INTRODUCTION: For a number of years, I have been the lead College Success Coordinator at Eastern Florida State College (formerlay Brevard Community College). We coordinators have two roles: one is to maintain and grow the College Success classes taught at the college; the other is to offer faculty development.  With the goal of reaching the greatest number of faculty members and draw on the talent of our colleagues, we created the EFSC College Success Conference: a one-day conference for our faculty, by our faculty.

PURPOSE

  • Promote learner-centered teaching at the college

  • Create a learning community of faculty members

  • Recognize the expertise of our own faculty members

DIRECTIONS

1. Create a Vision: What will the conference look like, how will it work, what will it feel like to attend, who will the participants be, what will the participants want, and what will the participants walk away with?

I envisioned the Success Conference to be a conference for us, by us.  That is, it was important that we—at our college— were the experts.  I wanted the conference to promote active learning, to engage the participants, and to give the participants a wide choice in topics—from personal enrichment to discipline-specific breakout sessions.  It was also crucial that the conference be completely voluntary.  I didn’t want to compromise anyone’s intrinsic desire to attend by making the conference mandatory.

2. Find a Team: A small group of passionate supporters who believe in the vision is a must.

I was fortunate in that, as the College Success Coordinator, I had four highly experienced campus coordinators and a supportive dean.  Each member was enthusiastic about the idea of the conference.  They also had plenty of ideas of their own, and our group discussions made the conference a reality.

3. Convince Administration: Align your conference objectives with your college’s mission, initiatives, and accreditation objectives, and resources will become available.

I wrote a proposal to the Vice President of Academic Affairs and set up a meeting.  I proposed a conference that would run from 8:30 until 3:30.  It would have an opening and closing session and 15 breakout sessions in between (three periods, each offering five one-hour breakout sessions). The VP and his associates very much liked the idea. They saw how the conference would help fulfill college initiatives and goals (e.g., professional development for faculty, learner-centered education, creating learning communities, and so on). The VP agreed that the college could provide a catered lunch and a small stipend to the presenters. 

4. Prepare the Conference: Explore the possibilities, be open, set goals, create timelines, and have back-up plans.

We set a schedule in motion that looked like this:

A. I wrote a Call for Proposals to attract presenters.  In the proposal, I was careful to describe the learner-centered approach that would be modeled and the types of sessions I was looking for (e.g., personal growth, discipline specific, student engagement, etc.). 

B. Our dean reserved a large room—we were aiming for 80 participants: 60 faculty, 20 staff—for the opening and closing sessions, five adjacent classrooms for the breakout sessions, and a caterer for lunch. 

C. Though we initially planned to send the Call for Proposals college-wide, we decided, because of time limitations, to select presenters.  I solicited faculty and staff and assembled a strong variety of 15 educators who not only had worthwhile ideas to share but who were known for their success with students.  These presenters wrote a description of what their sessions offered and an outline of the learner-centered delivery they would use.

D. Once we had the presenters and a place, we arranged the sessions so that in each breakout period participants would have choices relevant to their role.  If the participant was staff, such as an advisor, there would be a session for dealing one-on-one with students or a session on personal growth.  Faculty would have the same choices, plus sessions that addressed classroom and discipline-specific strategies.

E. With the Dean’s help, we worked with the college’s professional development manager to create an online enrollment system.  We gave participants the choice to come to as many or as few breakout sessions as they desired.

F. Because we wanted more involvement of fulltime faculty, we targeted them first with advertisements.  Then we targeted part-time faculty.  And we saved staff until last.  I also wrote a personal invitation and sent it to faculty members who had attended either On Course Workshops or others we’d hosted on campus.  Again, we made it clear that the conference was optional.  We wanted to woo participants with the promise of a positive, engaging experience that would give them the professional or personal growth they desired.

G. A myriad of logistical activities ensued, everything from purchasing three-ring notebooks, creating name tags, creating and printing the contents for the notebooks, posters, and sign-in sheets to ordering audio-visual needs, distributing sign-in sheets and evaluations, finding tablecloths, and directing presenters on how to prepare their materials.

H. We contacted 15 registered participants and asked if they would host a session and handle emergencies and evaluations.  We were in contact with the session presenters and made sure we had their needs met.

I. I prepared the opening and closing sessions that linked all the sessions with the theme of “Educators Who Changed Your Life.” 

