This post is going to be short and I hope sweet. The best faculty development opportunities I’ve experienced in my career haven’t been designed primarily (or explicitly?) for faculty development: Examples include UMW’s Faculty Academy, ELI Annual Conferences, at least in the early years, the SERC project, and OpenEd Conferences, to name just a few. What have they had in common? They were rich scholarly experiences, rather than training per se. That workshop on Excel may have taught me a few tricks with the software, but they didn’t fundamentally change the way I teach or think about teaching. The best faculty development opportunities were framed in a way that drew me in, that made me think the question they were exploring was interesting, even if I came in thinking the opposite. (I could name some of these, but I don’t wish to upset any of my friends. What you should remember is that I ended up in the right place.) These opportunities became intellectually compelling so that for a while (an hour, a day, a few days—whatever the length of the event) I forgot about real life and immersed myself in the problem at hand. And then, much to my surprise, I found myself thinking of ways this exploration could be applied to my teaching. In short, these activities were about scholarly learning rather than training.
That’s what I’ve found rewarding about #OpenLearning17-18. There were several topics in #OpenLearning17 that I didn’t think would interest me, but somehow I was carried along by the interest of my co-learners, and then found that I was interested as well. Part of it was the journey–the fact that I was studying a topic with a group of colleagues who, in the process, became friends. I wanted to contribute to our collective learning, so I had to take the process seriously. This is especially true in an open learning environment. Part of it was the conference effect–that what was happening was occurring outside of my normal work. That’s why going away, either literally or virtually, matters. With open learning, the colleagues I worked with included people I might never have had a chance to meet in real life. Yes, non-economists! 😉 That diversity (of place, of discipline) made the experience much richer for me. And it continues to do so.