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A long view of the short history…

As often happens this time of year, we've been doing some reflecting. Wow! This is the 9th year of the Digital Media Center’s (DMC) Faculty Fellowship Program (FFP); we’ve been co-managers for 5 of those years. First, we'd like to say that it's been a real privilege to work with the diverse group of thoughtful, dedicated, and forward-thinking educators who comprise our group of fellows, past and present. They have delighted, challenged, and inspired us over those years. And, as managers of a mature program, it occurs to us that we are uniquely positioned to offer some observations about faculty development and technology-mediated learning--we’ll call this the long view of the short history of the Faculty Fellowship Program at the University of Minnesota. We’ll start with an overview of the program, broken into three phases, and finish with some reflections about the changes that continue to shape our program.

Phase 1, 2000-2004

The Faculty Fellowship Program began in 2000 as the brainchild of Shih-Pau Yen, then deputy CIO of the Office of Information Technology. The DMC--the faculty development arm of OIT--was still relatively new, having been created in 1995. Yen recognized that if technology innovations for teaching and learning were to be adopted and sustained in the classroom, faculty culture needed to change. Toward this end, he directed the DMC to create the FFP as a means of cultivating faculty leadership in the area of technology-enhanced learning (TEL). Twin Cities campus faculty and instructors from across the disciplines applied to the program by proposing a TEL project they wished to work on; the five faculty accepted into the program met bi-weekly in a seminar-like environment over the course of the academic year. This component has remained a constant over the years and--we feel--continues to be the heart of the program, but other aspects have undergone significant revision.

Initially, the fellowship experience was built on informal discussions around articles that addressed pedagogy and teaching with technology; sometimes guests joined the discussion and talked about a particular technology or university infrastructure. These sessions offered an opportunity to learn, share information, and create a sense of community. Eventually, the program culminated each year in a show-and-tell of fellows' TEL projects--at whatever stage of development they had achieved--and provided an opportunity for peer feedback. As managers of the program, we began to realize that these end-of-year project snapshots too often offered feedback way too late in the development process, and that we'd missed an opportunity to build around the fellows' work instruction and dialogue that would make a difference in the directions and outcomes of their projects.

Phase 2, 2005-2007

We addressed this problem by foregrounding instructional design; we’re big fans of L. Dee Fink’s book, Creating Significant Learning Experiences (2003), and used it to restructure the program. Fink and others provided a set of tools that enabled us to take a rigorous and systematic approach to designing learning environments in a manner in keeping with the emphasis on discovery, exploration, and scholarship that is appropriate in a university environment. Using instructional design as a kind of meta-narrative transformed the program experience by giving us a common process, vocabulary, and set of milestones. We began building our meetings around this instructional design process, and asking the fellows to incrementally design and implement first one, then two, prototypes to present to the group during the year, well before the year-end presentations. In parallel with this, we asked them to develop, with the guidance of a DMC Research and Evaluation consultant, an assessment plan. These innovations allowed the fellows to get feedback in the early stages of their projects, ensured that progress was made on quality projects, and prepared fellows to assess and evaluate their work. The programmatic changes made during this phase also served to solidify the FFP as a community of inquiry around teaching and learning.

Phase 3, 2008-2009

It’s been another year of big changes for the FFP. Ann Hill Duin stepped into the role of Associate Vice President and Associate CIO, Office of Information Technology, after Yen’s retirement in 2007. Under her encouragement and leadership, the 2008 - 2009 FFP has been extensively redesigned; most significantly, we’ve reorganized the program around a theme, introduced a collaborative project, and embraced partnerships. Although much of this has been touched on previously in this blog, we'll provide a brief review here.

Theme: Increasingly, we think less in terms of tools and their applications, and more in terms of learning environments, which means thinking comprehensively about spaces (physical and virtual) and their affordances; the relationships of students with content, their instructors, and their peers; and leveraging multiple technologies across different spaces to achieve learning outcomes. Reflecting this, the theme for the fellowship program this year is Emerging Learning Environments. We are focusing on some of the technologies currently reshaping the teaching/learning landscape such as mobile technologies; multiuser virtual environments (MUVEs), e.g., Croquet and Second Life; and student-centered, flexible classrooms that are rich in technology, such as the University’s Active Learning Classrooms. This theme informs both our fellows’ individual projects and their collaborative work.

