Essential questions to inspire engagement during curriculum review

I am currently planning for an upcoming session at the University of Guelph’s annual Teaching and Learning Innovations Conference (TLI). Described by Associate Vice-President Academic, Dr. Serge Desmarais, as our annual “group hug”, this conference provides the academic community with an incredible opportunity to celebrate our collective commitment to teaching and learning.   This year’s conference will focus on celebrating the University of Guelph’s progress related to implementing and assessing learning outcomes.

This year’s theme had me reflecting on the many opportunities and successes I have witnessed in supporting the dozens of curriculum review initiatives across various departments over the last few years. The educational development unit provides consultative expertise and facilitative leadership to many departments on campus as they work to continually enhance the programs that they offer. Our curriculum development practice is fundamentally guided by the following principles, which recommend that successful curriculum review processes should be:

  • Instructor-driven;
  • Evidence-based;
  • Student-centred;
  • Continuous;
  • Collaborative; and
  • Solution-focused.

Like Banta and Blaich (2011), I have come to learn that although data is important, successful curriculum initiatives are less about collecting the perfect data set, and more about the department’s ability to use the data to inform meaningful, collaborative discussion and a clear action plan for moving forward. In short, data does not directly inform decision, rather data informs discussion, which then leads to meaningful and collaborative decision-making.  After attending this year’s Educational Developer’s Caucus Conference at the University of Calgary, a statement from Joan McArthur-Blair’s Appreciative Inquiry workshop continues to resonate and ground my daily curriculum development approaches:

Don’t do anything about me, without me.

Through my curriculum development experiences, I have also come to learn that it is really easy to get wrapped up in deficit thinking when it comes to curriculum review. That is, to focus on, and to become all-consumed by what isn’t working in the program. I have come to a fundamental realization that it is much more productive to take a solution-focused view, and to place emphasis on what is working, building on and leveraging the program’s many strengths and successes.

As a curriculum developer one of the most important areas of expertise that I can bring is not only my knowledge of best practices in curriculum design, but also an ability to ask effective, forward-thinking questions that inspire meaningful dialogue, collaboration and action.   It is not surprising, that my curriculum development practice has been deeply grounded in the principles and practice of Appreciative Inquiry (Cockell & McArthur-Blair, 2012).

Through my own process of self-reflection, my upcoming conference session will focus on some of the essential questions that we have used to help guide curriculum committees through a cycle of program review. I have presented some of these questions below.

Developing a curriculum review and assessment plan

  • What questions would like to answer during this curriculum review process?
  • What data will best help you answer those questions?
  • Whom will you involve?
  • What resources will be required?
  • What are your timelines?
  • What assessment methods are most appropriate?

Developing a Program Purpose

  • Why should students choose this program?
  • How will it be of benefit to them?
  • What is the purpose of the program?
  • What unique areas of focus or strengths does the program offer?
  • What learning experiences are core to the program?
  • Imagine three years from now, that the Globe and Mail has written an article about this program being the best in North America. What does the article highlight? What are students, faculty, alumni and employers highlighting about the program?

Developing Program Learning Outcomes

  • If you were asked to provide a reference for a graduate of this program, what would you like to be able to say about that graduate?
  • What strengths should students who complete this program possess?
  • What should successful students know, value and be able to do by the end of their learning experiences in this program?

Reviewing Program Learning Outcomes

  • Do the learning outcomes align with those defined by the institution and/or other related programs?
  • Could multiple audiences (e.g. students, instructors, employers, administrators, across institutions) understand the learning outcomes? If not, how could the clarity of the learning outcome be improved?
  • Would the discipline be clear if the statement were read in isolation? If not, what additional detail could be added to provide additional disciplinary context?
  • Could you appropriately assess each outcome? If not, how should they be revised? What additional detail/context is required?

Solution-focused Questions to Guide a Student Focus Group

  • Why did you choose the program?
  • What were you expecting of the program?
  • How did you hope it would prepare you for your future?
  • What is one thing you like about the program?
  • What is a key strength of the program?
  • What current strengths should the program build upon?
  • What key improvement could be made to the program?
  • Why do you feel that this is an area that requires improvement? What two key changes would you suggest if you were to redesign the program?
  • What is the most important thing you would like to tell the curriculum committee as they work to enhance the program?

