Flexible Faculty Development at Furman University

Benjamin Haywood, Associate Director of Furman University’s Faculty Development Center, demonstrates the key role that personnel in these campus centers can play. His values of mentorship, flexibility, and collaboration inform all of his work. As the pandemic eases, Haywood supports Furman’s faculty as they emerge to an “innovative fusion place” which blends the best of both worlds—the “very in person, very high touch” aspects typical of small, private, liberal arts colleges, merged with brand new modes, methods, and orientations of teaching.

Faculty Development Center
In the Faculty Development Center (FDC), Haywood says, in addition to career and professional development, they focus primarily on cultivating evidence-based pedagogy—how students learn best—“pushing the edge of new ways of thinking about teaching.” While many faculty members would rather forget the pandemic years, Haywood points out that “it wasn’t all bad”; he notes that we learned many new student-centered teaching strategies during the pandemic that we can continue to implement, and he continues to promote that “flexibility, that openness to change.”

One example of a pandemic innovation to enhance course design is the creation of “learning by design” videos that the FDC and partners have created. These brief videos are constructed to convey the same types of information that might have previously been presented in a workshop setting, but in a condensed format so that faculty members can view them whenever and wherever they like. Even now that pandemic restrictions have eased, Furman still has just as many faculty members watching these videos as those coming to in-person workshops.

Another pandemic innovation that will stick around is the transformation of the annual faculty learning exchange—a celebration of teaching and learning practices. During the pandemic, participating faculty members developed posters or videos to present their research or teaching practice and the FDC staff turned their work into a virtual escape room with a Back to the Future theme. Haywood reports that, even though the exchange is now back in person, the escape room has remained “evergreen.” For example, they shared the link with new faculty members during orientation this year so that they could get to know their peers’ work.

First-Year Faculty
Judith Williams, Assistant Professor in Furman’s Department of Anthropology, says that, under Haywood’s auspices, the FDC offers an intense and supportive program for first-year faculty called First Year at Furman (FY@F). Williams, now entering her second year, appreciates that the yearlong program offered a range of helpful information for new faculty members. Participants were offered teaching tips, including how to be more effective teachers who are more inclusive of students, regardless of race, ability, or socio-economic status. They also learned how to make their courses more accessible, how to manage their time, and even how to say “no” when needed.

In addition to the “informative, helpful, and inclusive” information that new faculty members received in the program, they were also able to connect with faculty members across campus. Because of these connections, Williams says, she and a handful of other faculty members had the opportunity to talk about ideas for campus-wide programs. The group wanted to have an event focusing on the Holocaust that would interest students. As they talked, the group hit on the idea of bringing Black, Jewish rapper Nissim Black to both stimulate a dialogue and showcase diversity.

Selena Dickey, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Furman, agrees that the FY@F program is a “helpful way for the cohort to learn the ropes and create social bonds.” She says that their regular lunch gatherings were simultaneously “casual, informative, and social.” Mac Gilliland, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Furman, adds that the array of guest speakers covered a range of topics, including faculty health insurance, tenure and promotion guidelines, student evaluations, and grant applications.

Williams is glad to have picked up some ideas from Haywood during the FY@F program that she continues to use in her classes. One of these ideas is that “draft thinking is ok”—people don’t have to have fully-formed ideas before they start thinking their way through them. Another idea she got from Haywood is that “It’s ok to pass”—if you’re called on, you are not obligated to speak. Lastly, Williams says, she learned from Haywood to “trust that everyone’s intent is good” even if the impact of their words or behavior needs to be addressed.

Haywood says that he has gone through a life-coach certification process that he hopes will be valuable in his advising role. Through this experience, he has clarified for himself the differences between consultation and coaching. In consultation, such as has been traditionally done with FDCs, the focus is on content, providing resources to the person seeking guidance. By contrast, the coaching model is more focused on the process, and it assumes that the person seeking guidance has answers. Through these realizations, Haywood has become interested in using a coaching approach to FDC consultations. Instead of seeing colleagues coming for answers, he now sees them as people who have answers but just need clarity—moving from a framework of “empty vessels to fill” to one of “rich assets to cultivate.”

He also aims to pilot a coaching program this spring for third-year faculty as they approach their third-year review. These faculty members will “drill down on their values and pedagogical approach, reflecting on what their first three years at Furman has taught them about themselves, their research, and their teaching,” Haywood says.

Addison Smith, Student Organizations Coordinator in Furman’s Office of Student Involvement and Engagement—and recent Furman graduate—has benefitted from Haywood’s coaching approach. Smith says that a big part of his job is mentoring and training student organization advisors. As a recent grad—and a former student of some of the faculty members he was working with—he was a bit daunted, particularly since formal training of these advisors had not previously existed. Having heard about the FDC, Smith reached out to Haywood. Once the two had chatted about Smith’s ideas and expectation—and Haywood had offered his perspectives—Smith felt confident in developing a training outline plan, especially after Haywood unexpectedly did further research and sent additional resources for Smith to use. Now the two are considering plans for a lunch and learn series, with potential topics ranging from navigating crises to making DEI concerns integral parts of every student organization. Through their work together, Smith says, Haywood has helped him to “think much more broadly about mentoring.”

