Significance of the study and implications

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The purpose of this chapter is to draw implications for research, policy, and practice from my findings. In the first section, I outline the significance of the study. In the second section, I reflect upon the lessons learned through this case study about collaboration, professional community, and educational change. These lessons lead to a better understanding of how cooperative and collaborative learning can be seen as a continuum, with cooperation often existing as a subset of structured activities that lead faculty members to join together in shared goals and a commitment to one another within a collaborative professional community focused on change. Following this reflection, I present the limitations to the study as well as implications for further research, policy, and practice.

Significance Of The Study

For over a decade, educational researchers and organizational theorists alike have explored the foundations on which collaboration can be built, the dynamic nature of collaboration, and the factors and conditions that come in to play that enable collaboration to maintain itself. As seen throughout the literature, theorists have differing notions of both collaboration and professional community as it pertains to educational change both institutionally and within the classroom. The findings and subsequent analysis of this case study align most closely with the theories set forth by Panitz and Wenger. Both identify collaborative learning as a personal philosophy, not simply a classroom technique. In following this underlying premise, once cultivated, this philosophy has ramifications for faculty interaction within a professional community. In general, collaboration is ultimately a “way of living with and dealing with other people” (Panitz XXX) that leads to positive community interaction with a focus on collaborative and substantive learning and professional development.

By exploring faculty members' interactions through this case study, those faculty perceptions regarding both collaboration and professional community have helped to unearth how faculty member's beliefs and values are the driving force behind how they act and what they are willing to do together on campus. The study has helped to identify those structures that facilitate working together, and the things that matter in the classroom which enables the faculty community to shift perspectives from “doing together” to “being together.” The case study also reveals the significance of relationships forged with individuals in an organization as a way of moving from performing acts of collaboration (ways of “acting together”) to creating cultures of collaboration (“ways of being together”.)

Collaborative cultures, or professional communities that collaborate hold great significance for those changes organizations face in this economic climate, as well as changes taking place within colleges in Ontario. This is particularly the case as it pertains to greater accountability measures imposed by regulatory bodies that address measures of quality assurance to promote excellence in education for private institutions and colleges of applied arts and technology in Ontario Both governmental and professional regulatory bodies within Ontario and across Canada are swiftly moving toward identifying quality assessment measures to ensure that students receive an education that meets professional and pedagogical standards.

Over the last 10 years, Ontario public and private colleges offering programs with entry to practice or professional regulations have had to undergo processes of programmatic accreditation similar to those discussed throughout this study. Many regulatory colleges (i.e. College of Dental Hygienists Ontario, Law Society of Upper Canada, Association of Registered Interior Design Ontario) are changing legislation to require students to graduate from programs within Ontario that offer the standards set out by these particular bodies to better ensure that students can enter into their fields of practice after graduation.

Additionally legislation has been passed in Ontario as it pertains to degree programs. Both public and private colleges seeking to offer degree programs fall under the Post-secondary Quality Choice and Excellence Act 2000 (PSECE 2000.) This legislation was passed in Ontario to open up opportunity for student choice and greater accessibility to differing educational institutions and programs they offer. The Post-secondary Education Quality Assessment Board (PEQAB) is an arms-length agency for review and recommendation for ministerial consent of degree programs at colleges. This review primarily assesses an institutions capacity to deliver with a focus on faculty qualifications, course sequencing within a program and the way in which faculty interact with students in the classroom. This review resembles the same process discussed within this case study with the self-study driving program change within the institution. This study explores the factors that lead to change within faculty professional community, and can help address conflicts both pedagogically and communally in light of regulators setting higher standard both programmatically and in terms of faculty qualifications needed to teach within certain professions.