Conducting a Program SOAR Analysis (adapted from: Stavros, Cooperrider, & Kelley (2003); Stavros & Hinrichs, 2011)

  • Strengths: What are we doing well? What are we known for? What are our areas of expertise?
  • Opportunities: What are our best future opportunities? What are our areas of untapped potential? How can we distinguish ourselves?
  • Aspirations: What are we passionate about? What difference do we hope to make? What does our preferred future look like?
  • Results: What results do we want to see? What 3-5 goals do we want to accomplish?

Evaluating Curriculum Data

Based on the curriculum data gathered:

  • What questions do we have about our curriculum and the data presented?
  • What trends do we see?
  • What 3-5 key areas would we like to discuss further with our colleagues?
  • What data supports these areas for discussion?
  • How should we communicate these data and areas for discussion to our colleagues?

Developing an Action Plan

  • What can we do to strengthen this program? What three key improvements will we implement?
  • What are the key milestones?  When will they be accomplished?
  • Who will help support these improvements? What additional resources are required?
  • How will we know we have been successful? How will we monitor our progress?
  • How will we celebrate and disseminate our success?

Reviewing the Curriculum Review Process

  • What happened?
  • What did we learn?
  • What went well?
  • What could have been better?
  • What will we do differently next time?

Curriculum development is inherently complex.  It is a relief to most curriculum committees to realize that it is more important to ask questions to inspire further inquiry, reflection and dialogue, than it is to have all of the answers.

References:

 

Banta, Trudy W, & Blaich, Charles. (2011). Closing the assessment loop. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 43(1), 22-27.

Cockell, Jeanie, & McArthur-Blair, Joan. (2012). Appreciative Inquiry in higher education: A transformative force: John Wiley & Sons.

Stavros, Jacqueline M, Cooperrider, D L, & Kelley, D Lynn. (2003). Strategic inquiry appreciative intent: inspiration to SOAR, a new framework for strategic planning. AI Practitioner. November, 10-17.

Stavros, Jacqueline M, & Hinrichs, Gina. (2011). The Thin Book Of SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy. Bend, OR: Thin Book Publishing.

 

 

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Asking Powerful Questions

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Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22206521@N03

Appreciative inquiry (AI) is an energizing approach for sparking positive change in people, groups, and organizations. It focuses on what is working well (appreciative) by engaging people in asking questions and telling stories (inquiry). The shift in focus to the positive and what is working well generates energy within the group or organization, allowing it to move more effectively toward its goals. As well as a process for facilitating positive change, AI is a way of being and seeing the world everyday.  (Cockell and McArthur-Blair, 2012, p. 13)

I have been inspired by this year’s Educational Developers Caucus (EDC) conference over many discussions related to asking powerful questions.  In the words of this year’s keynote speaker, Joan McArthur-Blair, “Positive questions inspire positive change.”  One of the things that I have quickly learned in the field of educational development and in my leadership roles is that it is often (if not always) better to ask a thoughtful question than to provide advice.  Although we may not always label it as appreciative inquiry, I have come to a deep understanding that educational developers are great at asking positive, solution-focused questions.  These questions form the basis of our practice.  They are inherent not only to our approaches, but to our sense of being. Through questions we seek to help others (whether it be individuals, programs or institutions) to identify and leverage their full potential, to awaken the passion within, to continuously improve, and, perhaps most importantly, to provide a sense of meaning and purpose to their everyday practices within higher education.  There is little doubt that this is an interesting and transformative time in higher education.  Change is occurring at unprecedented rates, and institutions are increasingly looking to the field of educational development to support the academic community in evidencing and communicating their many successes, identifying future possibilities and opportunities for growth and improvement, and determining key actions for moving forward.  Our most potent call to action may be in asking powerful questions that connect individuals and communities through meaningful dialogue and conversation.

