Component B: The organization values and supports effective teaching.
Effective teaching and strong classroom interaction are vital to the success of both the institution and its students. The faculty at VCSU demonstrate a personal and genuine concern for their students' personal and intellectual development and career success. They are committed to continuous improvement and professional development to strengthen both course content and the practice of teaching.
Faculty quality is documented by credential files, by self-evaluation, and by student and peer assessment. Policy V605.1
outlines the expectations for faculty credentials, to include a terminal degree for tenured faculty, except in cases where the academic discipline area recognizes the appropriateness of other, professional qualifications. For example, a faculty member in Teacher Education may have completed 15 years of public school teaching experience, or a faculty member in Business may have an industry-recognized certification that qualifies him/her to provide the desired depth of knowledge and experience necessary for students new to that professional field.
About ten years ago, the administration made a strong effort to increase terminal-degreed faculty at VCSU, by making completion of the doctorate contractually required for tenure. This effort has had its desired effect: in 2001, 42% of the faculty had a terminal degree; today 63% have a doctorate or recognized terminal master's degree.
Table 6.2 outlines faculty qualifications by division, for all full-time tenure and tenure-track faculty; of those with non-terminal degrees, half are currently enrolled in doctoral programs.
The impact of this decision to require a terminal degree of all faculty as a condition for tenure has been largely positive, as faculty engaged in doctoral studies requiring research and writing also bring these experiences into the classroom, providing current content information and increasing course rigor.
Three drawbacks, however, brought the Academic Policy and Affairs Council (APAC) to reconsider this decision and led to the development of the "professionally qualified" provision in V605.1
. First, the requirement places other faculty in a program under significant strain, as they must carry the committee work and other business of the University. Second, the new faculty member is faced with a burdensome load and conflicting responsibilities - to become part of the VCSU community, it is vital to participate in university activities, and tenure requires service to the University, while at the same time, the faculty member is a student, with a contractual obligation to complete the doctoral program in a designated time frame. Third, a series of challenging searches with small applicant pools and rejected offers have demonstrated the difficulty of hiring doctorally qualified faculty in some areas.
The "professionally qualified" provision was first used for hiring and contract revision in Spring 2011, so its impact on faculty credentials and effective classroom instruction remains open for review. However, the faculty remain committed to seeking doctorally qualified candidates as their first choice. Of the five full-time new faculty hired for 2011-12 academic year, all of whom responded to national searches for these positions, three have completed doctorates, one has nationally-recognized professional certifications in his teaching field, and one will complete her doctorate as part of her contractual agreement for tenure. If this hiring trend continues, the "professionally qualified" provision may strengthen VCSU's academic programs by providing some industry-related experience while generally supporting the desire for doctoral qualifications.
Full Graduate faculty are full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty who hold terminal degrees and have backgrounds in education. Adjunct faculty who meet these requirements, and qualified non-tenured faculty, may be granted Associate Graduate faculty status, which must be reviewed and renewed yearly by the Graduate Council. Policy and procedures governing Graduate faculty status may be found in V400.1 (Graduate Policies and Procedures)
Full Graduate faculty advise graduate students, teach 600-level courses, and chair student committees. Associate members of the Graduate faculty may teach 600-level courses in their degree or specialized areas of expertise, advise graduate students, serve on student committees, and participate as non-voting members of the graduate faculty. Currently VCSU has 25 Graduate faculty members and 9 Associate Graduate faculty (7 of these are adjunct faculty).
Graduate faculty status recognizes a faculty member's teaching and research qualifications that enable him or her to conduct graduate level instruction and to supervise and direct graduate student research and scholarship. The Graduate faculty are expected to contribute to the advancement of knowledge, the practice of teaching, and service to the institution and discipline.