This year, Dickey says, she and Haywood have been working one-on-one to focus on new course development. Haywood is showing her “better ways of thinking about learning outcomes,” to drive the process. While she had been exposed to pedagogical strategies and assessment in some of her prior roles, Dickey says that it is incredibly helpful to bounce ideas off someone with the depth of resources Haywood can provide. Like many people, Dickey “finds her best ideas through discourse,” and she likens her work with Haywood to the writing center sessions she has led. In fact, the two are talking about how to do more of this work with other faculty members, offering collaborative, group sessions to workshop ideas for both teaching and research. In this vein, the FDC has partnered with the Furman Humanities Center this year to launch a writing accountability program called Write Now!

Gilliland says that he and Haywood have recently been working together on curriculum revision within the chemistry department. Haywood has helped Gilliland understand how to better structure course designs to be more inclusive and equitable. While the department as a whole was already deeply engaged with DEI concerns, Gilliland says that the backwards course design strategies that Haywood has shown him have worked so that the new course better fulfill these goals. Gilliland points out the importance of Haywood’s expertise: “I do my best to keep up with the teaching literature, but I have to keep up with chemistry, too!” Specialists like Haywood offer faculty members across campus the best teaching practices for all kinds of courses.

Rubik’s Cube Learning Challenge
In a recent initiative which showcases the array of Haywood’s strengths, he worked with Lew Ludwig, Director of the Center for Learning and Teaching and Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Denison University to create a faculty learning challenge. Ludwig reports that he had a “harebrained idea” that, during the break between the Fall ’20 and Spring ’21 terms, faculty members should have a way to be engaged with teaching and learning by becoming novice learners again in some way. “Luckily,” Ludwig says, Haywood signed on, turning the “harebrained idea” into a six-week program with a plan and online written materials. The challenge—which Haywood calls an “expert blind spot learning adventure”—was for participants to learn to solve a Rubik’s cube in five minutes by the end of the six weeks. Haywood set up guidelines through the learning management system, including weekly discussion chats, tutorials, and opportunities for reflection. In completing these reflections, faculty members thought about their experiences as novice learners and the relationship of these experiences to their pedagogical approaches.

Haywood and Ludwig set up the experience as a friendly competition between the two schools. If the Denison contingent lost, they agreed to send buckeye candy to their Furman competitors, since they are located in Ohio, the Buckeye State. If the Furman group lost, they agreed to send peanut brittle, a treat beloved in South Carolina. Ludwig reports that Denison’s faculty members won the challenge, but sweat treats were sent both ways.

Ludwig says that the Rubik’s cube challenge helped faculty members to remember what it is like to learn new ideas and skills from scratch. As they participated in the program, the faculty members also received resources to help them move through the learning process—resources that they can now use to support their students. To ensure better transfer of these ideas, the participants met at the end of the six weeks to ground their experiences in research, pedagogy, and practice.; they really thought through, Haywood says, what the experience meant for their own teaching. The challenge provided an important reminder for faculty members that they “can’t make assumptions about what students know,” Haywood says.

Additionally, participants realized that they got to the goal in different ways—some wanted visuals; some, step-by-step instructions; some, an overview of the entire process. Faculty members recognized that they had assumed that everyone learned the way they did, and the challenge showed them that providing many paths for students can lay better groundwork for success. Faculty members learned, Haywood says, that they often don’t provide enough time for students to “sit with the struggle.” Many participants also learned the value of learning from and with peers—“not a workshop, not a lecture”—by getting on Zoom to watch and practice together. Haywood says that the experience reminded participants “what it was like not to know foundational information and ideas.” These foundational ideas and assumptions about learning differ from discipline to discipline. In one particularly fascinating discussion, Haywood notes, the participants considered the question of whether memorization is a valuable learning tool. This challenge was particularly effective, Ludwig says, because it was low cost and, unlike a book group, people “got frustrated, emotionally attached—they could really identify with the students.”

Haywood and Ludwig had connected online during the height of the pandemic through the POD Network, a professional organization for people engaged in faculty development work. The Rubik’s cube challenge won the POD Network’s 2021 Innovation Award, and it was profiled in a Wall Street Journal article. Ludwig says that he and Haywood make a good team, with Haywood’s attention to detail providing structure around Ludwig’s original idea. Ludwig has presented their work at two conferences, and the two will finally meet in person at another conference this month.

Faculty development work can often go unrecognized, even though its effects permeate campuses. As a student, Smith says, he “had no clue” that FDC even existed, but he reflects, “I had phenomenal professors, though, so the Faculty Development Center must have been doing something right!” Haywood’s approach to faculty development—his flexibility in meeting faculty needs, his collaborative spirit, and his ability to “ask good questions,” as Gilliland says, all work together to underpin Furman’s faculty and, ultimately, its mission.

About the Author
Cynthia Mwenja, PhD, teaches Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Montevallo and is a staff writer for PUPN Magazine.