectually through web conferencing.
Figure 1. Homepage for Wisconsin Innovation Hub
At the end of the project, the team grappled with the difficult challenge of ensuring sustainability. What we have learned from our very dynamic environment in Wisconsin is that you must be willing to adapt, to change, and to roll with the punches. We are currently exploring a sustainability model that would nestle the Innovation Hub between the UW System and the campuses. We hope to position the hub so that it can encourage innovation and experimentation, creating multiple pathways to student success. It may not end up the way it began, but it will serve as a conduit for connecting skills and knowledge learned in one situation to other situations in time and space, encouraging knowledge transfer and sustainability.
As the first LEAP state, Wisconsin LEAP leaders needed to find renewal. A recent Wisconsin LEAP Assessment report recommended more attention to intentionality across and among campuses in the system. Specifically, the report says:
Build the UW System’s Faculty Collaboratives HUB as the central repository of LEAP work, innovation, best practices and learning in Wisconsin and beyond. In the process, ramp up networked communities of practice among faculty and staff to build intentionality and capacity of the proficiency initiatives at the heart of the project.
At this writing, discussions are underway at the system and provost levels to make this happen.
Peggy James, Dean, College of Social Sciences and Professional Studies, University of Wisconsin–Parkside; and James Robinson, Director, Teaching and Learning Center, University of Wisconsin–Parkside