Because consistency and quality of instruction provide the best learning environment, VCSU has a long tradition of minimizing the use of adjunct professors. Adjunct faculty must meet the same minimum hiring expectations as full-time faculty; that is, they must have a master's degree in their teaching area. This requirement has historically limited the number of adjuncts available, as part-time faculty are rarely interested in driving from Fargo to Valley City, and the pool of master-degreed residents in Valley City remains low. Adjunct faculty are subject to student evaluations each term and complete an annual faculty evaluation process with the supervising division chair (Policy V605.1.2)
. Student comments, syllabi, and peer reviews are scrutinized carefully, to assure consistency and effective instruction. Files for adjunct faculty are maintained in the Academic Affairs Office.
During the 2010-11 academic year, the adjunct budget of $328,078 represented 10 percent of the total dollars allocated to faculty salaries. Of this amount, two-fifths was paid to true part-time instruction, and three-fifths to full-time faculty accepting overload assignments. Ten years ago, only 6% of the salary dollars went to the adjunct budget, and three-quarters of the adjunct budget was paid to true part-time instruction. Since adjunct and overload assignments are paid the same amount per credit hour, it appears that the number of course offerings has increased, while the use of adjunct instruction has decreased. This can be explained in part by unusually quick growth over the past two years, and the need to respond by offering faculty overload since qualified adjuncts are hard to find in this rural region. Whether by choice or necessity, VCSU's program growth in the Graduate School and online programs has rested primarily in the hands of its full-time faculty.
Since the current increase in enrollment, especially in Education, has required the addition of some adjunct-led coursework and significant overload for faculty, the administration has responded promptly in recent years to approve several full-time positions to alleviate faculty overloads and maintain program strengths. Some of these are one-year, special appointments, and some are tenure-track, depending on the program, salary resources, and actual on-campus growth. Given the difficulty in attracting qualified adjunct faculty, managing growth has been problematic, with the use of one-year, special appointments seen as the best solution at this point in many cases.
VCSU uses course evaluations, peer reviews, and self-assessment processes to assure continuous improvement and teaching excellence.
Student Course Evaluations
VCSU has long required student evaluation of one course per year for tenure-track and non-tenure track employees; division chairs indicate these evaluations are used for faculty growth, evaluation for promotion and tenure, and student satisfaction. Student course evaluation procedures have varied from division. Some divisions required all courses every semester to be evaluated. Some used paper forms that were then tabulated by administrative assistants and work-study students. Others used computer versions through Blackboard and Zoomerang.
The Academic Policy and Affairs Council (APAC) noted that the inconsistent use of these evaluations resulted in a number of problems: faculty "cherry-picking" their best classes for evaluation; the impossibility of campus-wide, or even program-wide comparisons; and the possible avoidance of student evaluations altogether by tenured faculty in some divisions, leaving students with few means of communicating their concerns. These problems led APAC to review several proprietary products available for course evaluations via computer, and to the decision to contract with CoursEval in Spring 2010. During that semester, a faculty group with divisional representation crafted a set of questions, which were approved by APAC and piloted during Summer term 2010.
The program was fully implemented in Fall 2010, with the requirement that all courses be evaluated every semester. The resulting baseline data has already proved useful in several ways. For example, in several campus forums during Fall 2010, students expressed concern over timely response to student work. At the end of Fall term, the "campus report card" from CoursEval, which summarizes scores from all courses, noted this item as the most significant concern campus-wide; the other lower scoring item concerned innovative instruction. Faculty were asked to maintain their gradebook in Blackboard and urged to attend brown bag seminars during the term to "refresh" their teaching, with a focus on improving these two scores on the Spring 2011 report card. Both scores went up, although the "I knew where I stood" student concern item remains the lowest score on the report card.
Another use for these campus-wide scores has been the opportunity for faculty to measure themselves against the campus mean, to determine where their strengths and weaknesses might be according to the experience students report in their classes. This has proved useful for peer evaluation processes this spring and can be seen in some tenured faculty reflective self-assessments, as well.
