Tennessee Tech launches robust strategic program for faculty development

Tech faculty members attend a course design workshop offered by the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. The university is expanding its faculty professional development efforts with the new Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence.

COOKEVILLE – Tennessee Tech has launched its new Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence (CAFÉ) as a way to provide professional development opportunities for Tech’s professors, with one goal in mind: to better serve students.

“The vision of the CAFÉ is to provide a central place for faculty members to connect with professional development opportunities to advance excellence in the faculty role and further advance the vision and mission of Tennessee Tech University,” said Bedelia Russell, interim associate provost for Online Education and Faculty Excellence. “These opportunities include both instructional and non-instructional aspects of a faculty member’s role at the university.”

The center’s faculty development programs are structured in the areas of teaching and learning, research and scholarly activities, career and leadership development, engagement and diversity.

The CAFÉ is an outcome of the Tech Tomorrow strategic plan, which identified four key goals to guide university planning and growth. The CAFÉ addresses each of the goals.

But supporting faculty members through a central location is not new to Tech. In 2016, the university established a central place to provide all faculty members with a support system to help them strengthen their teaching skills and stay abreast of new teaching pedagogy, research and instructional technologies.

“Tech faculty members are experts in their fields,” said Provost Lori Mann Bruce. “But teaching methods and educational delivery technologies are rapidly changing. This puts Tech’s faculty members in the difficult position of striving to be leaders in their field while working to keep up-to-date on new pedagogical theories and models. We opened the original center to help address this by providing the faculty with resources and support, such as workshops and easily accessible teaching research, to help them better serve students.”

Bruce wanted to expand support services to faculty members beyond what was offered by the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. While teaching and learning support was already available, she knew there was more to faculty professional development than that. She conceptualized a center that could connect faculty with existing and new opportunities in research and scholarly activities, career support and leadership development – all important parts of a faculty member’s career that takes place outside of the classroom.

The concept was developed through the Tech Tomorrow Strategic Plan efforts by collaboration and analysis across all four of the plan’s faculty-led working groups.

In fall 2019, two separate tasks forces examined the CAFÉ structure further, in the context of other strategic planning priorities, and the position of Associate Provost for Online Education and Faculty Excellence was created with the Associate Provost to serve as the director of CAFÉ, with the support services previously offered by the CITL being a cornerstone of the new center.

Because of Tech’s early and immediate movements in building the infrastructure to support CAFÉ, the university was better prepared than many universities when the pandemic struck: it had already added and filled two instructional design positions that greatly helped faculty members rapidly move their classes online in spring 2020, and design both online and hybrid courses for the fall 2020 semester.

The new center has already fundamentally transformed university support of faculty by developing and executing a year-long orientation series for new faculty, covering a wide variety of topics and issues to help those new to campus.

“All the support and resources we put toward faculty development is to help our faculty members to achieve excellence in not just their fields, but in their ability to teach and serve our students,” said Tennessee Tech President Phil Oldham. “Whether it is through their teaching, their research, or their leadership at Tech, a stronger faculty provides a better experience for students.”

To learn more about the CAFÉ and its programs, visit tntech.edu/cafe.

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