This change in accountability is not limited to institutions within Ontario. In the 2007 report on Access and Excellence, British Columbia addresses a campus plan for 2020 that seeks to provide access and help students pursue excellence. The report states, “[t]he recommendation for provision of access and pursuit of excellence is not to erode institutional autonomy but to harness it. To reach our targets, we must also put new emphasis on planning. We need to develop a sense of collective purpose to guide our efforts, with a heightened emphasis on collaboration and coordination in effort. We need to work better together (Campus 2020: Thinking Ahead. The Report April 2007 Access and Excellence—The Campus 2020 Plan for BC Post-secondary Education System. Geoff Plant. QC Special Advisor.)

To develop the capacity to create change on any scale, whether to student access, institutional excellence, or support for faculty members to obtain higher credentials and greater pedagogical skill, institutions need to understand the processes by which professional collaborative communities evolve and interact. This study provides both organizational and interactive infrastructures that do not dismiss or impede the collaborative processes, but rather recognize, support, and leverage them. When a faculty community commits to being together, faculty members distribute responsibility for keeping up with developments. “This collaborative inquiry makes membership valuable, because people invest their professional identities in being part of a dynamic, forward-looking community.” (reference needed)

Three Lessons Learned

Through interactions with each other and reflection on faculty perceptions of the process and ways of perceiving themselves and others, four major themes emerged. I classify them as lessons learned:

Lesson Number One: Structural factors while necessary to the collaborative process are not sufficient to facilitate changes within a professional community.

Lesson Number Two: Relational factors are at the core of the ties that bind a community together.

Lesson Number Three: Facilitation (Leadership) is often necessary to manage both the dynamics of human interaction as well as drive the process of change within a professional community.

Lesson Number One: Structural Factors While Necessary To The Collaborative Process Are Not Sufficient To Facilitate Changes Within A Professional Community.

As evidenced throughout this study, structural factors and conditions of support are certainly necessary to the process of collaboration. It is important for members of the faculty to know what to expect of each other as fellow professionals in order to understand how to work together most effectively. In this way, those structural factors such as policies, procedures, and conditions of support helped facilitate the collaborative process. In turn, professional expectations were defined and opportunities for working together as a team toward a collective goal were created. Setting the structure enabled faculty members to “do things” collaboratively. It made it possible for faculty members to carry out the “act” of working together.

Those structural factors as identified within this study (that is, structured interaction, outside perspective, common goal, physical working environment) are consistent with the concept put forth within the literature on differences between cooperative and collaborative learning. As Panitz points out, “cooperation is a structure of interaction designed to facilitate the accomplishment of a specific end product or goal through people working together in groups” (Panitz p.1) The end goal in the group exercise in this case is the product of self-study that forged the department's way to attaining provisional program accreditation.

While heavy institutional infrastructures are not necessary in facilitating the relationship between faculty members, as we have seen through this study, faculty members do need time and space to collaborate. This was one of the mitigating factors to moving from “acting to being” together. Professional collaborative communities do not necessarily require much management, but they do need leadership. While it is the self-organizing characteristic that makes relationships flourish, they flourish when their learning fits within their organizational environment. The trick is to help such communities find resources and connections without overwhelming them with organizational meddling. This need for balance reflects the following paradox: No community can fully design the learning of another; but conversely no community can fully design its own learning. (reference needed)

Structural factors can certainly vary from campus to campus, but they have two common intentions. They can provide intellectual coherence when assessing a program to help faculty members build an understanding of one subject—the sequencing and design necessary for a program to be cohesive. They also aim to build both academic and social community for the faculty by bringing members together to discuss course work as reflected against student progress. Bringing faculty together in close proximity through structured interaction with common goal setting in this case certainly helped to derail some of the more common problems plaguing undergraduate education today: the fragmentation course offerings, lack of consistency in classroom pedagogical delivery systems, and the isolation of faculty members from others within the program.

Reflecting back on the work of Lave and Wenger (1991), both found that learning only partly implies becoming able to be involved in new activities, to perform new tasks and functions, to master new understandings. Those activities, tasks, functions, and understandings that were reached during structured interaction and group process do not exist in isolation; they are part of broader systems of relations in which faculty members create meaning. These systems of relations arise out of and are reproduced and developed within social communities, which are part of systems of relations among persons. “…Learning is itself an evolving form of membership. We conceive of identities as long-term, living relations between persons and their place and participation in communities of practice. Thus identity, knowing, and social membership entail one another.” (Lave and Wenger, 1991, p53)

Relational Factors Are At The Core Of The Ties That Bind A Professional Community Together.

