Community of Inquiry
Taking collective responsibility across a program for achieving student learning outcomes is facilitated by approaches that build a community of inquiry. Such an inquiry needs to simultaneously generate and draw on the common educational purposes. At Alverno, the outcome-oriented ability-based curriculum, with its emphasis on supporting experiential and reflective learning through performance assessment, provides a common conceptual framework for inquiry.
Ongoing Faculty Discussion
The faculty's collaborative inquiry into learning outcomes within and across the disciplines was a key step in initially developing the ability-based curriculum and has remained vital to improving and updating it. This kind of inquiry itself has a strong experiential and deliberative base, carried out in different groupings within the institutional community. Sharing what they are learning about learning as they constantly modify their practice in the context of a common program is one way that educators increase their knowledge about how and what learning endures. Effective collaboration across the curriculum requires faculty discourse that includes close analysis of practice, conscious reflections on the frameworks of practice and their critique in relation to student learning outcomes.
The focus on student learning is critical. Indeed, the phenomena of faculty resistance often bemoaned in the institutional assessment literature can be usefully reframed as inquiry into educational assumptions and perspectives. Legitimating diverse voices in the spirit of pursuing common educational aims effectively leverages broader collaboration.
Engaging Formal Research
Formal research with its emphasis on well-defined literatures, samples, designs, analyses, and reporting is another way of knowing about the student as a learner and developing person and also the graduate as performer and contributor to society. In particular, longitudinal analysis of change in relation to curricular experiences has been one key method for studying the learner's developing perspectives, performance, and holistic growth. The Alverno Longitudinal Study has been extensively supported by the Educational Research and Evaluation department in a way that has made it integral to the ongoing inquiry of the College. For example, faculty interpretation of research findings has been folded into structured interactive processes that connect to how faculty are already raising questions about practice and how they are developing expertise as educators. Our experience has been that questions about curriculum become intertwined with theories of learning and practice when pursued in the spirit of a community of inquiry that focuses on Learning That Lasts.
Redefining Faculty Work
Collaborative inquiry entails interactive, participative, and critical conversations that lead to mutual exploration of ideas and evidence. Significantly, it has meant redefining faculty work as including multi-disciplinary scholarship where faculty formulation of educational theory and research leads to new insights into practice. This collaborative redefinition of faculty work requires that faculty already have or acquire collaborative skills and habits that enable them collectively move forward in the context of diverse voices, sources of ideas, and evidence.
For any faculty developing these skills and habits is a lived process rather than a defined moment. Thus, the collaborative means of carrying out scholarship into teaching, learning, and assessment become itself an end in the making. The capacity for modes of inquiry to foster collaborative processes becomes no less important than what is the focus of inquiry. And since such collaboration is not a given, the role of harmonizing diverse perspectives becomes a key institutional role and task for unlocking collective potential. Such leadership happens at all levels. Effective collaborative inquiry in smaller projects or units often ground larger collective achievements.
Although collaborative inquiry for us has been grounded in our own educational setting and practice, its vibrancy depends of connecting to the wider literature and educational practice. Reviewing the range of best and emerging practices includes, but also goes beyond, the formal literatures on theory, research, and practice. For example, an institutional consortium can operate as an expanded community of inquiry for just such purposes; our participation in consortia have provided for a deeper engagement of a range of practices and has supported critical comparisons and insights. Consortia centered on student learning have become another way of sustaining our inquiring so that it has a cumulative effect.