The familiar image of the college professor is usually in the role of teacher, which is the setting in which college students most often find their faculty members. This is not at all surprising, since, as the IU Northwest Strategic Priorities and Objectives state, teaching, learning and the academic success of our students comprise “our primary purpose”. But there is a great deal behind a faculty member’s public act of teaching that students encounter each day in class.
Faculty members are, of course, highly-educated at the most advanced levels of their disciplines and their postgraduate programs instill skills and perspectives that enable them to both stay current with new discoveries and developments in their fields and contribute substantively to the advancement of knowledge and understanding. Faculty members use these tools and knowledge to design the learning activities that students experience in their courses. These defining attributes of the dedicated college-level teacher are not always observable to students or casual observers, but each class session that students attend is the cumulative result of study, research, writing, experience, thinking and preparation. College teaching, like all teaching, represents a lot of hard work.
I like to think of the faculty member who I have just described as a teacher scholar. Teacher scholars are well-prepared (and stay well-prepared) to help our students to engage with the most current knowledge in effective and substantive ways. But, beyond their postgraduate degree studies, how do faculty members do it? The assumption that college faculty read a great deal in their disciplines and research fields is, of course, accurate. But they also broaden and deepen their preparation for teaching by staying actively engaged in the practice of their disciplines through continuing research, writing and creative activity that adds to the knowledge base of their teaching. The academic quality and integrity of the IU Northwest programs in which our students enroll are underwritten by the scholarly commitments of faculty colleagues.
During Fall Semester 2017, a survey was conducted among IU Northwest faculty members, to learn more about their scholarly and creative commitments and why they are important in their daily work. More than 100 colleagues responded to the survey, the results of which confirmed that IU Northwest faculty members stay connected and active with their fields of study and practice, including publishing, presenting and exhibiting their work among both professional colleagues and public audiences. These continuing efforts are essential to staying current in their teaching areas, in a contemporary environment in which knowledge expands exponentially.
Beyond individual faculty members’ responses to the general survey questions, the evidence of their scholarly and creative productivity is impressive, particularly at a regional, comprehensive campus that is devoted to teaching. The 2017 Faculty Scholarship and Activity Profile shows that, once again, more than 100 of faculty members’ scholarly articles were published or accepted by journals. There were also 11 books published or in press, along with 10 book chapters. IU Northwest has a strong commitment to and reputation in the arts and faculty colleagues’ work was represented in 50 exhibits, performances, shows and other creative activities. They were also part of 238 presentations at conferences and other professional meetings and contributed to the advancement of their disciplines in more than 400 roles, including advisory and editorial boards, reviewers, referees and program committees. IU Northwest faculty members also appeared in the media 94 times. Our faculty members are very actively engaged in the work of their disciplines.
But what is the pay-off from all of this activity for our students? Last autumn’s survey indicates that more than three-quarters of our faculty members bring their research and creative work to their classrooms. Often, students are able to become scholars at work by participating in faculty research and creative projects, which yields opportunities to publish and present their work at conferences. It is high-impact learning practices such as these that animate the academic experience for students and have helped so many of our colleagues to earn campus and University teaching awards.
We can all take special pride in the work of IU Northwest’s faculty of teacher scholars. Not everything that makes one a teacher scholar is readily visible day-to-day, but all of the work that furnishes the depth and significance of our teaching mission is critical to insuring the quality of the IU Northwest academic experience and our students’ successful completion of their Indiana University degrees.