An organization's culture is primarily seen in the assumptions, beliefs, expectations and habits that constitute the norm for those working in it. But those structural changes, while necessary, were not sufficient to sustain cultural changes within this professional community. For “the challenge of changing culture is the challenge of changing behaviour.” (Eaker and Keating 2008, p. 1)

Relational factors such as positive attitudes, dialogue, and respect facilitated a way of faculty “being together” which helped transform the professional community within the study into a culture of collaboration. As defined by Panitz: “Collaborative learning is a personal philosophy, not just a classroom technique. In all situations where people come together in groups, it suggests a way of dealing with people, which respects and highlights individual group members' abilities and contributions. (Panitz 1)

It was indeed the relational factors identified in this case (that is, shared decision making, empowerment and control, open communication, respect for one another) that bridged the gap between working cooperatively and moving toward a more collaborative approach to being together. Collaboration as defined in the literature as a philosophy of interaction was possible in this study when individuals became responsible for their actions in relation to one another, including learning to respect the abilities and contributions of their peers without feeling as if they were sacrificing or compromising their own contributions, thoughts and feelings.

Collaborative communities are not as temporary as those communities that work together in teams. They are organized around what matters to their members. In this way, identity is formed within the community as identified in this study. Identity is important because, in a sea of information, it helps us sort out what we pay attention to, what we participate in, and what we stay away from. “Having a sense of identity is a crucial aspect of learning in organizations.”

This is important for “(t)eaching is not only a cognitive and behavioural practice where improving teaching involves attending solely to what teachers should know and be able to do. Teaching, like other ‘people work' is also an emotional practice.” (Denzin, 1984, as cited in Hargreaves, 2001, p. 505)

Hargreaves talks about how fundamental social bonds between people

“'Professional trust', as I call it, still rests on and reaffirms fundamental social bonds between people.” As Hargreaves explains, bonds are not based in personal knowledge, but in norms, principles, or understandings of how to work together. Further, bonds are formed, according to Hargreaves, when professionals know what to expect of each other as fellow professionals. Such is the case in this study.

As an aspect of social practice, “learning involves the whole person; it implies not only a relation to specific activities, but a relation to social communities.” (Lave and Wenger 1991: 53.) In this way, cultivating and sustaining positive connections among its faculty members reshape professional communities. As Palmer describes, “if we had periodic conversations with each other about teaching over an extended period of time, we would know enough about each other to ask real questions and give real answers when the moment for evaluation arrived.” (Palmer, 1998, p. 143)

To develop a community of inquiry and culture of connection is “no more and no less than the moving force of the mind, heart and spirit of people… to see the organization as a mental concept of relationship to which people are drawn by hope, vision, values and meaning, and liberty to cooperatively pursue them. “ (Hock, 1999, p.120) For faculty members to become engaged and committed in collaborative ways of learning and being together, interaction based upon inquiry, discussion, dialogue and reflection about the core values and guiding principles are what are necessary to reshape meaning and purpose within a professional environment. “If we want to grow in our practice, we have two primary places to go: to the inner ground from which good teaching comes and to the community of fellow teachers from whom we can learn more about ourselves and our craft.” (Palmer, 1998, p.141)

In this study, support and encouragement to try new things; the factors identified by faculty clearly indicate a way of being together, a connection that needs to occur among members of the learning organization for engagement to be set in motion. As identified in the work of Lewis and Regine 2000:

In a linear world, things may exist independently of one another, and when they interact, they do so in simple, predictable ways. In a non-linear, dynamic world, everything exists only in relationship to everything else, and the interactions among agents in the system lead to complex, unpredictable outcomes. In this world, interactions, or relationships among its agents are the guiding principles. (Lewis and Regine, 2000, p.18-19)

For if we want students to engage in learning toward understanding and reflective practice, faculty members need opportunities to engage as a profession of learners who are supported by and participate with administration in all aspects of teaching and learning.