Below are some questions that have been pondered throughout the conference thus far.  What are some of the most powerful questions you ask in your ED practice?

  • What already exists that has value? What is the best of what already is?
  • If that is the issue, what are you yearning for?
  • What is the greatest strength that you have brought to the organization?
  • Where inside the organization do we have high engagement?
  • What does a highly connected, highly engaged academic community look like?
  • What will we be in 2020?
  • What would you be if learners were first?
  • Tell a story about the best experience you had last semester.
  • Tell a story of a moment, however tiny, when you felt excited coming to work.
  • What are you already doing in your organization that matters?
  • What is the most powerful and successful learning experience that you have ever had?
  • What are you yearning for?
  • What are you going to do tomorrow morning at 9am?
  • What is the proudest thing that you did in the last 3 years to help support our strategic plan?
  • What is the best thing that happened to you today?
  • If I imagine myself at work tomorrow, what is one thing that I will do differently?
  • How do you express what matters to you?
  • What has your time in education taught you?
  • Where have you had the most influence?
  • What is the most powerful gift you are giving to your organization right now?
  • How do you lift up the hearts and minds of faculty, staff and students within your institutions, to do their work in a way they never imagined?
  • What will your organization be calling on you to do in the next 10 years?
  • How can educational developers be revolutionary?
  • What are your options? What choices do you have moving forward? What is in your control?
  • What did you learn/discover?
  • What will you do differently next time?
  • What is the most important thing for you moving forward?
  • What key actions will you take based on this feedback?

References:

Cockell, Jeanie, & McArthur-Blair, Joan. (2012). Appreciative Inquiry in higher education: A transformative force: John Wiley & Sons.

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Strategic Planning for Prioritization: Developing the Confidence and Clarity to Say “No”

One of the things I continually hear from colleagues in educational development is that we struggle to say “no” to the ever-increasing demands that we face in our roles.  In order to help us establish our key priorities and goals for 2014, our educational development unit recently embarked on a strategic planning process to help us address this very dilemma.  During a one-day retreat, we used the following 4-step process to help us define our key priorities for 2014.

Step 1: What metrics do we use to evaluate our success?

During this first step we defined and prioritized the metrics that we use to evaluate our success.  We first individually brainstormed the qualitative and quantitative methods that we use to evaluate our success as a unit.

Guiding question: What metrics (qualitative & quantitative) should we use to evaluate our success as a unit?

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After clustering and summarizing the key metrics we used a 2 x 2 matrix (Effort: easy/hard vs. Impact: high/low) to rank these metrics in terms of being able to evidence and communicate our impact.

Guiding question:  How would we prioritize these metrics in terms of being able to evidence and communicate our impact?

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Step 2: What key strategic directions should guide our practice?

Our next key step was to discuss how current strategic institutional, unit and educational development approaches align with our practice.  Here, we discussed our current mandate and practices, 2013 integrated planning goals, institutional strategic directions (e.g. as communicated in the University of Guelph’s Strategic Mandate Agreement and Integrated Plan), as well as some broader strategic approaches affecting educational development practices.

Guiding questions: Which strategic institutional, unit and educational development approaches should most inform our ED practices for 2014? Where are the gaps? Where should we focus? What are our top 3-5 strategic areas of focus?

Some example strategic directions that influence our practice are presented below:

Our Mandate:

Using evidence-based approaches, the ED unit supports educators and provides expertise to enhance pedagogical practices at the University of Guelph.

Institutional Strategic Directions:

  • The development and assessment of learning outcomes, including supporting the creation of curriculum maps for all programs
  • Promoting highly effective learning opportunities that foster deep learning and student engagement.
  • Productivity, efficiency and innovation in our academic programs through transformative program innovation (e.g. transformation of large-first year courses to ensure active learning and student engagement, supporting blended/hybrid models of delivery)
  • Embedding internationalism throughout the curricula (e.g. learning outcomes, courses, and programs).
  • Supporting Community Engaged Scholarship and Community Engaged Teaching and Learning.
  • Accessibility and Universal Design for Higher Education

Educational Development Strategic Directions:

