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.