Collaborative Project: While we’ve always believed that knowledge of the University infrastructure that supports teaching with technology is a central component of faculty leadership, this year we’ve asked our fellows to step into a greater leadership role by collaboratively exploring the question, “What does the University of Minnesota need to do to become a leader in the area of emerging learning environments [as defined above]?? This fall was an opportunity for fellows to gather information and get the lay of the land with regard to the vast and complex infrastructure here at the U that shapes the learning environment. This spring, fellows will decide which issues are most pressing or relevant to their collaborative interests, refine their questions, and generate a plan to investigate them. In the fall of 2009, the fellows will report their findings and recommendations to the University community.

Partnerships: Duin is a passionate advocate of partnerships; the program this year has been reorganized to include a series of partnerships with campus leaders, including representatives of the Office of Classroom Management and Academic Computing. These partners are helping to frame the institutional questions that need to be addressed if the University is to become a twenty-first century leader in emerging learning environments. Our fellows are providing faculty viewpoints as they learn about the roles and perspectives of these other players.

To support these significant programmatic changes, the fellowship period has been extended from two semesters to 18 months; we meet monthly as a group, and we meet with the fellows individually between meetings. This blog is a recognition of the public nature of our undertaking--it is also a recognition of new forms/sites of scholarship that are becoming, however slowly, more accepted in the traditional world of academia.


The Office of Information Technology invested in the Faculty Fellowship Program in 2000 because at that time it needed faculty champions of academic technology. We created, in effect, a community of interest that predated a robust culture of practice and scholarship around teaching and learning with technology. Initially, the program served not only to support faculty in the development of their TEL projects, but to bring together these motivated faculty and give them time to talk, exchange ideas and information, and reflect. Over the years, our program has adapted to reflect a changing landscape that includes

• the development and "professionalization" of the learning technologies field, evidenced by a growing number of journals, conferences, and professional organizations;
• the convergence of best practices in both technology and disciplinary pedagogy;
• a growing emphasis on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) and its integration into tenure and promotion protocols;
• a demand for accountability that includes local and national discussions about student learning outcomes (SLOs) for higher education; and
• an increasing emphasis on the alignment of classroom, departmental, and university outcomes.

Our current program's structure is motivated by OIT's and the University of Minnesota’s need for informed faculty input around issues of efficiency and institutional organization, as well as for the development of best practices around teaching and learning.

So, how's it going?

With change comes trepidation, as well as excitement. We are fortunate to be working with an extraordinary and adventurous group of fellows--at every step, they have embraced the challenges and exceeded our expectations. They have also built wonderful and supportive relationships. As consultants in the Digital Media Center, we always advocate designing for community, but when it happens…it’s a little bit like magic.

We are looking forward to meeting again in February, hearing about the progress our fellows have made on their individual projects, and moving ahead with our collaborative work. You will hear about it, too, as we continue to add to this blog.

So don't be a stranger--keep on coming back, or subscribe via RSS so you won't miss a post! Better yet, submit a comment to add your thoughts, questions, opinions to the mix. We'd love to hear from you.

Lauren Marsh and Kim Wilcox


Thank you, Lauren, for such an in-depth history of the FFP and a summary of our current status. I learned something!

Ditto, Kim and Lauren!

Having been appropriately chastised by Kim and Lauren for a four word reply to their rich post, I'm reproducing here thoughts that I self-censored down to the infamous four words....

Kim and Lauren refer to the magic of community. I find the power and the vitality of small communities mystifying. We believe that community matters in all sorts of ways. It is, indeed, one of the four fundamental elements of Bransford’s vision of an effective learning environment in How People Learn. But that it matters, and how it matters, is harder to understand. Harder still, and the thing that most interests me in my role as manager of our programs, is understanding the alchemy—the magic—that transforms a group of people into a community. This is critical to all of us as teachers, if Bransford is correct. We confront a group of students every semester and need to create community. [Bransford’s treatment of community goes beyond this: community-centered learning environments are not simple community-rich.] But how do we do that effectively and quickly? How can we move toward objectively knowing that we have succeeded? If we have the power to selectively populate a program or course, what predictive measures can we bring to bear on the selection process to maximize the likelihood of a highly effective community, and what measures can we employ to confirm that we succeeded? And in the end, to return to the beginning, how can we demonstrate that it matters?

We are fortunate indeed to have with us this year a group of faculty who are a community of the highest caliber. As much as I enjoy a good magic trick, I like to know the secrets.