(See for example: Dimitrov et al., 2013; Grabrove et al., 2013; Hubball et al., 2013; Felten et al., 2013; Trigwell et al., 2012; Christensen-Hughes and Mighty, 2010; Gibbs and Coffey, 2004)

  • Translating and mobilizing evidence-based, learner-centred practice
  • Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning,  scholarship of educational development, and scholarship of curriculum practice
  • Supporting Sustained and Intensive ED Practice (> 20 hours) such as: courses, certificates, communities of practice, multi-day teaching & learning institutes
  • Focus on assessment (e.g. promoting deep and authentic assessment practices; assessing & accounting for the impact of our own practice)
  • Supporting program-level curriculum improvement and assessment
  • Strengthening institutional policy (e.g. advocacy, awards, reward and recognition, integrated planning)
  • Engaging students in educational development approaches and practices (e.g. in SoTL projects, curriculum review processes and broader conversations related to teaching and learning in higher education)

Step 3: What should we start, stop (or do more efficiently), and continue doing?

Our third step in the afternoon involved evaluating and establishing our key priorities and goals for 2014.  To do this, we first reflected back on the outcomes of the previous 2 steps and engaged in a process familiar to educational developers – a start, stop, continue exercise.  Not surprisingly, the most challenging area for discussion was what we should “stop” doing.  However, we found that we could negotiate this challenge by expanding our frame of discussion to what we should stop and/or do more efficiently.  During this step it was extremely important to maintain an open frame of mind to ensure there was a free flow of creative thought amongst team members. This is a key step to the process and it is critical to ensure that all ideas generated are recorded without judgement or censorship.

Guiding Question: Based on these strategic approaches and the metrics we will use to evaluate our success, what should we start, stop (or do more efficiently) and continue doing as an ED Unit?IMG_1238

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Step 4: What are our key ED unit goals for 2014?

The final step in the process was to define our goals for 2014, while taking into consideration to outcomes of the three previous steps.  This collaborative process flowed naturally from the previous discussions that had occurred during the day.

Guiding Question: What specific and measurable goals would we like to achieve as a unit for 2014?

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During this next step our unit was able to successfully define our key goals and priorities for the 2014. One additional step that will help to provide focus is to now take these goals and further prioritize them using a 2 x 2 matrix (importance vs urgency).  This would help us to define our highest priority tasks (High Importance, High Urgency), and where we should be spending our most time (High Importance, Low Urgency).

SUBSEQUENT POST EDIT:

After a much deserved holiday break, our unit DID come together to prioritize our goals based on the above noted Importance vs Urgency Matrix.  The results helped us to clearly define our high priority goals (high importance, high urgency), as well as where we should be spending most of our time (high importance, low urgency).  We were also able to simplify our goals, removing any that fell into the quadrants of low importance.  In the end, we removed 6 of our 25 previously defined goals, leaving us with 19 annual goals upon which to focus our practices as a team.  As and added benefit, the process of coming back to these goals after 2 weeks provided us with an important opportunity to reflect upon and further clarify and refine each of our goals.

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As we work to align our individual goals with these priorities they will certainly provide a key frame of reference for focusing our time on areas that are certain to have impact on our individual and collective success for 2014 (a.k.a. on things that really matter)!

References:

Christensen Hughes, J, & Mighty, J. (2010). A call to action: Barriers to pedagogical innovation and how to overcome them. Taking stock: Research on teaching and learning in higher education, 261-277.

Dimitrov, N., Meadows, K., Kustra, E., Ackerson, T., Prada, L., Baker, N., Potter, M.K. (2013). Assessing Graduate Teaching Development Programs for Impact on Future Faculty. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Felten, P., Bagg, J., Bumbry, M., Hill, J., Hornsby, K., Pratt, M., & Weller, S. (2013). A call for expanding inclusive student engagement in SoTL. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(2), 63-74.

Hubball, Harry, Pearson, Marion L, & Clarke, Anthony. (2013). SoTL Inquiry in Broader Curricular and Institutional Contexts: Theoretical Underpinnings and Emerging Trends. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1), 41-57.

