Open faculty development

Last week, at Educause 2015, I had the privilege of sharing the ALT Lab story alongside Gardner Campbell, Tom Woodward and Molly Ransone. We each quickly shared the aspects of the work that we do in VCU ALT Lab. Gardner started by talking about the larger governance issues and how ALT Lab was able to build on our predecessor, the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE), which integrated teaching and learning with teaching and learning with technology; VCU doesn’t have a teaching center which is separate from a teaching with technology center. Tom talked about the work that he does with faculty members to create awesome web-based learning experiences. Molly talked about the work that she does with faculty members to create innovative media, mostly involving video work. Tom and Molly stressed the importance of working WITH faculty members; everything is framed as faculty development and collaboration. We’re not a dry cleaners; we don’t make websites or videos or anything FOR faculty members.

For my ~7 minutes, I focused on how we conceptualize faculty development. I started by doing a Poll Everywhere poll with the following prompt for respondents: “In one or two words, how would you describe faculty development at your institution?” Here’s a word cloud of the responses:


Not a very hopeful set of responses overall. I should add that there were close to 200 people in the room. We got 108 people to respond.

From there, I argued that the word I would use to describe faculty development through ALT Lab is “open.” ALT Lab’s tagline is “Connected Learning for a Networked World” and we try to model that at every turn. The three faculty development approaches I spoke of are all “open” in one or more ways.

ALT Lab Agora is one of our main paths for faculty development. Basically, Agora is “open office hours.” Every Wednesday and Thursday, from 12-2 faculty and staff are invited to come to ALT Lab and join us in our cafe area. We challenge faculty and staff to bring their wickedest problems of teaching and learning. The whole ALT Lab team is there to support faculty and staff. If they need help on the Web, Tom or any number of us can help. If they need help with media, Molly or any member of her team can help. If they’re looking for ways to engage a large enrollment class, Enoch Hale or any number of us can help. By doing this work in the open, we effectively “engineer serendipity” (Tom’s language). One faculty member might overhear another and strike up a partnership. Or, one ALT Lab team member might hear a faculty mention the use of video and chime in with an idea. The image below is from one of our Agora sessions. On same days, nobody shows up; on other days, 5-10 people will show up. It’s kinda like Twitter, but in person. 🙂



The Online Learning Experience (OLE) is our major faculty development program for online learning. It’s online learning for online teaching. OLE is currently an 8-week fully online program. The course site is built in WordPress and open to the world. All participants have their own blog that’s aggregated into the main course site. Faculty members are strongly encouraged to use Twitter as well. We are advocating for connected learning and have designed our faculty development program to model what that can look like.


Finally, at least for the sake of the Educause session, I talked about how we encourage faculty members to engage in open, informal faculty development with us. Every member of the VCU ALT Lab team is expected to blog and that is aggregated into our ALT Lab blog, 3rd Space. Every member of the VCU ALT Lab is expected to use Twitter to engage with the larger professional community. We maintain an active Diigo group that anyone can join and where we regularly share links to articles and resources. We share what we build for the Web in a Github repository, and all of our videos are housed on YouTube.

Open, open, open. We’re all constantly learning and teaching out loud.

That’s how we think about faculty development in ALT Lab.

3 thoughts on “Open faculty development”

  1. There’s so much to like here, but the part that makes me very excited for ALT Lab is the Open Agora as both a way to get help (maybe the primary purpose someone may have walking in) but doing sometihng at a more important level of connecting people across roles.

    “It’s kinda like Twitter, but in person” I’d star that but I guess now I have to red heart it.

  2. Thanks for this Jon!

    It is always nice to see other people doing the same things that I am (trying to do) doing.

    I’ve looked through the OLE a little and really like what you have done. I have a similar connected FacDev course for our Open Learning faculty here at Thompson Rivers. It’s actually a series of three courses built around the Community of Inquiry model. Feel free to have a look at

    The courses are CC-BY-SA.

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