Professional Development — For Educators, By Educators

by Makena Neal

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#iteachmsu Commons is a social and professional development platform created by and for Michigan State educators.

The Problem: Decentralization

Our institution is a big one — and with its size and organization comes a host of challenges. Commonly, across units, there are people dedicated to working areas that serve common core outcomes: research and innovation, teaching and learning, outreach and service. That being said, each unit’s structure and support for the staff charged with working in each of the outcomes vary… decentralization results in institutional difficulties related to idea-sharing and cross-unit collaboration, as well as recognizing and leveraging high impact practices across units.

#iteachMSU Commons uses the community building and user storying functions of a social networking site while combining the resources of a scholarship library.

The Results: Breaking Silos While Building Opportunities

The results of this extended user engagement and representation throughout platform development is a space for educators to share their ideas and reflections, connect with others across our large institution, and engage in ongoing growth in their practice. It uses the community building and user storying functions of a social networking site while combining the resources of a scholarship library and the practice-orientation of a Center for Teaching and Learning into one place where all educators are encouraged to share their expertise and continue learning. This platform has created a centralized digital space at a decentralized institution so employees know where to go for all things “educator development”. With it we’re leveling the playing field, breaking down silos, and opening opportunities for collaboration; all during a time when protecting the health of each other means working remotely.

How we got there:

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The Catalyst: A Grassroots Effort

A small, grassroots effort was launched by one group, graduate students, whose work was very important to the day-to-day efforts of the institution’s teaching and learning outcomes, but who were also often undervalued for their contributions. They started a using a hashtag, #iteachmsu, to build a sense of community and opportunity for ongoing, virtual conversations. This grew into a blog written by graduate educators, for graduate educators housed in the institutions graduate school unit. In recognition of a) the need for a community of contributors to teaching and learning across the institution and b) the success of this grassroots effort on a small scale- we decided to amply the work. We started by identifying and bringing together three centralized units with missions that connected back to teaching and learning outcomes; the Graduate School, the Academic Advancement Network, and the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology. These three units became the project partners, contributing ideas, human capital, and even some financial support.

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The Idea: A Platform For Educators, By Educators

The resulting idea after bringing the partners together was a digital platform meant to function as the place for all conversations related to the practice of teaching and learning at our institution. But some major questions quickly arose from the discussions on this new idea. What should a platform like this actually do? How would it function? What would it look like and how could we ensure it was accessible to all users in our audience? What would the platform’s role be in the context of our greater structure and culture? How would the intended audience of teaching and learning practitioners engage in and with this platform?

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Early adopters: the role of allies

In addition to the project team working on the day-to-day, an advisory group was instituted to expand opportunities for input and feedback. This group was completely voluntary and was active throughout the defining phase, and into the start of the developing phase of the project. The advisory group included additional staff, graduate students, and faculty members, not on the project team. They met every other week to provide ongoing feedback, participate in facilitated ideation activities, and helped the team build their strategy for larger campus outreach. This group constituted the platform’s early allies.

End-Users: The Critical Voice in Prototyping

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Written by

MSU Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology

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