Gibbs, G., & Coffey, M. (2004). The impact of training of university teachers on their teaching skills, their approach to teaching and the approach to learning of their students. Active learning in higher education, 5(1), 87-100.

Grabove, V., Kustra, E., Lopes, V., Potter, M.K., Wiggers, R., & Woodhouse, R. (2012). Teaching and Learning Centres: Their Evolving Role Within Ontario Colleges and Universities.  Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Trigwell, Keith, Caballero Rodriguez, Katia, & Han, Feifei. (2012). Assessing the impact of a university teaching development programme. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(4), 499-511.

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Learner-Centred Principles for Teaching in Higher Education

In preparing for an upcoming faculty workshop, I was inspired to think about foundational principles for promoting a learner-centred approach to teaching in higher education.  I had an opportunity to reflect back on Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) 7 principles for good practice in undergraduate education,  Ramsden’s (2003) 13 principles for effective university teaching; Maryellen Weimer’s 5 key changes to practice for learner-centred teaching, as well as Lizzio et al.’s (2002) conceptual model for an effective academic environment.  Recognizing the limitations in attempting to represent the inherent complexities and nuances of teaching and learning,  I have presented the outcome of this process in the following set of learner-centred principles for teaching in higher education:

  1. Actively Engage Learners: ensure learning material is stimulating, relevant and interesting; explain material clearly; use a variety of methods that encourage active and deep approaches to learning, as well as adapt to evolving classroom contexts.
  2. Demonstrate Empathy and Respect: show interest in students’ opinions and concerns; seek to understand their diverse talents, needs, prior knowledge, and approaches to learning; encourage interaction between instructor and students; share your love of the discipline.
  3. Communicate Clear Expectations: make clear the intended learning outcomes and standards for performance; provide organization, structure and direction for where the course is going.
  4. Encourage Independence: provide opportunities for students to develop and draw upon personal interests; offer choice in learning processes and modes of assessment; provide timely and developmental feedback on learning; encourage metacognition to promote self-assessment of learning.
  5. Create a Community for Learning: use teaching methods and learning strategies that encourage mutual learning, as well as thoughtful, respectful and collaborative engagement and dialogue.
  6. Use Appropriate Assessment Methods: clearly align assessment methods with intended course outcomes; provide clear criteria for evaluation; emphasize deep learning; scaffold assessments to ensure progressive learning.
  7. Commit to Continuous Improvement: gather formative and summative feedback on your teaching; practice critical self-reflection; consult scholarly literature on teaching & learning; identify clear goals for strengthening your teaching practice.

What would you change, add or remove from these principles?  What would your list of learner-centred principles for teaching in higher education look like?

References:

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3–7.

Lizzio, A., Wilson, K., & Simons, R. (2002). University Students’ Perceptions of the Learning Environment and Academic Outcomes: Implications for theory and practice. Studies in Higher Education, 27(1), 27-52.

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to Teach in Higher Education. New York: Routledge.

Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice: John Wiley & Sons.

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Strategic Directions for Educational Development

As I prepare for the upcoming Faculty Engagement in Educational Development (FEED) Summit to be hosted by the the Council of Ontario Universities, the Council of Ontario Educational Developers and McMaster University, as well as on some recent publications such as Christensen Hughes and Mighty (2010) and Grabrove et al. (2012),  it is incredible to reflect upon the continued evolution of educational development programs across Canada.  I can’t help but reflect on the following “strategic” directions related to our continued evolution:

  1. a shift from just-in-time pedagogical support to evidenced-based classroom practice;
  2. the strengthening of institutional strategy and policy related to teaching/learning;
  3. growing engagement and emphasis on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). And, I will add the scholarship of educational development (SoED); and scholarship of curriculum practice (SoCP);
  4. a clear focus on intensive and sustained pedagogical development programming that builds capacity throughout the institution;
  5. a growing emphasis on program-level curriculum assessment and development.

I am curious what others think about the continued evolution of educational development.  What other shifts do you see? Where do you think ED will be in 2025?

