The Role of Faculty in a Red Balloon Era

One of the topics that came up while I was at Fresno was how faculty members respond to changing course designs and new delivery strategies.  As you can imagine, some of the changes are unsettling to many.  But one of the core issues I heard about was the perception that changes in course design and delivery would reduce the centrality of a faculty member’s role.  Some of the response to changes would probably be categorized as worry, but for a few, there probably is suspicion or even paranoia.  I heard one person say that they thought the move to on-line courses was an attempt to reduce the number of faculty, and maybe have something like a “super faculty member” on one of the CSU campuses providing lectures to all of the campuses.

From my perspective, course redesign and Red Balloon changes are not about reducing the centrality of the role of faculty; indeed, it‘s just the opposite.  Instead of faculty engaged in work that can be done using technology (which is inevitably routine work), faculty are freed up to focus more of their time on students and student learning.  My own phrase for this is: faculty will devote less time to delivering courses, and more time to designing learning environments for students (and some of those learning environments, I suspect, will not have faculty present at all).  I suspect that what we’ll see is faculty involved in new roles.  I think we’ll still see some faculty members involved in delivering instruction but other faculty members will be involved in designing learning environments, managing other instructors, analyzing learning outcome data, and other largely newer faculty roles.  In my presentation, I predict that two things will dominate the change agenda in higher education:  the focus on student learning outcomes, and changes in faculty roles.  Having said that, however, I think that faculty members, as both content and pedagogical experts, have to be at the heart of any new configuration of course design and delivery.

For me, the question is about changing roles for faculty members, not eliminating them from the educational process.  Take another profession, health care.  Despite rapid changes in the use of technology, and changes in culture of health care delivery, the core role of physicians has not diminished; indeed, the role of physicians has grown increasingly important.  But few would argue that their role has remained the same.  I recently saw the PowerPoint slides from a presentation entitled “Higher Education and the Future of American Health Care” by Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., President and CEO, Association of American Medical Colleges (Washington, D.C., November 2, 2010).  In the presentation, Kirch describes “An Emerging Culture for Health Care” as moving from:

1.      Hierarchal to Collaborative

2.      Autonomous to Team-Based

3.      Competitive to Service-Based

4.      Individualistic to Mutually Accountable

5.      Expert-centered to Patient-centered

That list of changes to the culture seems oddly familiar.  I believe that the pressures of the 21st century will bring dramatic changes to the culture of higher education, and increasingly, the changes described by Dr. Kirch will be some of the changes we experience in the academy as well.  Yet changing roles is a far cry from eliminating roles.


About George L Mehaffy

Vice President, Academic Leadership and Change at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).
This entry was posted in George's Campus and Conference Visits, Red Balloon General Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Role of Faculty in a Red Balloon Era

  1. shouppeg says:

    Good post George; its all about student learning…not us.

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