Supporting Learning Design as a Driver for Pedagogical Innovation Within an Integrated Model of Faculty Development

Supporting Learning Design as a Driver for Pedagogical Innovation Within an Integrated Model of Faculty Development

Maria Ranieri (University of Florence, Italy), Juliana Elisa Raffaghelli (Open University of Catalonia, Spain) and Isabella Bruni (University of Florence, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8476-6.ch005


Research on faculty development supporting pedagogical innovation has gained momentum since effective teaching and learning are deemed a central piece for the modernization of higher education. However, the field is still characterized by a low level of conceptualization, fragmented approaches, and unclear strategies on organizational level. This chapter concentrates on the DIDe-L case, a strategic program of faculty development promoted by the University of Florence and based on an integrated approach to training. Specifically, it focuses on the “e-Learning Desk,” an institutional service ensuring instructional coaching for learning design. Through the analysis of teachers' reactions and renewed practices, the authors aim at exploring what institutional and organizational conditions may prevent or facilitate pedagogical innovation and change. Results showed that the approach characterizing the service had a positive impact on teachers' growth, although institutional obstacles like lack of recognition or support still prevent teachers to fully deploy pedagogical innovations.
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Faculty professional development (FPD) has received renewed attention in recent years both from an institutional and a theoretical point of view. International organizations such as the OECD (Hénard & Roseveare, 2012) or the High-Level Group on the Modernization of Higher Education (McAleese et al., 2013) or the European ministries contributing to the Yerevan Communiqué (EHEA, 2015) recommended that public institutions encourage the improvement of quality teaching and learning through specific FDP policies and initiatives, including the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) (EHEA, 2015). There are several reasons for this. Basically, FPD is associated with a “mindset change” that goes beyond knowledge, which addresses desirable innovations in teaching practices, supported by technological availability, such as personalizing learning, improving accessibility, creating more engaging learning environments and contents, analyzing the learning processes and giving feedback, etc. All in all, more engaging and effective learning in higher education can be connected to innovative learning environments (Hénard & Roseveare, 2012).

Along with this call for the renewal of academic pedagogies, existing literature reviews (Amundsen & Wilson, 2012; Meyer, 2014; Phuong, Cole & Zarestky, 2018; Stes et al., 2010) highlight the weaknesses of current FDP programs which are commonly based on short-term, workshop-based activities. On the contrary, effective programs should last a significant period of time and require trainees to take “an active role in the development process through implementing strategies, observing other instructors, and receiving feedback” (Czajka & David McConnell, 2016, p. 2). Teachers’ active engagement is crucial, especially when coming to the technological innovation of educational practices. As observed more than ten years ago by Collins and Berge (2003, p. 21): “In higher education, the most common model for course development involves faculty designing and redesigning their courses themselves […]. At the very least, teaching and learning using technology require a different type of course presentation compared to in-person classes. Technology can serve as a catalyst for redesigning […]. The role of the instructor, the instructional methods used, and the learners’ practice activities must often be changed to take advantage of a particular delivery system’s characteristic strengths.”

While the challenges of pedagogical and technological innovation at the university level are well known, there emerges a relatively low level of conceptualization of theoretical notions, a number of different models developed by every single institution, and unclear strategies to evaluate the impact of training programs, among other issues. Specifically, the effectiveness of professional learning methods is not characterized in the broader context of the organizational development required by the universities in the digital era. Most often, the methods are described in an isolated way and the teachers “blamed” for their reluctance to adopt existing technologies like Learning Management Systems, various educational technologies or social network sites (Manca & Ranieri, 2016).

Key Terms in this Chapter

E-Learning: Refers to electronic learning and applies to diverse forms of mediated learning experiences based on the use of digital tools to enhance teaching and learning.

Faculty Development: An intentional process by which faculty members work in a systematic way to improve their skills in the following domains: educational skills; leadership skills; skills necessary to engage in scholarly activities, and personal development; and skills in designing and implementing a professional development plan.

Design Thinking: A method to trigger creative processes to generate solutions for ill-defined problems. It encompasses decision making, prototyping and sketching as designer activities. It characterizes the methodological approach in those disciplines that design products and processes (like engineering, architecture, and chemistry, but also in education).

Teaching Practices: The teacher/group of teachers’ activities which are based on pedagogical principles, professional, factual and contextual knowledge, as well as a professional identity.

Professional Learning: Diversified approaches to learning within the work context of practice, which leads to the achievement of specific knowledge and skills as well as to build a professional identity.

Pedagogical Innovation: Experimental activities undertaken in educational contexts that test new approaches to teaching and learning. Pedagogical innovation can be theory-driven, pragmatic, or both, based on the perception of educational problems that the experimental innovation aims to solve.

Instructional Coaching: A one-to-one process of supporting others to get to a higher level of performance, by providing feedback, encouragement, and raising awareness.

Learning Design: The approach and set of techniques adopted by teachers and instructional designers to plan, represent and visualize teaching and learning processes before implementing activities.

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