After a year of implementation, there appear to be some wording improvements necessary, and APAC will use student focus groups next fall to assist in improving the instrument.
Tenure-Track Faculty Evaluation
Tenure-track faculty are evaluated annually by their peers, using the process described in V605.1.2
(Evaluation) and V605.1.1
(Tenure - for use during the tenure year). First-year faculty are evaluated in the spring. Faculty in their second to fifth years are evaluated in the fall. The process is overseen by the division's chair, who establishes a peer review committee. Evaluations include classroom observations, student evaluations, reflective statements, and evaluation by the peer review committee members. The reflective statements include discussion of the faculty member's teaching philosophy, scholarship, and service to the organization and community. Faculty and committee members discuss the evaluation and make recommendations for improvement and continued employment. The division chair then reviews and comments on the evaluation and recommends or does not recommend continued employment. The faculty member can submit material or responses to the formal evaluation. Evaluations are forwarded to the Vice President of Academic Affairs, and then to the President of the University.
In their sixth year, faculty members eligible for tenure follow the same peer review process; they also create a digital portfolio, which is assessed first by the divisional tenure committee, and then by the Academic Policy and Affairs Council, which acts as the University tenure committee. The Council's recommendation is submitted to the President, who in turn makes recommendations to the State Board of Higher Education. The State Board of Higher Education makes final decisions regarding tenure.
In accordance with NDUS policy 605.1
(section 6) all faculty members must undergo annual evaluation. Tenured faculty members complete a reflective self-evaluation that discusses their course, scholarly, and service accomplishments for the year and sets up goals for the upcoming year (V605.1.2)
. The evaluation must be accompanied by a composite summary of student evaluations from CoursEval. This evaluation is reviewed by the Division Chair and the Vice President of Academic Affairs.
Faculty Evaluation Policy Review Process
The peer review process described here is central to strengthening teaching at VCSU. For the past three years, the Academic Policy and Affairs Council has met each June to review the evaluation process just completed and make efforts to improve the process and tools used. The first year, the group clarified the policy requirements and defined expectations for promotion; the second year they established the "professionally qualified" track and standardized the use of CoursEval for faculty review. During Summer 2011 they revised a rubric to assist faculty and peer committees in discussing acceptable and target performance for each of the criteria areas. There are still areas to work on: the post-tenure review process currently relies almost entirely on faculty self-reflection, and the peer review committees need more tools and training to improve their supportive, but evaluative, role.
Professional Development and Pedagogical Support
Valley City State University is known for its innovative educational uses of technology. Since 1997, all faculty members and students have been issued laptop computers. The campus became wireless in 2004. Each classroom is equipped with an overhead projection system capable of projecting the computer screen. Most rooms also include VCR capability; computers include DVD capability. Many classrooms also have SMARTBoards. Classrooms have cameras that can capture and project hard copies of papers; additionally they have wireless microphones. Each computer now has a web camera. Students also have access to camcorders, scanners, printers, digital cameras, and other equipment. All faculty and staff have access to Blackboard. Beginning in 2009, faculty could choose between PCs and Macs; in Fall 2011, students in targeted programs (Music, Spanish, Library Science, and Art) will also have Macs.
VCSU faculty's primary role is teaching, with most contracts calling for a 12 credit per semester teaching load that is 80% of the contractual duties. At a local level, VCSU provides numerous faculty development and support opportunities. These activities include
- Orientation activities for new faculty
- Mentors for new faculty
- Grants for travel to professional conferences and workshops
- Mini-grants for up to $1,500 to enhance student learning with technology
- Weekly brown bag seminars sponsored by the Instructional Design Team
- Training opportunities sponsored by IT or Instructional Designer
- Library training for information literacy tools
- Division-housed brown bag or lunch lectures
- Welcome Week workshops
- Summer Institutes and workshops on assessment, technology, and/or pedagogical issues
New faculty are paired with mentors, who provide support in both adjusting to the culture of the University and to the expectations of faculty members. Additionally, mentors provide assistance in managing the classroom equipment, course development on Blackboard, and projects designed to demonstrate specified Abilities in the classrooms.
