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What is a CETL Faculty Fellow?

Nov 03, 2016 | by Kadian Callahan | Kennesaw State University

Two years ago I saw a call for applications for a CETL Faculty Fellow who would be half-time at CETL and half-time in their department for two years.  Like many of you, I became curious about what such a position would entail, and what that might mean for my career.  The call characterized the ideal candidate as having an interest in pedagogy and faculty development, demonstrated excellence in teaching, strong interpersonal skills, and strategic thinking.  It sounded enough like me, so I decided to apply.  Well, obviously things worked out in my favor, and I learned a lot along the way that has influenced my professional growth in all three performance areas - teaching, research, and service.

I am a mathematics educator, so I have taken pedagogy courses that have helped me to formulate my teaching philosophy that emphasizes learning-centered teaching.  For many years, I have designed my courses to focus on what my students are learning and how I can support them in reaching the learning goals that I have for them.  Because I have experienced success in this area, I did not think that the CETL Fellowship would have much influence on my teaching.  I was wrong.  Serving as a CETL Faculty Fellow I spent quite a bit of time speaking with other faculty about their courses, their students, and their goals; and have had the pleasure of observing faculty who utilize different instructional techniques to foster their students’ learning.  Through those experiences, I have garnered some new ideas that I have adapted in my own courses, and have a greater appreciation of the dedication that our faculty have to ensure that our students receive an education that is meaningful for their chosen field and one that extends beyond the semester.  KSU faculty – part-time, full-time, limited term, tenured, tenure-track, new faculty, mid-career faculty, and those of us who are more seasoned – truly care about doing the best job for our students, and I am humbled by discovering that first hand.

My CETL Faculty Fellowship did not have a research requirement – I expect that most would not, but I found that much of the reading that I was doing for the fellowship served as a resource for my own research on the teaching and learning of mathematics at the undergraduate level.  SOTL research is what it is referred to – the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.  I had not thought very much about describing my research as SOTL research prior to becoming a Fellow, but doing so helped me to realize that faculty who are gathering data to demonstrate teaching effectiveness are thinking about and collecting data on many of the same things as I am.  Faculty are trying to figure out what their students need, how to address those needs, and the extent to which their efforts to address student needs influences educational outcomes.  Each of us is charged with engaging in teaching in a scholarly way and demonstrating teaching effectiveness for annual reviews and for promotion and tenure reviews, and it has been interesting to learn about the variety of ways that faculty have been engaging in scholarly teaching and to be exposed to some of the SOTL research projects that have emerged from those efforts.  Reading about related projects in other disciplines has expanded my perspective on possibilities for my own research, and has opened up more opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations.

What about service?  Some of us often feel overwhelmed with our teaching and research responsibilities that makes service feel like more of a burden than a benefit.  Being a Fellow is a service responsibility.  You are serving the university, your college, and your department through your support of faculty’s efforts to make instructional changes .  It is a pleasure to hear from other faculty how you helped them to meet a goal that they set for themselves or for their students.  This is the reward.  One that we do not often receive from our own students; yet, as a Fellow your reach for being able to influence student learning is broadened through your service to their instructors.  I have realized how beneficial it is for faculty to have opportunities to talk to each other about their instructional experiences.  Truthfully, the faculty who attend CETL workshops bring more to the workshop than the facilitator.  Their experiences are firsthand and have been tried and revised over time, and when they share what they have learned with each other, it makes the research real, and personal.  One of the most oft made comments from faculty during a workshop is “That’s a great idea!  I am going to try that with my students.” 

One thing that many faculty may not know is that CETL often partners with departments and colleges on campus to provide professional support tailored to meet their specific needs.  During my fellowship, I had the distinct pleasure of working with faculty in my college, the College of Science and Mathematics, as part of the Student Success Initiative.  I facilitated a faculty learning community (FLC) where the group (a) explored research-based instructional innovations that have been shown to support student success in science and mathematics, and (b) participated in a course redesign institute where they developed and revised instructional materials to support an innovation.  This semester FLC members are implementing their innovation and collecting and analyzing the impact of the innovation on their students’ learning.  Facilitating this FLC has given me an opportunity to get to know my colleagues in new ways that I had not experienced in my nine years at KSU.  They are passionate about their content, and very thoughtful about how to help their students’ make sense of that content. I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with this incredible group of faculty.  And, the richness of the interactions that faculty have developed by participating in this FLC has inspired the use of this model for the university initiative, Gateways to Completion, and as a model for a recently submitted HHMI Grant proposal.  Who knew?

That’s what it’s all about.  The role of a CETL Faculty Fellow is to bring SOTL research alive by coupling it with faculty experiences to find ways to address some of the challenges that we all experience from time to time as we work to ensure that KSU students receive the best education we can offer.  This fellowship is an opportunity for faculty to grow by taking a step away from our busy lives in our silos and have a look around the university at the many great things that faculty are doing in their courses.  Don’t be surprised when you begin to take ideas back to try with your students too!