Once this understanding is established, and safe spaces are provided, faculty and administration can begin to work together as a cohesive unit for the sake of their students. Real communication and understanding about issues related to teaching and learning will begin to infuse everyday school culture, rather than sporadic implementation of principles outlined and shaped by the “experts.”

Facilitation (Leadership) Is Often Necessary To Manage Both The Dynamics Of Human Interaction As Well As Drive The Process Of Change Within A Professional Community

Given the social context of learning, collaboration can and often does evoke emotional responses; therefore, facilitation is often necessary to manage both the dynamics of human interaction as well as drive the process of change as in this case study. Denzin points out, “one way to scratch beneath the surface of teachers' professional relations is to explore their emotional aspects.”

Collaboration also requires a consideration of leadership concepts and what kind of leadership is best suited to lead change within a collaborative culture.

Being the formal leader in creating a culture of collaboration is not the same as being the all-seeing, all-knowing provider of the ‘right way' to make it work. It takes a village to raise a child. And isn't that the whole point of creating a collaborative culture to begin with? (Kaner, 2006, p.3)

In a collaborative culture, leaders often need to suspend themselves in order to listen to and understand others. Suspending ones views does not mean having to sacrifice one's perspectives. Suspension strengthens growth and understanding of oneself and others, strengthens relationships, and opens up doors to future possibilities. (Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 8, No. 3-4, 2002. Andy Hargreaves, Teaching and Betrayal [1])

Whether these communities arise spontaneously or come together through seeding and nurturing, as was the case in this study, their development ultimately depends on internal leadership. These roles may be formal or informal, and may be concentrated in a core group or more widely distributed. But in all cases, leadership must have intrinsic legitimacy in the community. To be effective, therefore, educational leaders and others must work with communities of practice from the inside rather than merely attempt to design them or manipulate them from the outside.

“Organizations that improve do so because they create and nurture agreement on what is worth achieving.” (Elmore, 2000, p.25) Administrators play a key role in providing opportunity and resources for faculty and staff to engage in inquiry, reflective practice, and continuous problem-solving while at the same time building the capacity for shared leadership within the community. (Fullan, 1993) Leaders within a learning organization are responsible for creating spaces where people continually “expand their capabilities to clarify vision and improve shared mental models—that is, they are responsible for learning.” (Senge, 1990, p.71) This new leadership style “encourages the emergence of a culture that is more open and caring… it requires genuine connection with co-workers; you can't fake it and expect to get results.” (Lewis and Regine, 2000, p.29) Most importantly, leaders need to be serious in their efforts to create the conditions where everyone can be successful in learning. These efforts promote the development of trust that is one of the greatest services a leader can perform. Faculty members in this study began to rely less on what the “authorities in research tell us about learning,” (Cross, 1998, p.2) and started to depend more on the stories within their own classrooms as foundation for exploring “learning about learning.” (ibid, p.8) Sharing these stories helped to facilitate inquiry and that led to the discovery of truth in contexts that are meaningful and directly related to student learning and better campus practice. Faculty members were empowered to involve themselves directly in the research equation to challenge the traditional view of knowledge. This traditional view of knowledge only objectifies and distances us from the thing we know the best—our students and the years of our accumulated knowledge based on a lifetime of first-hand experience with students and learning. Faculty ultimately see themselves as lifelong learners. For many in this study, they moved on to further educational pursuit to better engage in inquiry and reflection. They were able to use classroom experience and interactions on campus as the foundation for improving the standards by which they currently practice.

