This is a (cleaned-for-grammar) transcript of a tape-recorded conversation with my classmate, Ileana Cortes Santiago, whom I begged to “sit and listen to me blab about my dissertation, and then help me figure out what the heck I’m saying.” This process was incredibly helpful, so I’m collecting my notes here so that I can remix useful sentences and paragraphs into my prelim… soon.
DISCLAIMER: These thoughts are very, very half-baked. As I continue to review, edit, and publish notes from similar conversations, you’ll see me editing these thoughts, rearranging them, throwing them out… (for instance, I no longer say I’m “developing a format for faculty development.” In fact, my research question has fundamentally shifted its wording at this point.) This is the sausage-making process, exposed.
Ok, thanks, Ileana. The recording’s on. So… here we go. My dissertation centers around developing and demonstrating a format for faculty development. This format will be created and tested specifically with and for engineering and technology faculty, and in the context of transforming their teaching and curriculum development practices, but is likely to generalize beyond these populations and contexts.
The traditional model of faculty development is an information dissemination model. We have to get information out to people. The problem is they’re not reading the right books or listening to the right talks. If more people read our work, our work will impact them.
The problem with that view is that it doesn’t solve the problem of research-to-practice transfer. That problem doesn’t exist solely because the information’s not available. Faculty do have access to papers and books; they simply prioritize other things. They don’t want to read these papers, and they’re not changing their practice when they do read them. We have literature on how engineering faculty change their practice, and the main finding is that hey, it’s not because they go hunt for papers on teaching and then read them. In order to have a transformation, we need something more than “let’s just get the information out to them.”
Think of the way we talk about the epistemology of teaching and learning for our undergraduate students. One common framing was articulated by Baxter-Magolda and King; they described how a lot of students enter college thinking of students as passive recipients of information and teachers as knowledge-containers who transfer that knowledge to students in a copy-paste sort of model. Engineering educators critique that model as being limiting to the student. Instead, we advocate an epistemology where we as teachers are not giving information, we’re helping them develop their identities as adults in our discipline. We need to move these students towards more agency — more self-authorship, more of a transformative space where they can see themselves as not just developing professionals, but professionals who develop themselves.
I find it ironic that when we look at the epistemology of faculty development in engineering education. When faculty members are in a student role, like when they attend a faculty workshop, how do we treat them? Exactly the same way we tell those faculty not to treat their 18-year-old students. So part of what I’m saying is: people, this is silly. If we want teachers to teach their students with a certain epistemological paradigm, we should teach them that way in their own professional development. We should take a self-authorship view of faculty development and be concerned with their identity formation as teachers.
You can’t just give someone a teaching identity. You can’t recite a bunch of facts and have them memorize them and then think, poof, magially they’ll have a teaching identity. A lot of that teaching identity development and expression comes out in other ways. The particular way I’m exploring it in my dissertation is through storytelling. When people tell stories about their teaching, they themselves are characters in their stories. By tracing the way they portray themselves in their stories, you can get at what their teaching identity is, and how it’s forming and transforming over time. These stories give you — and the faculty — a concrete thing to actually reflect on. For example, you could say “Oh, did you notice you portrayed yourself as an outsider?” (Or a pioneer, or a misunderstood rebel, or etc.) Now there’s something concrete — their words, recorded in a place where they can see and manipulate them — and they can go “Oh, gosh, you’re right, I did say that. Huh.”
Engineering and technology educators have pretty well developed identities as researchers, because we spend lots of time in grad school developing our research identity, topics, expertise. But when it comes to teaching identity, then — whoops, sorry, we haven’t really done that. There’s not that corresponding space for development. If you look at the lived experiences of faculty day to day, there’s no space for storytelling about their teaching practices. They might tell some stories to the students in their classes about content knowledge, either in stories of practice (“Let me tell you about the time we were designing this robot…”) or as explanations or analogies (“This physics concept is a lot like when you’re riding a bicycle…”).
However, teachers don’t have the space to tell stories about being teachers, only the stories about them doing engineering stuff. When students come up crying after the midterm, or when you’re trying to design a homework assignment that assesses certain things — those stories and that identity development, there’s no space in a faculty emmbers life for that. When would you do that? It sometimes comes up in grad school socializers when we’re drinking with our friends and complaining about all the grading TAs have to do. It sometimes comes up when professors meet up with their buddies at conference dinners and complain about their dean. But how often does that happen? Once a term? Every other year? And do they ever get repeated, or are they mostly one-offs? These interactions are usually so transient that it’s very difficult to learn from them.
The people that you could argue faculty need share these stories with the most — their colleagues that they see and work with every day — there’s no space for that at all. In faculty meetings, you don’t have time for teaching storytelling. It’s all stuff like, “Oh, we need someone to teach these courses next semester.” It’s very procedural and agenda-driven. This means we end up with people going and teaching in their little silos. Teachers don’t visit each other’s classes. There’s no ongoing required professional development like in K12 where teachers get together, get exposed to new ideas, and talk about those ideas and about what’s happening in their specific classrooms. Then we complain, “Hey, you’ve taught this class the same way for the past 30 years.” Of course you have. That’s what you’re rewarded for doing; it’s efficiency. Why do we not have engineeirng professors reflecting on their teaching? Well, we sort of penalize them for doing that.