In 2007, VCSU hired an Instructional Designer to assist faculty in improving online instruction. In addition, this position supported a variety of training opportunities, including the use of new technologies, such as Panopto, smart boards, and Wimba, and workshops on tools (such as Wimba) and programs (for example, Blogger). The instructional designer also worked with faculty to establish best practices for online teaching, and, with the Online Standards Committee, to develop the online standards booklet, which provides guidelines for effective online teaching.
When this position became vacant in Summer 2010, VCSU hired an interim, part-time director from the faculty and experimented with providing instructional design services through a faculty Design Team, one from each division, who were responsible for supporting faculty instructional technology needs in their area. The experiment was largely a success and will continue in Fall 2011 with clearer guidelines. The Interim Director successfully provided guidance for the Design Team, organized a number of useful workshops, instituted a popular, weekly brown bag seminar on teaching and technology issues, and assisted in helping faculty and students prepare for continuity of instruction in the event of a campus evacuation due to a flood similar to the 2009 event. The position is currently open, and will include other duties related to online program administration, when it is advertised late this summer.
Each summer, VCSU offers faculty a variety of workshop activities focused on assessment, student portfolios, and technology needs. Often a small group of faculty will become beta testers of new software. In 2010, four faculty members and an administrator tested Blackboard 9.0, then trained others and were available to assist others as they transitioned to the new version of Blackboard. Welcome Week, the week in August before classes begin, also offers workshops for faculty on programs, such as Blackboard, educational tools, such as digital portfolios, and educational resources, such as Web 2.0 tools and the library.
Faculty members are actively involved in state, regional, national, and international professional organizations. This activity is documented in their annual self-evaluations.
Faculty members have held offices, peer-reviewed papers for conferences, and edited or been on the editorial board for scholarly publications. In addition, faculty have attended conferences sponsored by these professional organizations, where they have presented research, attended panels of others' research, and participated in short courses and pre-conferences on topics of teaching and research. Faculty may apply for travel money to support these activities, which is allocated by the Faculty Development Committee.
Several faculty are also involved with NCATE-related accreditation review boards in their discipline areas, bringing this expertise and knowledge of best practice back to VCSU's programs for improved curricular development.
Evaluation of Core Component 3b
VCSU values and supports effective teaching. The institution demonstrates this support through its evaluation system, support of professional development, and pedagogical support. Faculty are available to students and each other ubiquitously. The institution is committed to strong online learning and providing resources for faculty to develop online learning.
Strengths: VCSU provides ample opportunities for faculty growth in course development and in technology implementation. Digital portfolios alleviate the volumes of paperwork involved in attaining tenure. The institution provides support for faculty development opportunities, including attending professional conferences and seminars. Many faculty members are active with their disciplines' state, regional, and national organizations. The systematic evaluation provides opportunity for faculty reflection.
New Initiatives: The institution is making strides to assure quality online courses, as well as making available technology to deliver the courses synchronously face to face or online. The Online Standards Committee has created a process for ensuring quality in online courses. Each division and school has its own instructional designer, a faculty member with a 3-credit release, to train, answer questions, and trouble shoot difficulties. This design team has created learning opportunities for faculty through weekly Brown Bag seminars.
Challenges: While VCSU is technologically savvy, not all faculty members take advantage of the opportunities made available by the technology. Training is offered, but not always widely attended. Faculty have a variety of tools to use, but do not always implement them in their courses. New faculty members face a steep learning curve their first semester as they must deal with not only their courses, but also the new technology and how to integrate it into their courses. Additionally, online learning and educational technology have been the focus of most workshops and training initiatives. Best practices and methods for face-to-face courses should also be developed, with workshops or mentorships in these areas.