What we need to grow as teachers and educational professionals is “good talk about good teaching—to enhance both our professional practice and the selfhood from which it comes.” (Palmer, 1998, p.144) Throughout the research on professional development for faculty, theorists stated a tendency to reduce teaching, learning and community building to questions of technique. That is, talk that promises “practical” solutions and the latest methods to improve professional practice in the classroom. By inviting the faculty to engage in inquiry and discussion around topics that took them beyond technique and into the fundamental issues of teaching helped them “emerge from their privatization—privatization that not only keeps them from growing in their craft but also fosters institutional incompetence, as well.” (ibid) The notion of faculty, staff and administration learning about learning together through reflective dialogue is a way to increase organizational capacity and foster creativity. Dee Hock describes this kind of engagement as “chaordic,” which conceptually is based on the belief that people are most creative and energetic when they have the freedom to create what they own and own what they create. (Hock, 1999) The freedom to pool together a substantive body of professional knowledge which is owned through experience by faculty, staff and administration encourages the desire of members of the professional community to reflect upon and improve their practice as was seen throughout this study.

Good leaders may start by pursuing their own vision but “as they learn to listen carefully to others visions, they begin to see that their own vision is part of something larger.” (Senge, 1990, p.352) For when we engage with one another as members of a learning organization, we come together in such a way that forces us to debate about what is important on our campus. Dialogue and discussion create the ties that bond and bind us to a shared set of values and beliefs. Such collaboration also helped faculty members to identify and eliminate barriers to participation in the structure or culture of the overall organization. Through their connections with each other, they began to identify and choose to internalize the shared values of the group. Once this happens, school culture changes—commitment endures.

Limitations To The Study

Since every organization is unique, the specific day-to-day activity of creating a culture of collaboration will obviously have many unique components. Case study research can generalize to a theory, not populations thus drawing implications from a two-year study of several faculty members within a professional community calls for some hesitation (Yin, 1989). A limitation to drawing implications from this case is that the sample size is small and indicative only of members of a faculty having to follow a larger regulatory mandate toward curricular and pedagogical change. Thus the findings may be idiosyncratic. To the degree that other institutions resemble the one in this study, the implications I offer may apply. Therefore, the implications discussed should be considered as reflections and ways of speculating for further research and study.

This study is also limited in that faculty members involved in this self-study are all full-time faculty members within the department. As discussed, part-time faculty while included in the self-study did not have the proper support to enable them to participate in my study. Additionally, I was unable to interview any administrators that went through the process. Doing so would have provided more balance to the study in that part-time faculty and administrators may have brought different perspectives and commitments to understanding the collaborative community shift for both faculty and the study.

In this study, I focused solely on the faculty community without venturing into the experiences of those students within the program who were experiencing this change. Understanding the impact that changes in the faculty professional community has on the student experience is an extremely important question. My intention is to pursue this impact in future studies, however, I had to limit the scope for the purpose of this dissertation. But the focus of faculty experience is not unimportant. It provides a valuable view of faculty perceptions of collaboration and community as well as how they relate to change in a context of integrated social learning and development.

Regardless of these limitations, I use this case to explore the experience of faculty with collaboration and professional community. The implications I present in this chapter can inform future research and contribute to a better understanding of collaborative community building and change within that community. To the extent that colleges experience similar contexts, they may draw lessons from this research.

Implications For Further Research

Further research is needed to confirm the relationship between professional community development and educational change. My study examined the perceptions of a small number of full-time faculty members over a short period of time. Future longitudinal studies will provide important insights into the sustainability and long-term impact of interactive approaches to building collaborative faculty communities. Are these changes sustainable over time, and if so, what are the sustaining factors? What is the potential impact that collaborative faculty professional communities have on classroom teaching and student learning? What changes are needed institutionally to sustain collaborative efforts? Such research would hold important implications for both faculty communities and educational change literature.

Additionally, further research is needed that addresses the difference between change initiatives that are imposed, such as the accreditation study initiative necessary for this particular program to address professional standards and those that are generated without imposition. Is it possible for faculty to enact change from within, and if so, what are the characteristics of professional community that leads to change without such imposition. Is it necessary for institutions to impose change to generate the potential for professional communities to become integrative and collaborative?

