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Coaching Partnerships for Professional Development

At many campuses, support professionals have been offering “house calls,” one-to-one tutorials when and where faculty find such help most convenient—primarily in their offices. This approach is effective, but extremely demanding on the academic support professionals and the faculty. While technology support organizations once considered one-to-one sessions too expensive or inefficient, the lack of alternatives for reaching faculty who don’t attend scheduled workshops has made individual sessions more attractive. But is there a third alternative?

Can we develop programs that foster the establishment of very small groups of faculty to help each other progress toward using education technology—programs that engage faculty through small steps, such as using e-mail to communicate with students? Many faculty members do not feel as if they are accepting a major challenge or new commitment when they begin to use to communicate course-related information to their students.

Beginning with a special track and team/group sessions at the Syllabus2001 summer conference, we began exploring the idea of developing very small faculty groups as a means to extending the reach and cost-effectiveness of support services already stretched thin by workshops and tutorials. The idea is quite simple: TLT Coaching Partnerships that enable faculty and support professionals to find and help each other and develop an ongoing curriculum or program of related activities to sustain the progress of the groups.

One of the top priorities when forming a TLT Coaching Partnership is the group’s comfort and willingness to work together. Sharing some common instructional goals is also helpful. Such a partnership may begin as a group of two or three people brought together by a commitment to “coach” each other to make progress on a specific issue related to improving teaching and learning with technology. Some partnerships include only people from the same institution, while others include people from different institutions. The work of TLT Coaching Partnerships may also support and extend the activities of larger groups or programs within a college or university—or inter-institutionally.

Participants in each TLT Coaching Partnership help each other to:

  • Better understand their common challenges and issues
  • Find better solutions to relevant problems
  • Find additional resources
  • Share the load—provide encouragement, ideas, sympathy, and alternatives.

Each institution needs to develop its own guidelines, schedules, external reminders, communications vehicles, training, and other resources and services to sustain the progress of TLT Coaching Partnerships on campus. Watch for sample materials and further development of these guidelines at I’m especially interested in what you have already been learning from making similar efforts. Have some of the experts in collaborative and cooperative learning been applying their ideas to professional development? What are they finding? Can the Web and other new applications of information technology be used to support TLT Coaching Partnerships and similar efforts?

In the long run, the accumulation of small steps can result in major change. Faculty members who become comfortable using word processing, e-mail with students, and some simple Web tools to make course materials more accessible often discover that they have begun to think differently about their teaching. They begin to raise questions and to consider alternative teaching approaches that never occurred to them before. These small steps lay the foundation for major change in approach and direction.

About the Author

Steven Gilbert is President of the TLT Group and moderates the Internet listserv TLT-SWG.

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