Carrots and Sticks

As some regular readers may know, I’m the Director of the Teaching and Learning Center on my campus. Technically, the Center is called the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) but part of the mission is “to provide professional development across the teaching-learning scholarship spectrum.” One of the main challenges I face in this role is getting my colleagues to engage with professional development. A few years ago, I wrote a post based on Wergin’s 2001 article titled Beyond Carrots and Sticks: What Really Motivates Faculty. In the article, Wergin identifies four common factors that motivate faculty on collegiate campuses. The article reviewed forty years of research and identified community, autonomy, recognition, and efficacy as the dominant factors influencing faculty motivation. When planning professional development sessions on campus, I try to intentionally attend to these factors and, for the most part, I’ve had some degree of success. Some sessions and activities are well-attended. Others, however, are not. With the busy lives that many faculty have, I recognize that some of my colleagues find it difficult to participate in the professional development opportunities that the Center offers.

I’ve been thinking a lot about carrots and sticks lately. Our institution recently adopted an open textbook program that incentivizes faculty who switch from traditional textbooks to open ones. I wrote about this program earlier this year. While the program definitely attended to the factors of community, autonomy, recognition, and efficacy, we also provided monetary incentives. In line with other OER initiatives nationally, we offered a group of sixteen faculty members $1000 each to transition their syllabi from the traditional text to the open one. While I’d like to think the motivational factors that Wergin discussed played a major role in the success of the program, the carrots were definitely effective in getting faculty to volunteer for the program and engage with the professional development activities that our group offered. Put simply, the carrots worked.

I worry about the incentives, though. I realize that in our current economic climate that incentivizing the program isn’t sustainable. While our university is supporting a second wave of open textbook adopters this spring, I doubt they can continue to fund an incentivized open textbook program long term. What happens then? Will faculty continue to do the hard work of adopting OERs when the incentives are no longer available? I’d like to think they will, but I don’t know.

But I also worry whether a “stick” approach could take its place. For example, many institutions mandate professional development, requiring that faculty attend diversity training or participate in online teaching workshops. I’ve often found that these mandated approaches come at a greater cost than financial incentives would. Aspects like campus climate and faculty satisfaction are undoubtedly impacted when institutions and administrators mandate change to occur. While these costs are less quantifiable, they still have an impact on the work and success of faculty on campus. I also worry about the effectiveness of a “stick” approach. When an initiative such as professional development is mandated, faculty are less willing to engage during the activities and are less likely to apply what they learn to their classrooms (Feldman & Ng, 2012). While attendance numbers may go up through mandated professional development, the larger impact is probably unrealized.

At the start of Wergin’s article, he asks “How do we create environments most conducive to productive faculty life?” Even in this era of innovation and rapid change, I think we’re still working to answer this question.

Feldman, D. C. and Ng, T. W. H. (2012), ‘Participation in continuing education programs: antecedents, consequences, and implications’, in M. London (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Lifelong Learning (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 180–94.

Wergin, J. F. (2001). Beyond Carrots and Sticks: What Really Motivates Faculty. Liberal Education, 87(1), 50-53.


3 thoughts on “Carrots and Sticks

  1. Interesting post as usual Ollie! I wonder if it would be possible to do a survey of our faculty to see what motivated us to participate or the reasons why others didn’t apply to participate. I know for me, I was interested in heading in this direction anyway with all of the student rationale as my incentives (lower costs for them, increase access and equity, etc.). I just needed the extra push and social support from other like-minded peers who I respect and who inspire my pedagogy. Knowing I would be assigned a coach to help me figure out the details was a huge motivator for me. Seeing the other faculty that were involved in the group and knowing they would inspire me to do better things was another big motivator. It didn’t hurt that it might look good on a CV for reappointment/tenure/promotion at some point. The actual financial incentive motivated me very little. In fact, I often think that money will go untouched because I have no idea how to access it and think it might end up being more time filling out the forms to use it. 😜 I imagine that is similar for a good majority of the group. There might be a few others who did it for the stipend, but I would bet that is actually a much smaller portion of the group.

    When I used to train teachers to be peer-consultants in their schools, they needed time to consult with one another. To do so, they often had to give up their lunch or plan time to meet with their peers. To recognize this time, we worked with principals who would give a “G.O.O.S.E.” (Get out of school early pass). This was a pass for the principal or someone on the admin team to cover your class for the last hour of the day so you could leave early or do planning/grading, etc. It was a recognition that your time mattered and was meant as an incentive. This got many teachers excited about teaming with one another (which in turn improved student outcomes in tangible ways). Almost noone ever cashed in their GOOSE’s. It was very interesting to see and a sign that if the work is meaningful and leads to improved student outcomes, it becomes its own incentive.

    The brown bags that the CAE holds on campus are another good indicator. They aren’t mandatory or paid, but they get a good turnout when the topic and presenter are of value. Camp IDEA is the same thing. We aren’t paid to attend. In fact, I paid to stay in a hotel that week so I could reduce my daily commute (I have a far commute!). I did that because I had heard what an amazing training it was because it included direct models/examples and time to work on your own instruction/planning with the support of others. I think the real incentive for folks for PD is good quality training that feels meaningful for our own practice and student benefit. I think the real challenge is finding ways to offer high quality PD experiences that are closely matched to faculty perceived and real needs. I can only imagine the amount of time it took you all to plan a training of the level of Camp Idea!

    Another factor is helping free up people’s time and reducing barriers so they can attend, which is probably the more difficult hurdle. I know, for me, I want to attend any and all PD put out by the CAE. It all looks so good! The common hour is tough for me. I have classes on either end, usually in a different building, so I often have to choose between bathroom, lunch, and looking bad arriving late/leaving early in order to attend the session. I’m not sure what the answer is for this, but thinking about when and how we offer the PD options would likely lead to increased PD use more than offering financial incentive.

    I agree with you. I don’t think the stick approach works well. I would actually propose that it isn’t carrots and sticks, but instead carrots and hurdles. It is always a cost-benefit analysis for faculty and teacher PD consumers. To increase engagement, I think it is all about increasing the carrots (benefits – perceived and actual value) and reducing the hurdles (personal costs -time).

    Thanks for your blog. It is always a refreshing and thought provoking read! I like knowing that others on campus think about this stuff as much as I do!

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