Dr Sharon Sneddon
Dr Genevieve Stapleton
‘On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me… a faculty learning community’
Well, it almost fits, and you’d think that your true love would send you something better than a faculty learning community!! BUT! If you want engage in SoTL, but are feeling a bit isolated, or are new to scholarship and don’t know where to start, then a faculty learning community might just be the present you are looking for!
A Faculty Learning Community (FLC) is a group of peers who come together to share judgements and uncertainties about an area of practice and share ideas or experiences to collectively support and improve (Cox 2004 is a good place to start if you’d like to read more). They can bring together motivated staff with a range of experiences and skills to work together for a common goal and offer individuals a structured environment to foster the development of supportive relationships. FLCs follow a set of criteria which includes a set of aims and outcomes as well as a clear set of expectations and commitment from members.
In 2018, we formed an FLC to support our interest in SoTL, but also to support the required engagement with scholarship as part of the Early Career Development Programme (ECDP). Seven academics, with a previous discipline-specific expertise but very little experience of SoTL, committed to a 12-month FLC ,meeting once per month to support each other’s scholarly activities.
You’re probably thinking that this doesn’t sound any different from any other scholarship group that you’ve joined or tried to form. But there are some key differences that we feel were key to our success. The first important difference is that it is finite. An FLC typically runs for one year, with a defined set of outcomes. Secondly, our FLC asked members to sign a ‘contract’ demonstrating commitment to attendance and contribution to monthly meetings. And thirdly, membership should be interdisciplinary to expand the learning opportunities through different experiences of a common interest, in our case engaging in SoTL.
Our first meeting was unexpectedly eye-opening, it became shockingly apparent how much we all needed support. All seven members were trying to engage in scholarship alone, on top of a mountain of other duties, feeling increasingly anxious and overwhelmed. The sharing of these experiences immediately helped. What a relief to know that we were not the only ones who felt like this!
Over the course of a year, we met each month and worked to support each other’s scholarship ideas: we provided each other with feedback on projects, ethics applications, poster presentations, methodology choice and helped each other to form new connections and networks. We also ate a lot of cake and drank a lot of coffee.
It’s now 2020 and our time in the FLC is over, but what is its legacy? All members are still in contact and are always ready to provide support when asked (we even recently managed to find a cat from the Vet School a foster home with one of our members). We are all more confident to step out of our comfort zone and engage with SoTL, and we enjoy it too! We have had successful promotion applications and also (fingers crossed) a publication in the pipeline. We feel more collegiate and we recognise the importance of promoting SoTL and scholarship within the university and working towards parity between SoTL and discipline-specific research within the University.