David Wiley, PhD, Chief Academic Officer

Today is a major milestone for Lumen as we announce a professional development offering for higher education faculty called Lumen Circles. Let me share with you how we got here, what it means, and why we’re doing it now.

In Lumen’s Beginning, There Was OER 

In 2010 Kim Thanos and I began working together to improve the success of US postsecondary students by helping their faculty adopt open educational resources (OER). In 2012 we created Lumen so we could focus full-time on providing faculty with easy-to-adopt packages of OER and supplemental materials (like quiz banks and Powerpoints) in a platform designed to make revising and remixing easy. This approach consistently saved students money, but more often than not made no impact on students’ academic success. And while making college more affordable is incredibly important, we were forced to admit that helping faculty swap out traditionally copyrighted textbooks for open textbooks was not making the impact we left our previous jobs in order to create.

Then Came Effective Support for Learning

In 2014 Lumen began working on OER courseware. This approach allowed us to integrate OER more deeply into instructional designs grounded in learning science research, and do things like provide immediate, distractor-specific feedback during interactive practice, make real-time updates to personalized study plans that support students’ metacognitive development, and effectively spread out students’ practice of key concepts. This approach also enabled us to provide faculty with more effective teaching supports, like one-click emails that let students know the specific learning outcomes they’re struggling with and that invite them to come to office hours (face-to-face or online) to work through those issues together with their faculty. 

While this OER-based approach still saves students money, it also improves their academic success more reliably. (For example, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have demonstrated that the learning effect of doing interactive practice is more than 6x greater than the learning effect of reading static content or watching videos.) But even as successful as this approach is proving to be, we all feel deeply that there’s a significant amount of work yet to be done to improve student success.

Next Up: Support for Effective Teaching

This thinking about other work to be done has been making its way into my talks and blogging for a while now. This recent post is a good example:

Improving affordability is a critically important step, but it should not be our end goal. Our end goal must be consistently and reliably improving student learning and other measures of student success. These success measures only improve consistently and reliably when faculty and student engagement in effective teaching and learning practices increases. And changing faculty’s pedagogical habits and students’ study habits is much more complicated than changing the course materials they use. 

Building research-based pedagogical features into OER courseware can definitely help students engage more consistently in effective learning practices. But what about teachers? At Lumen we’ve always believed that the teacher has a larger role to play in supporting student success than their course materials do – that teachers are more important than textbooks – but how do you help faculty engage more consistently in effective teaching practices? 

The traditional answer to this question on wealthier campuses has been lunch-hour workshops run by the teaching and learning center (often with the added incentive of a free meal for attendees) combined with a travel budget that allows faculty to attend conferences. On other campuses, the answer might be a much smaller travel budget that allows each faculty member to attend a single regional event each year. And for the ever-growing population of adjunct faculty, which now makes up over half of all faculty in US higher education, too often the answer is that there’s no formal support at all. 

On reflection, the state of faculty professional development is not unlike the state of the textbook market. All students need access to effective, affordable course materials, but those students at the greatest risk of not succeeding academically often face the greatest challenges in getting them. Similarly, all faculty need access to effective, affordable professional development. But again, those faculty who most need sustained, effective support in their teaching often face the greatest challenges in getting it.

Lumen Circles: An Effective, Scalable Model for Faculty Professional Development

That brings us up to the present. Lumen’s primary goal is still improving student success. We’re making good progress on this front by supporting students’ engagement with effective learning practices in our OER courseware. But we know we can’t facilitate the degree of improvement in student success we’re aiming for by working with course materials alone. 

So today we’re announcing “Lumen Circles.” Lumen Circles is a multi-week, facilitated professional development experience for US higher education faculty. Using a strengths-based approach drawn from appreciative inquiry, faculty who participate in Lumen Circles develop skills, put them into practice in their classes, reflect on their experiences, and share feedback and support with other faculty. A structured reflection process is the core of the experience, where faculty explicitly connect their own teaching to evidence-based practices like caring, inclusiveness, and community-building (see below). Initially, faculty will be able to choose between circles focused on online teaching; active learning; OER and open pedagogy; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and evidence-based teaching. 

A list of 20 evidence based teaching and learning practices

The 20 evidence based teaching and learning practices faculty work with in Lumen Circles.

The Lumen Circles model is based on the extensive research on successful faculty professional development in higher education reported by Gail Mellow (then president of LaGuardia Community College), Marisa Klages-Bombich (a professor at LaGuardia), and Diana Woolis and Susan Restler (co-founders of Knowledge in the Public Interest) in their book Taking College Teaching Seriously: Pedagogy Matters. Lumen recently acquired the technology platform underlying Lumen Circles from Faculty Guild, a platform designed specifically to support the approach described in TCTS. And to be clear – Lumen Circles is for all faculty. You don’t need to adopt Lumen’s courseware in order to participate. 

Why Now?

As I described above, we’ve been exploring the idea of how to support faculty in applying effective teaching practices for a while. And frankly, there has always been a need for professional development that fit somewhere between an hour-long lunch workshop and a masters degree in education. So why are we launching Lumen Circles now? The short answer is: the pandemic. In our conversations over the last several months we have seen that institutions are feeling increased urgency with regard to professional development for their faculty and that faculty themselves have a new appetite for professional development that will support them as they teach in unexpected ways. Lumen Circles is designed to help faculty develop the skills, experience, community, and confidence they need to adopt and adapt effective teaching practices in support of their students’ success all the time – not just during the pandemic.

Adding a professional development offering for faculty to Lumen’s catalog of offerings creates a much greater opportunity for Lumen to positively impact student success. It allows us to work on the problem of improving student success from both sides – supporting faculty directly with professional development at the same time we support students directly with OER courseware. This integration of courseware and professional development will transform Lumen into a very different kind of company – not a “learning company” as some have rebranded themselves lately, but a true teaching AND learning company. I’m incredibly excited to see how this integrated approach will help us improve student success.

Join me for a webinar to learn more about what we’re doing with Lumen Circles.
What: Introducing Lumen Circles: Supporting Faculty and Effective Teaching
When: Thursday, 6/25/2020, 12 noon ET / 9 am PT
Register: Use this link