The Dean prepared a continental breakfast.  The coordinators greeted participants, gave handouts to the session hosts, and briefed the presenters.  Even participants began to help out.  I delivered the opening session, focusing on educators who changed our lives.  I asked participants to look for strategies and techniques in the breakout sessions that would help them change the lives of their students.  In the closing general session, we debriefed what the participants had learned.  Then, with 20 minutes left, we ended on a positive note: in groups, individuals shared recent victories they’d experienced (in or out of the classroom).  Evaluations were given, and the conference ended.

EXPERIENCES/OUTCOMES

The idea of the conference was welcomed by all who took part in its creation.  From the Vice President of Academic Affairs to session hosts, I sensed by their eagerness to help that they saw the conference as not only a positive influence on the college but also a way they could contribute to that influence. 

Within a week of the first announcements—about four weeks before the conference— we enrolled close to 40 fulltime faculty.  We then opened enrollment to part-time faculty, and the enrollment kept climbing so swiftly we made a decision to hold off on staff enrollment. 

At 8:30, the morning of the conference, we had more than 80 participants present in the morning session and more joined as the day went on.  Between sessions, coordinators reported hearing positive comments in the hallways.  Lunch was a time for colleagues to chat and share, but we had more guests than we’d planned for and food became scarce at the end.  In the final general session, we had about 55 participants.  In all, 106 faculty members participated in at least one session.

In the last general session, we administered evaluations.  The answers, I believe, suggest we met our objectives:

Fifty-one of the 55 present said they would like to attend the conference next year.  Here is additional feedback using the following ratings: 5-strongly agree, 4-agree, 3-disagree, 2-strongly disagree, 1-not applicable

I intend to use some of the strategies learned today in my class.

            5 – 45          4 – 7          3 – 0          2 – 1          1 – 1

The conference was an enriching experience for me.

            5 – 43          4 – 8          3 – 2          2 – 1          1 – 1

We asked short-answer questions.  Below is a sample of answers:

What did you like about the conference?

  • Interacting with colleagues – watching others teach – learning new methods

  • That it was for us by us.  It was an excellent opportunity to benefit from the knowledge of all colleagues.

  • The high quality of presentations and the professionalism of presenters.

  • The energy!  Many of us look forward to this “fix” now that we’ve had a taste of it. 

  • Just what we need at the end of the semester to inspire us and make us glad to be teachers!  It was positive in tone and allowed us to reconnect with people from other campuses.

  • Practical things to actually use in class.  Format – with the breakout sessions.

  • The lack of Talking Heads! The fact that it celebrated our own “experts.”

How could we improve the conference?

  • More sessions!

  • Do it again.  The closing session could be tweaked.

  • Allow more time per individual workshops (i.e.  1 hour and 15 minutes).

  • I cannot think of anything – oh – next time put a general call out for presenters.

  • Only half day

  • Two days/longer sessions

  • Keep sessions in the same building. Do it at the beginning of the term, not at the end.

Other thoughts:

  • Good interaction.  Might incorporate attendees to bring best practice activities as a large group.

  • Thank you for the opportunity to learn and network with my colleagues.

  • It was enlightening to experience the teachers modeling the behaviors they espouse.

  • I really appreciated the opportunity to share knowledge.

The responses were overwhelmingly positive.  The most negative response was “zero” when asked “What did you like about the conference?”  This comment came from a person who felt the conference was mandatory.   In fact, six participants at the final session felt their attendance was required—though we specified that the conference was “first come, first serve” and that it was not mandatory.

Another positive that came from the conference was the sense of accomplishment the breakout-session facilitators felt.  As one facilitator wrote:

This was my first ever “presentation” and I could not have asked for a better experience.  Now that I’ve seen that I can conceive of a topic, pitch it, plan it out and present it to peers, I’ll feel much more confident seeking out presentation opportunities on the state and national level. 

Of the presenters that participated in the conference, five went on to present at the On Course National Conference.

LESSONS LEARNED

The conference reaffirmed to me that faculty members want to engage in meaningful professional development.  They are hungry to experience something new and positive.  They want to grow as professional educators and as human beings.  To succeed, we who are involved in professional development need to tap into that innate desire and nourish it.

I also realized that I could dream something seemingly beyond the scope of my capabilities, plan and coordinate it, and then bring it to life.  I was not always confident that the conference would work.  Would faculty members attend?  How many?  Would they find it meaningful?  But even in my doubts I realized that if I could hold that dream up, if I could see it, then it could happen.  And, of course, it did.

–Mark McBride, Faculty, English & College-Wide Coordinator for the Interdisciplinary College Success, Eastern Florida State College, FL

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