A.37: Faculty Developer as Activist: Strategies for Writing Instructors and WPAs.

Reviewed by Chen Chen, North Carolina State University (cchen23@ncsu.edu)

Chair: Irwin Weiser, Purdue University
Speakers: Carol Rutz, Carleton College, “Activating Assessment through Faculty Development”
Stephen Wilhoit, University of Dayton, “Becoming Active in Faculty Development: Causes and Effects”
Stacey Sheriff, Colby College, “Think Globally, Act Locally: Using Faculty & Instructional Development to Support International Students”

The session began with Stephen Wilhoit’s presentation that gave a historical overview of faculty development, calling for action from the Writing Program Administrator (WPA) to explore different faculty development opportunities to help faculty have a better, more fulfilling life as well as to bring stronger service to the university.

To provide a definition and historical overview of faculty development, Wilhoit referred to the book Creating the Future of Faculty Development: Learning from the Past, Understanding the Present (Sorcinelli, Austin, Eddy, & Beach, 2005), which defined the different stages of faculty development in the 20th century as Age of the Scholar (1950s and '60s), Age of the Teacher (1960s and '70s), Age of the Developer (1980s), Age of the Learner (1990s), and Age of the Network (2000s). In the 1950s and 1960s, the goal of faculty development focused on supporting faculty scholarship/academic competence. That emphasis expanded to instruction and organizational development in the following decade. In the 1980s, faculty development matured as a profession and began to focus on career-long, holistic development of the faculty. The 1990s brought rapid changes in instructional technologies that needed new pedagogical responses to these changes. At the same time, faculty roles and responsibilities became more complex as well. In the 2000s, the focus of faculty development shifted to an emphasis on collaboration across entities on campus and across institutions.

Wilhoit continued to discuss briefly the different elements of faculty development: organizational development, instructional development, and personal development. With this historical development in mind, and given the variety of services that faculty development can provide, such as creating an effective educational environment for teaching and learning, training instructors and administrators, and increasing job satisfaction, WPAs can seek opportunities to improve faculty development efforts of their institutions.

Wilhoit argued that WPAs should expand the conception of what faculty development was and could be: become familiar with current research and theory in faculty development and key organizations like Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (POD); build on their own strengths and expertise on pedagogy, assessment, program design, TA training, and rhetoric; and establish strategic partnerships with other administrators and entities on campus, such as chairs, deans, program directors, colleagues, teaching centers.

Finally, in response to this year’s CCCC theme, Wilhoit offered us with ideas of strategies for change for WPAs to improve their faculty development efforts:

  • Improve faculty development in home department or program
  • Improve existing programs outside home department or program (such as Writing Across the Curriculum [[WAC]], Writing in Development [[WID]], and Writing Centers)
  • Support curriculum reform or get involved in student services
  • Help with program assessment, student learning assessment, student evaluation of teaching
  • Join the work of your learning-teaching center
  • Create support where it’s needed—big or small—by working with others

Following up nicely to Wilhoit’s call for WPAs to build partnerships with other entities and personnel on campus for faculty development efforts, Stacey Sheriff presented a local case of her institution, Colby College. As a WPA, she used faculty development to support international students, an effort that reflects what Wilhoit characterized as a measure to respond to emerging needs.

Faced with an increased international student population—from 6% to 14% in one year —Sheriff saw problematic areas in her program where faculty were not familiar with how to deal with issues that came with teaching international students. For example, some faculty would refer to international students as “those students” in a judging way, and some people hadn’t even heard of the statement on "Students’ Right to Their Own Language" (1974).

In order to address these issues, Sheriff argued that we should reach out to campus partners for faculty development efforts. At Colby College, the administration building is across the street from the building where English department is housed, but very little contact is made between the two entities. Sheriff planned to bridge that distance by bringing the stakeholders together and inviting people, such as the admissions staff, to faculty development workshops because these professional staff members could bring a different perspective on students’ backgrounds, co-curricular experiences, and college priorities.