Let me talk a little about the specific faculty I think this model would work with. I’ll start by talking about who I am not designing for. First, there are professors who don’t care about reflecting on their teaching process. They might not even like teaching. That’s fine. I’m not interested in spending energy here; I’m not trying to persuade these professors they should be interested.
Ironically, I’m also not designing for the opposite side of the spectrum. There are some faculty members who are super self-aware. They pratically have a 2nd PhD in education. They have very well developed and articulated teaching identities. We know these faculty are found both in small teaching colleges and large research universities and everywhere in between. We think they’re awesome. And quite frankly, they don’t need my help. So this is not for them either.
However, there’s this group of faculty in the middle. I think there’s a lot of them. These are the faculty who think about their teaching, but they know they don’t think about it enough, or in the way they’d like to. It’s not that they think it’s not important; it’s that they’re not quite able to do this critical reflection and identity articulation to the degree they want — at least not on their own. Maybe it’s never been modeled for them. They probably don’t have time set aside for it. There’s probably no support for it. But it is in their zone of proximal development (ZPD). That means that if someone helps them through that process, they’ll be able to do it.
And that process — and scaffolding them through that process — is what the faculty development model presented in dissertation does. It’s a model for faculty development that takes these faculty who have reflection in their ZPD, and gets them to actually do it.
So what does that model look like? It’s very simple. It’s repeated storytelling. For example, let’s say we have Dr. Jones. I’ll say, “Ok, Dr. Jones, let’s schedule 6 sessions over the next school year of 60-90 minutes each.” This is a grand total of 6-9 hours of total commitment over the course of 9-12 months. Is that a lot of time, or is that a very small amount of time? It’s both. Asking a faculty member for 6 meetings of any sort is a lot of time, but it’s far less than they’d give to a single-credit independent study student, for instance. It’s extremely doable. But my favorite point of comparison is to think about the lived experiences of faculty and how many minutes per year they usually spend in this talking-about-teaching storytelling space at all. Maybe it’s 5 minutes a week. If that’s the case, getting to an hour of storytelling time would take 12 weeks. 6 hours is 72 weeks. 9 hours is 108 weeks. So during this process, we’ve gone through the equivalent of approximately 2 years of storytelling in a normal faculty life in just a few deliberate meetings. This is massive, proportionally, compared to their usual lived experience.
Each session is a two-part process. The first part is the first half-hour. Let’s say you’re the faculty member. You’d tell me a story from when you designed a class, some sort of teaching story. And remember there’s that technique I used in class where it got transcribed in realtime and showed up on my laptop screen, we do that for the interview also. So after the first half hour, you basically have the story all written up. And then together we read through that story you just told, and now you’re reading your own words which you’ve just said, and you’re seeing patterns and you’re seeing things in your own words and that becomes the second half, the second half is recorded and transcribed discussion of us talking about the story you just told. So it’s almost like you’re starting to analyze your own words.
Well, actually, you are analyzing it already. The boundary between data collection and analysis gets blurry. It’s a reflective process, it starts already, so it ends up in some interesting things and the first one is sometimes faculty members will realize for the first time patterns in their own behavior. So they go, oh my gosh, right, I do talk about myself as an outsider, is that something I want to do? And also sometimes they go a lot deeper into something they said before. When I said the word “literacy” I didn’t, now I realize you could interpret that phrase differently. What I mean by “literacy” is actually XYZ, let me give you an example. And they go off into another story, so you get this — you get past their canned narratives because sometimes people go through this spiel that you can tell it’s something they’ve said thousands of times before. And this really gets you past that.
The next session — I don’t have a set list of questions. It’s open-ended. Your prompt is reading excerpts either from a story you’ve told me in the past, or from someone else’s story. So maybe it’s your colleagues in the office next door, but you’ve never heard their side of it. Or maybe it’s a professor who teaches the same sort of thing but at another university. Is there something that inspires your your own story? So they’re co-analyzing each other’s experiences. Their narratives start overlapping and intertwining and making meaning of each other. You end up with the side effect of this big corpus of interlinked narratives of faculty, and anyone else can use them for later studies also, but that’s sort of a side note.
My research question asks how faculty make sense of their teaching identities through public storytelling, and all 6 narrators for this run are talking specifically about a curriculum revision focused on integrating “design thinking” into all levels of a 4-year undergraduate program. We’ll end up with 36 stories — 6 stories — or 2 stories — or 1 story, depending on how you look at it. On one level, since each narrator tells the story 6 times, we have 36 stories. But each narrator is looping around the same narrative space every time, so you could also say there are 6 stories — one per person — and 6 revisions of each story. The narrators are also colleagues — 3 come from one school, 3 come from another, and each group of 3 from a school is talking about the same curriculum revision, so you could say there are 2 stories, one per school. Or you could say there’s one big story of this study as a whole.
