Rethinking New Faculty Orientation

 

We’re in the process of rethinking the New Faculty Orientation Program. First and foremost, we’re rethinking it as a program, not a series of events. But equally as importantly, we’re rethinking “orientation.” What does it mean to orient a new faculty member for success in an educational climate that, as seen in Congressman Miller’s above video, is reimagining student movement through the educational system?

Incentivized by a funding formula that rewards retention and graduation rates, APSU staff, faculty, and administrators routinely pilot innovative retention efforts in teaching, advising, support services, predictive analytics, course scheduling, co-curricular activities …. Increasingly, Austin Peay employees investigate student experiences that negatively impact student success and are a high priority for the institution to remedy. But how do you do that, and what do you do once you’ve done that? And how do you orient new faculty to this burgeoning way of thinking?

Whether we’re teaching, advising, or brainstorming systemic obstacles to student progression, we’re first and foremost thinking from diverse student perspectives: online students, military students, nontraditional students, first-generation college students, low-income students …. From their perspectives, what impedes their abilities to access course content, acquire skills, make appropriate choices, or progress efficiently through degree pathways?

Whether proposing a course redesign, rethinking advising as redirecting students from inappropriate majors, or creating a seamless learning environment, we’re thinking from diverse stakeholder perspectives: students, faculty, academic deans, staff, administrators, regents, accreditors, politicians, parents — complete with common misconceptions that can undermine the change process. Student perspectives are the starting point, but a successful faculty member has to think from still other perspectives.

If we’re determining the appropriate staffing for a new initiative, then we have to benchmark what peer institutions have done, use existing research to estimate the initiative’s impact on student retention, calculate that impact at $8500 a student, and justify the additional staffing costs per the return on that investment. Because we don’t like to reduce human beings under our charge to dollars and cents, this interpretive frame is an icky one that makes a lot of us cringe and need a shower.

But in order to succeed, our faculty need to be able to access that interpretive frame — and others. To orient new faculty, we have to provide them with opportunities to enhance their capacities for shifting between interpretive frames. That skill is the foundation for innovation — and essential for student, staff, faculty, and institutional success in today’s educational climate.

So how can a New Faculty Orientation Program help faculty develop their skills for changing interpretive frames?

Although the answer to that question is more complex, an orientation program should disorient. It should provide sustained engagements with diverse perspectives so as to undermine stable vantage points with their stubborn preconceptions. It should facilitate in-depth conversations with diverse student bodies and other key stakeholders. It should fit new faculty with radically different interpretive lenses to wear each day.

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