References:

Christensen Hughes, Julia, & Mighty, Joy. (2010). Taking Stock: Research on teaching and learning in higher education. McGill-Queen University Press, Kingston, ON.

Grabove, V., Kustra, E., Lopes, V., Potter, M.K., Wiggers, R., & Woodhouse, R. (2012). Teaching and Learning Centres: Their Evolving Role Within Ontario Colleges and Universities.  Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Hubball, Harry, Pearson, Marion L, & Clarke, Anthony. (2013). SoTL Inquiry in Broader Curricular and Institutional Contexts: Theoretical Underpinnings and Emerging Trends. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1), 41-57.

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SOARing through Curriculum Development Processes

As a foundational component of most curriculum review processes, we frequently engage in a Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Challenges (SWOC) analysis with faculty and instructors involved in the teaching and delivery of courses within a major or degree program.  The SWOC analysis framework is also often used as an effective framework for conducting focus groups to gather input and feedback from students, alumni and employers.

I have recently developed a strong affinity for the SOAR process (Stavros, Cooperrider, & Kelley, 2003; Stavros & Hinrichs, 2011), which provides a interesting alternative to the SWOC process. Based on an appreciative inquiry (AI) approach to strategic planning, the SOAR framework provides an extraordinary guide for conversations related to identifying and leveraging the key strengths and opportunities of academic programs. In collaboration with an incredibly insightful colleague, Dr. Gavan Watson, we recently adapted the SOAR framework within the context of a curriculum review process.  We used the questions below to guide discussion at a recent curriculum retreat (adapted from Stavros et al., 2003; Stavros and Hinrichs, 2011). Allotting approximately 2 hours for this discussion, we first divided the program’s instructors into three small groups.  There were three separate “flip chart” stations organized around the room, each focused on one of the following three SOAR topics:

 Strengths: What can we build on?

  1. What are we doing well?
    • What key achievements are we most proud of?
    • What positive aspects of the program have students/faculty/employers or others commented on?
  2. What are we known for?
    • What makes us unique?
    • Why do students choose our program?
  3. What key resources and areas of expertise give us an advantage?

Opportunities: What are our best possible future opportunities?

  1. What changes in demand do we expect to see over the next years?
    • What external forces or trends may positively impact the program?
  2. What future external opportunities exist for the program?
    • What are key areas of untapped potential?
    • What are students, employers and/or other community members asking for?
  3. How can we highlight our program strengths and distinguish ourselves from competing programs?
  4. How can we reframe perceived challenges to be seen as opportunities?

Aspirations: What do We Care Deeply About?

  1. What are we deeply passionate about?
  2. As a program, what difference do we hope to make (e.g. to learners, the institution, employers, the community)?
  3. What does our preferred future look like?
  4. What projects, programs or processes would support our aspirations?

Each group had 15 minutes to reflect on the guiding questions presented at the station.  After 15 minutes, the groups rotated to the next station, reviewed and discussed the key points summarized by the previous group, and added any additional points to the flipcharts.  After each small group had rotated through each of the stations, we collectively took 15 minutes to review the key points presented at the Strength, Opportunities, and Aspiration flipchart stations, to ensure that participants had an opportunity to provide additional clarification where necessary.  We then conducted a dotomocray to prioritize the key points presented at the stations (each participant was given 6 sticky dots to vote for what they felt were the program’s most important strengths, opportunities and aspirations). Based on this process, the top “3” points from each station were highlighted.

In the final step, the participants were divided into two groups, and given 20 minutes to discuss the key “Results” that they would like to see based on these priorities (see below guiding questions).  Each group then reported back up to 3 measures of success, goals, projects, and initiatives.

Results: How will we know we are succeeding?

  1. Considering our strengths, opportunities, and aspirations, what meaningful measures will indicate that we are on track in achieving our goals?
  2. What measurable results do we want to see? What measurable results will we be known for?
  3. What resources are needed to implement our most vital projects and initiatives?
  4. What are the 3-5 key goals would you like to accomplish in order to achieve these results?