Sheriff went on to list several possible opportunities for advocacy and teaching in faculty development events that would bring the pedagogical implications on teaching international students into the conversations. For example, in teaching workshops on “inclusive pedagogy,” we should make language diversity part of this conversation, share the “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” statement, and analyze writing assignments to brainstorm ways to accommodate international students’ experience and cultural knowledge. In new faculty orientation, we should share student demographics with new faculty, include many kinds of student diversity, and workshop and revise course descriptions and learning goals with international students in mind.

As we all understand, working with other campus partners can be challenging, and even trying to change the pedagogical habits of our own writing instructors may be difficult as well. Sheriff suggested that we should find data to support our arguments on the importance of supporting international students. She provided resources for attendees where they could find these data:

  • The Department of Education tracks the number of English learners, the top five languages spoken in the US other than English, and limited English proficient students by state.
  • The Institute of International Education (IIE) provides a searchable database of Intensive English Programs, which can serve as a guide to help WPAs find local L2 or English as a Second Language (ESL) specialists; the IIE also provides data on enrollment, student perceptions, and trends in international higher education.

Finally, Sheriff suggested that we should invite academic advisors to join an advising follow-up session to capitalize on faculty concerns and questions about students’ listening, discussion, or writing “proficiencies.” She also argued that instructors should learn about the details of standardized test scores on campus.

The last speaker on the panel, Carol Rutz, also talked about the importance of using data to support faculty development by effectively building on assessment of student learning in a WAC context. More specifically, she used the example of a particular curricular initiative of quantitative reasoning to show how instructors could develop strong assignments within the established WAC framework at the institution.

Based on the established WAC assessment framework, an assessment plan for better teaching students the responsible use of quantitative data in arguments was provided. The teaching goals of quantitative reasoning are listed on the handout Rutz offered for the session attendees:

  • Institute a quantitative habit of mind for students.
  • Help students implement quantitative methods correctly.
  • Help students interpret and evaluate quantitative information thoughtfully.
  • Help students communicate effectively with quantitative data.
  • Give student ill-structured problems and assignments that involve real-world problems.
  • Help students visually represent numbers to support their arguments.

Building from these objectives, Rutz provided a sample comparison rubric to evaluate assignment sheets (adapted from Haswell, 1988) that included the following eight components:

  • Provides opportunity to develop earlier assignments into a final product
  • Provides opportunity for feedback and revision
  • Gives guidelines for grading that are clearly articulated (and for acceptable writing)
  • Articulates learning goals of the assignment clearly
  • Elicits higher order thinking and writing
  • Prompts for effective use of data/evidence or quantitative reasoning
  • Prompts for effective use of visuals
  • Prompts for students to differentiate correlation from causation

Rutz’s presentation neatly brought the two previous presentations together by rearticulating the importance of faculty development and its influence on students learning and program development. It also opened up some points for discussions such as how to collect data on students’ progress over the years on the same assignment.

From there, the presenters let the session attendees chat with each other before reconvening for a final discussion on how we, as composition instructors and WPAs, could bring needed changes at our institutions by engaging in faculty development. Several questions emerged from audience discussions: Should we literally bring students into faculty development? How do we make faculty come to faculty development activities?

Indeed, the presenters offered strong theoretical arguments on faculty development and two local cases where WPAs and instructors could take action to initiate changes. However, to carry out these actions, we will have to deal with many of our own local challenges, but the advice given by the presenters did illuminate how we could develop tactics to address these challenges.


Haswell, Richard H. (1988). Contrasting ways to appraise improvement in a writing course: Paired comparison and holistic. Paper presented at The Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, St. Louis, Missouri. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED294215.pdf

Sorcinelli, Mary Deane; Austin, Anne E.; Eddy, Pamela L.; & Beach, Andrea L. (2005). Creating the future of faculty development: Learning from the past, understanding the present. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.

Students’ rights to their own language. (1974). College Composition and Communication, 25(3), 1–18.

Created by ShaeW. Last Modification: Tuesday January 3, 2017 22:39:28 GMT-0000 by ccccreviews.