Diversity in Computing: The Role of Interinstitutional Faculty Learning Communities
IEEE Computer Society Team
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In higher education, career support for faculty is often assumed de facto via membership in a department or the larger institution. That assumption, however, often fails to materialize in the real world. This is particularly true for women and people of color in fields such as computing, where they often face obstacles to finding in-house support, including through research collaborations, informal mentorships, and camaraderie among colleagues.
Such challenges are problematic for all higher education institutions seeking to attract and retain faculty from underrepresented groups. It is also a problem for student enrollment and achievement. As The Education Trust noted in a recent report, faculty diversity plays a critical role not only in increasing applications from underrepresented students, but also in ensuring that these students succeed and complete their degrees.
Faculty Learning Communities
To address this faculty support gap—and help ensure greater success and satisfaction among all faculty members—institutions are beginning to look beyond their borders to take advantage of an expanded view of the faculty learning community (FLC) concept.
While less common than student learning communities, FLCs share the same basic goals: to facilitate greater success and engagement among community participants. Whether based on a specific topic or a cohort, FLCs that include faculty across several institutions can increase the odds of achieving their goals.
The STARS Computing Corps Study
To examine the impact of a targeted, interinstitutional FLC, researchers from the computer science departments at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and North Carolina State University conducted a descriptive study of computing faculty involved with the Students and Technology in Academia, Research, and Service (STARS) Computing Corps. A national alliance of more than 50 colleges and universities, the STARS Computing Corp seeks to broaden participation of underrepresented groups in computing at higher education institutions.
To explore how involvement in this FLC impacted faculty members, the researchers examined results of biannual surveys of faculty that participated in the STARS Computing Corps and attended its conferences across a three-year period. It also studied the results of a roundtable focus group involving six faculty participants in the third year. The researchers then triangulated these findings with phone interviews they conducted with nine administrators from the faculty participants’ institutions.
The study found that the vast majority of participating faculty members reported that the FLC helped them connect with other faculty members, discover research opportunities, and learn about pathways for promotion and tenure.
All respondents said that participating in the FLC facilitated professional collaborations; specific comments mentioned opportunities to network and discuss teaching strategies and funding opportunities for research. Respondents also said that their FLC participation led to increased visibility in their department and their institution, as well as enhanced credibility among their students.
Focus group participants similarly highlighted connections, visibility, and professional development as key benefits of this interinstitutional FLC involvement. Common themes among the administrative leaders interviewed also included the value of faculty forming national connections as well as catalyzing and building their research capabilities.
Why It Matters
For institutions seeking to increase faculty and student diversity, studies such as this offer valuable insights into what interinstitutional FLCs are and how they can help underrepresented faculty members succeed and thrive.
For greater depth and more details, download the study, “Promoting Computing Faculty Success through Interinstitutional Faculty Learning Communities.”