Another important research question to be addressed in the future is how changes in the professional faculty community impact the student educational experience. What are the links between faculty change and student change? This research would provide insight into ways in which boundaries can be broadened beyond the faculty professional community. Such findings can contribute to literature and practice on a more global level.

Finally, further research is needed to address conflicts at the emotional level between faculty members and how dealing with those conflicts may impact the development of a strong collaborative professional community.

Implications For Policy

Institutions shouldn't ignore the issue of reward and recognition altogether; rather, they need to adapt reward systems to support participation in learning communities, for instance, by including community activities and leadership in performance review discussions. Educational leaders also need to make sure that existing compensation systems do not inadvertently penalize the work involved in building communities. Such was the case for those part-time faculty members who did not have the means to participate in the self-study because of financial hardship or time constraints.

An element of policy that needs to be considered within the organizational environment is the support that is needed by administration such as interest in full participation, monetary reward systems and time off from other duties. These factors can either hinder or facilitate participation. Issues of compensation and recognition often came up by faculty members in this study—particularly as it pertains to part-time faculty. Policy work needs to be done to open up support systems to ensure full access to participation. Because participation must be intrinsically self-sustaining, it is necessary to revisit those policies around structures in time and financial support to enable faculty members to pursue degrees if necessary for programmatic change. Additionally, educational policy needs to be set to recognize the value of those faculty members who have years of professional experience with much to offer in the classroom. Policy that recognizes the need for members of the faculty to return to upgrade academic credentials that will only enhance pedagogical discussion and faculty collaborative learning.

Implications For Faculty Professional Growth And Development

Professional development for faculty on most campuses are typically treated as a scheduled, external event focusing on issues identified by administration and offered by outside experts with little or no connection to actual classroom practice or response to instructors' immediate professional concerns. Faculty members in this study who made their own effort to change their classroom practice or course content in response to the needs of their students did so in isolation. To address faculty need and the promotion of a collaborative professional community, institutions could do so by drawing on best pedagogical practice and the strengths of those faculty members who deliver best practices in effort to promote stronger faculty initiative, scholarship and collaboration.

As reflected in the literature on faculty development and identified throughout this study, top-down, administrative directive to topics and methods of faculty development leave instructors with no voice, no connection to one another, and no opportunity to collaborate. How can faculty members be expected to feature in-depth, active learning in their classrooms with attention to student development, appreciation for diversity, opportunities for collaborative and democratic learning with a connection to student experience when the model maintained for faculty development is typically myopic and top-down driven?

Rather than attempt to dictate change, it is necessary for institutions to work on a grass-roots level-- to understand faculty concerns and include faculty perspective as integral to the evolution of reform. Substantive change in this study occurred when instructors, themselves, became involved with one another in making change happen. In short, schools change when instructors change, both individually and collectively (Maeroff, 1993). Educational leaders need to foster an environment where faculty-members regularly engage in reflection, critical discourse and collaboration on both student and teacher learning and development provided opportunity for growth and renewal, with or without the need to complete a self-study for programmatic change.

Faculty development geared toward changing the shape of the professional community needs to be geared more toward a forum where the faculty knowledge and expertise within the department and ultimately across the institution is shared to help educators and administrators expand their knowledge and their vision for education, to facilitate shared problem-solving, and gain the corporate financial support needed to continue the challenging work of school improvement. Encouraging instructors to reflect upon their practice while providing them with the opportunity to share experiences and outcomes with other faculty members is the primary goal of this kind of faculty development initiative. Providing faculty with a platform to reflect, collaborate, and improve upon teaching practice will consequently enact change.

“This type of professional development depends upon teachers taking more control over their work, releasing tacit knowledge and expertise, developing critical judgment, and taking fuller responsibility for student learning.” (Wood, March 2007, p. 699) In this way, faculty members have more of a stake and voice in the direction of teaching and learning on campus; greater opportunity for professional growth; fair evaluation from and frequent, positive interaction with administrative leaders on campus, and greater potential for moving in the direction of a professional community focused on collaborative and integrated learning.