I should note, off to the side, that we’re not looking for convergence on “the true story” through these various revisions/rounds of storytelling, as a constructivist approach might assume. Since this is a poststructural study, we take all the stories to be some version of truth even as we question what truth is — it might be contradictory, messy, and so on — and they don’t converge on any sort of “done” state; they are part of an ongoing process of constant growth, change, and rearticulation. We could continue the storytelling process indefinitely.
I skipped over the part where I compare this model of faculty development to other models of faculty development, with a bunch of radial graphs and such, because we need to go to class soon and there isn’t time.
In the theoretical space, the way I’m talking about this is a mix between Jerome Bruner and Roland Barthes. Bruner is the inventor of narrative analysis; his famour paper is “Narrative Construction of Reality.” That says things like stories need to be analyzed as stories and can’t be chopped up, you lose something vital. There’s something to them greater than the sum of their individual parts. All texts are hermeneutic. We put meaning into these texts, and other people take their own meaning out of those texts. It’s not a direct brain-to-brain transmission. Its a very active process on both sides. You and I could work through the same book and get very different things from it. The information dissemination model doesn’t account for that, it’s limited in that way.
Bruner also talks about the context of putting things into these artifacts and taking things out of these artifacts, there’s that stated dialogue through artifact that comes with the narration. He talks about community belonging as it relates to collections of narratives. How communities develop these connections of stories, so me and every other American kid my age would have things like Power Rangers or Pokemon and they are these stories that are part of our vocabulary. A Japanese kid my age would have an overlapping but slightly different set. My parents share part of my culture but grew up in a different time, so they have an overlapping but different set entirely. One of the ways we have this community belonging thing is sharing the same sets of narratives. We can refer to them, reference our norms and values and practices through this collection of stories. How our individual lives are personal narratives, these are also narratives in this connection. We make sense of that through finding ways to place them in that collection in relation to all the other stories in that collection. So I can see my childhood and say “it’s like when the Pink Power Ranger did this,” and another kid my age would say “oh, yeah, yeah.”
As part of human engagement, as part of it is learning to speak the spoken language, then there’s the disciplinary language, but there are also the stories. At an even broader level you share the same stories. That’s why at the grad student level they have us read these classic papers, books. Because these are foundational knowledge. That means you’ll have that common reference point. I can say “this is like Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” and both of us know exactly what that means. You can make references to the same story, in this case Fiere’s story.
And this is where Barthes comes in. Barthes is a poststructuralist writer and talks about readerly versus writerly texts. Those words refer to the role of the reader. Writerly texts are very hermeneutically rich text, where as you’re reading you’re sort of co-constructing that meaning with the author, very active. A lot of self-help workbooks will have things like “can you think of an example in your life when…” or — it’s very much a book that’s only complete when I put my own words into it. Or like a workbook as opposed to a textbook. A readerly text is a text that takes that epistemological view of you are a passive recipient of meaning that the author has put into it. And the meaning the author puts into it is the meaning of the book. And the thing Barthes says is that all texts are actually writerly. Bruner’s version is saying all texts are hermeneutic. So all texts are writerly, all texts can have these very active hermeneutics…. but it’s just some texts pretend to be readerly. They make you forget you have that agency and they make you forget that you can question them and have that hermeneutics of suspicion and that you are also an author as a reader of the text.
If you are only exposed to readerly texts, you never get into coauthoring that collection of narratives. You never become an author in your community of practice. You never really take your own narrative and place it in the context of the rest of them and help modify that central corpus. It’s more like, “Oh, these classic authors are great, but they’re magical and I can never aspire to these heights.” As opposed to going “Oh, I can do that too, right now!”
Faculty development currently consists of throwing a lot of readerly texts at people. I want to broaden it to include the idea of making teachers conscious of how they are already writing the narratives of their teaching identities, and helping them recognize and actualize their agency to analyze and edit and shape not only their own stories, but each other’s stories. When we do this, we grow the shared corpus of language that engineering and technology faculty can use to talk about their teaching — a stronger language for their community of practice.
Ileana — a literacy education scholar — pointed out that she sees my methodology as poststructural because the narrator and I are purposefully deconstructing and reconstructing a personal story in the moment whenever we engage. She pointed out that I needed to be descriptive of my own story and positionality, because my history and perspective and story naturally gets enmeshed with that of the narrators. I groaned and said I probably could write a couple paragraphs on that, yes, yes, you’re right.
She agreed that what I was doing wasn’t “interviewing,” and suggested an alternate noun phrase for my data sources: “dialogical narrative episodes.” (“Episode of narrative construction” or “episode of narrative experience” are possible alternate noun phrases; she suggested staying away from “storytelling” for reasons I’m still puzzling out.) “Dialogical” was a new word for me: it means “going from one person to another.” (Roughly. I’ll need to look up a better definition.) This term allows me to incorporate the editing process into my data source, whereas “interview” would need to be distinct from the grounded indigenous coding.