The SOAR framework and process highlighted above resulted in a collective, collaborative, inspired and engaged discussion, that lead to the identification of key projects and areas of focus for continued program improvement. The strength-based focus of SOAR provides an important opportunity for participants to have meaningful, positive and solution-focused conversations related to the program’s potential, and provides clear direction upon which to create a desired future.

Note: More recently, we used the above SOAR framework to develop a future vision for one of our faculty development programs. I have quickly discovered that the framework is highly adaptable to many strategic planning conversations!

References

Stavros, Jacqueline M, Cooperrider, D L, & Kelley, D Lynn. (2003). Strategic inquiry appreciative intent: inspiration to SOAR, a new framework for strategic planning. AI Practitioner. November, 10-17.

Stavros, Jacqueline M, & Hinrichs, Gina. (2011). The Thin Book Of SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy. Bend, OR: Thin Book Publishing.

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SOARing High: Supporting the Development of an Educational Development (ED) Philosophy Statement

As the profession and practice of Educational Development (ED) continues to evolve and expand, the importance of evidencing the impact of our practices has never been clearer.  Educational Development portfolios provide a powerful means by which to communicate the diversity and richness of our ED practices, as well as to provide evidence of our increasing impact within post-secondary education (Wright & Miller, 2000).

At the basis of any great portfolio is a philosophy of practice, which clearly communicates:

  1. what your fundamental value, beliefs are about educational development;
  2. why you hold these believes and values (grounded in both experience and scholarship); and,
  3. how you translated these values and beliefs into your everyday educational development practices and experiences.

Although highly enlightening and rewarding, it should be clearly stated that developing a concise, articulate and meaningful philosophy statement can be a daunting, challenging, and time-consuming experience.

As we begin to embark upon the process of creating Educational Development portfolios within our ED Unit at the University of Guelph, we recently engaged in a reflective process to support the development of our ED Philosophy Statements.   The process was based on the increasing popular SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) framework (Stavros, Cooperrider, & Kelley, 2003; Stavros & Hinrichs, 2011) – an Appreciative Inquiry anecdote to the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis (Mills, Fleck, & Kozikowski, 2013).   After reflecting upon the following questions, we found that SOAR provided a great framework upon which to brainstorm, and summarize our key claims to our Educational Development practice.  It also resulted in an illuminating, engaging and collaborative discussion related to the beliefs, assumptions and approaches that each of us take to our practice! It became quickly apparent that these questions could also provide an important basis for discussion as part of a well-designed performance management review process (Aguinis, Joo, & Gottfredson, 2011).

The SOAR framework (Stavros and Hinrichs, 2011) adapted within the context of an ED Philosophy of Practice:

Strengths: What are your greatest skills, capabilities, and strengths as an Educational Developer? What do you provide and do in your role as an ED that is of benefit to others? What have been some of your greatest accomplishments over the last year or two as an ED? What are you most proud of in your role as, and approaches to ED?  When have you felt most engaged/affirmed in your ED practices and approaches?

Opportunities: What opportunities do you see for yourself as an ED? What are some of your greatest areas of interest in ED? Within the context of higher education, what opportunities currently exist that you can respond to in your role as an ED?  What do you see as your greatest opportunities for growth in your ED practice?  What new skills and abilities will help you move forward in your ED practice?

Aspirations: What do you care most deeply about in your role as an Educational Developer? What are you deeply passionate about as an ED? What difference do you hope to make as an ED? What does your preferred future ‘look like ‘ in your role as an ED? Where do you hope to go in the future?  What projects and initiatives do you hope to engage in as an ED?

Results: How do/will you know you are succeeding in your practice as an Educational Developer?  What  ‘tangible results’ do you hope to be known for in your role as an ED?

References:

Aguinis, Herman, Joo, Harry, & Gottfredson, Ryan K. (2011). Why we hate performance management—and why we should love it. Business Horizons, 54(6), 503-507.

Mills, M.J., Fleck, C.R., & Kozikowski, A. (2013). Positive Pscyhology at work: a conceptual review, state-of-practice assessment, and a look ahead. The Journal of Postiive Psychology, 8(2), 153-164.

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