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Volume 9, Number 5: January 28, 2003


Faculty Development at a Distance:
The Ways of Knowing and Ways of Practice Experience

by Tammy Kempfert,
TTT Editor

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UW-Madison will host a unique professional development experience for the spring semester, an online exchange called "Ways of Knowing and Ways of Practice." To initiate the event, registered participants will gather for a three-day stay in Madison, to be followed by weekly virtual conversations from their institutions.

Sponsored by the Foundation Coalition, a National Science Foundation group that promotes systemic reforms in engineering education, the project called for participation of campus teams, ideally comprised of both engineering and non-engineering colleagues. Currently, registered teams represent universities from nine states, including Wisconsin. According to Sandy Courter, Director of UW-Madison's Engineering Learning Center, "We have learned that interdisciplinary work can be very effective, that all faculty can benefit from this kind of interaction … it's the way of the future." Courter developed the content for "Ways of Knowing" and will also act as its instructor.

In Madison this week, participants will share their teaching and learning philosophies, examining their personal "life markers and learning stages" and considering how such events inform their teaching practices. "The residency is an important component," Courter says, "because it's the time that we begin building this learning community. If we are successful at engaging them here, we're likely to have a better experience overall." She hopes these initial conversations will fold into real-world curriculum projects, which each participant is expected to complete as part of the experience. The group will also discuss time management, so that involved faculty can make the most of the exchanges. "We're surmising that, in three to four hours of time each week, they can have an effective learning experience," Courter says.

A portion of the orientation will take place in the computer lab, to familiarize the group with the communication technologies they will use when they return to their campuses--the WebCt environment, offered through UW-Madison's DoIT, and Placeware teleconferencing software, offered through WisLineWeb at Instructional Communications Systems. From their high-tech hotel rooms at UW-Madison's Fluno Center, they will also participate in an online discussion to simulate the distance learning part of their experience. Later on, their weekly online discussions will focus on a series of readings that address learning, change, and participants' curriculum projects. Each will facilitate one of the discussions, regarding readings of his or her choosing that pertain to the individually selected projects.

In developing this project, Courter says she relied on her knowledge of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) methodology. AI approaches change from a positive perspective, examining first what works well in an organization, then imagining what could work better, and finally through discussion and innovation, creating conditions for growth. For example, as she thought about what would work well for the "Ways of Knowing" experience, she drew from the success of the Master of Engineering in Professional Practice (MEPP) program, which offers an advanced online degree for working engineers. (For more on the MEPP program, see the January 2001 TTT article, "Master of Engineering in Professional Practice Reaches Working Engineers at a Distance.") "The MEPP people taught us the significance of the orientation experience … and the importance of time flexibility," among other things, she says. In order to build flexibility into this project, Courter made sure participants will get ample time to complete the readings, and she offered more than one time for them to log into the conversation each week.

AI also stresses the role language plays in constructing people's realities. That's why Courter says she took care to call "Ways of Knowing" a distance learning experience rather than a course. "It's not a class, it's a conversation," she says, "and we don't transfer knowledge, we have an interchange."

Mechanical engineering professor and Foundation Coalition principal investigator Jay Martin was instrumental in assuring funding for the "Ways of Knowing" program and served as a consultant in the development. He and Courter credit their former colleague Jennifer Kushner with originating the concept. They also acknowledge the work of DoIT staffers Cid Freitag, who is serving as instructional designer, and Mary McEniry, who is the assessment coordinator.

The orientation for "Ways of Knowing and Ways of Practice" begins Wednesday, January 29. Participants in the pilot program will receive $1000 honorarium.

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