The Reflective Practice Project at IUP

What is Reflective Practice (RP) at IUP?

It is a group of approximately two hundred IUP faculty members who devote some of their time during the year to reflect upon their teaching. There is a monthly series of large RP group meetings. These are mini-workshops by campus “experts” in various teaching strategies or other topics related to the teaching process. There is also an opportunity for faculty members to set up cross-disciplinary or department teaching circles in which a common topic or theme is explored. There is a Saturday workshop each semester in which outside experts in teaching are brought to campus to speak on some issue in teaching and learning. There is a recognition dinner at the end of the academic year. Resource materials that focus on various topics related to reflective teaching are maintained by the Center for Teaching Excellence. Funding is provided to support teaching circles through an annual mini-grant competition each fall semester.

How did the Reflective Practice (RP) get started?

This initiative is the result of two State System of Higher Education Institutional Incentive Grants submitted by faculty members who were alumni of the SSHE Summer Academy for the Advancement of College Teaching. In addition, the IUP provost and the academic deans gave considerable financial and moral support toward implementation of this project. The SSHE Summer Academy asks participants to encourage faculty members in their own universities to reassess their pedagogical styles and expose their faculty to many of the active learning strategies taught at the Summer Academy. To accomplish this, the initial goal of the Reflective Practice Project was to provide a supportive framework for formative teaching assessment by faculty members which would be constructive and nonthreatening.

How has the Reflective Practice (RP) group evolved?

A number of changes have been made based on feedback from the participants. In the early years, the biggest change has been in the use of the small group “teaching circles.” In 1993-94, individual membership in small groups was assigned by the RP coordinators and included a faculty mentor. These groups were also constructed so that members were from different colleges or departments. In the second year, 1994-95, the mentor component was dropped but the RP coordinators still assigned each participant to a group to ensure diversity. In the third year, 1995-96, the peer groups formed informally around a single theme or topic that the group planned to explore. In the fourth year, 1996-97, the peer groups were again informally formed around a single theme or topic. Each group is expected to provide a written report at the end of each year of their group activities and accomplishments. Currently, RP provides support to both departmental and cross-disciplinary teaching circles.

What impact has the RP Project had on the culture of teaching at IUP?

Since its formation in 1993, RP has provided a forum for campus-wide discussion of teaching where none previously existed. Started by 20 charter members, the number of participants has increased each year from about 30 to more than 100 (about 20 percent of the faculty at IUP) by 1997 to 199 faculty. Example of impacts of RP include: Acceptance by the Universitywide Promotion Committee of teaching portfolios as part of the faculty's promotion documentation and required teaching philosophy statement (by 1997); establishing a formative peer evaluation process (1998), and disseminating information about RP more broadly using the Center for Teaching Excellence website (2000) and social media (2016).

What are our plans for the future?

Our main goal for the future is to establish the RP Project as the primary forum for discussing the improvement of teaching. To accomplish this, we plan to continue with the workshop/large group/small group model and modify it as indicated in the next participant survey. We plan to increase the size of the RP group by 20 percent each year. We hope to change the peer evaluation process at IUP to be both formative and summative. We plan to disseminate information about the project more broadly using a brochure and website. Finally, we plan to seek continued funding for the Reflective Practice Project and link it to institutional and national efforts to further promote a shift to the learning paradigm.