CASTaway: Brown Bags and Facebook Faculty Lounge

I’d like to announce two big changes to the operations of CAST, effective at least until my term expires in November, and then I’ll explain the motivation for these changes.

The first of these changes concerns the Tuesday meeting time. From now until the end of the semester, we will meet in 1046 on Tuesdays from 1:00pm-3:00pm for a brown bag lunch. All faculty are welcome, without RSVP or reservation, and there is no formal topic of discussion. It will simply be an opportunity to meet with your fellow faculty and talk about classes, teaching, your academic discipline, and so on. We will perhaps occasionally have specific discussion topics or workshops, but now these will be special events rather than the default form.

The second change is more of an addition. We now have a Faculty Lounge on Facebook. Currently, we have 52 members. This mostly includes HWC full-time faculty. But it also includes a number of adjuncts from the Humanities department and a couple administrators. I hope to see more adjuncts there in the future, but I’ll need your help for that: I can only add adjuncts who I know exist, and I only know adjuncts within my own department, with only a couple exceptions.

So why the change? 

In short, the Tuesday meetings required a lot of investment and were very poorly attended. Investing in Tuesday meetings became disheartening, because it served very few people. We need a set of programs that serve faculty where they are.

Though we have had some great discussions in the 18 months since I became CAST coordinator, typically these events were attended by 3 or 4 people, and perhaps only 5 or 6 faculty members attended semi-regularly. In short, if there are 350 some faculty at HWC, the CAST Tuesday meeting was serving about 1% of our population. To do it well, it required significant planning and thought on my part to select the readings, prepare questions, get the word out, and, of course, moderate the discussion. I’ve tried a number of things over the years, and occasionally we experienced a spike in attendance. But it never lasted for more than a meeting.

In our surveys and through discussion, we know that a lot of faculty want to attend, but they cannot. Conflicts with class, committees, students, etc, prevent many faculty from attending. This is in spite of the 2pm Tuesday slot receiving the highest vote count for available times in our survey earlier this semester. Some faculty expressed disinterest, but for the most part this was an issue of time. I concluded that the best time was still not good enough.

Meanwhile, I’ve had some revelations this semester concerning teaching in my own classes. More than I have felt in years, it felt that meaningful effort and investment in my classes was stimulating a satisfying intellectual experience for my students. It has felt tremendously rewarding. And this, after all, is what my job is actually about. Everything else is support. It has been a belief of mine for years that if the support begins to interfere with the primary mission, then the support needs to step back.

It became harder and harder for me to justify planning for CAST meetings at the expense of class preparation. At the same time, I’m charged with providing faculty development.

I got burned out. And the reason why we haven’t had a Tuesday meeting in about a month is because I needed to step back and think about an effective way to proceed.

So, that brings us to the brown-bag and Facebook Faculty Lounge. The Brown Bag lunch allows us to have a regular faculty meeting place, that provides an opportunity for discussion, but doesn’t place any pressure on myself of anyone else for it to go one direction or the other. We can talk about whatever we want, or simply grade papers.

Kristen’s CASTpods made me think about alternative means of providing CAST content. But in addition to providing content that is accessible whenever and wherever faculty want it, I also wanted it to be a forum for discussion, to replace the CAST discussion seminars.

I thought for awhile about investing more time in writing for the Harold Lounge, but although we get a lot of readers here, we don’t often have a lot of discussions. The service is, perhaps, too slow for a quick discussion. Finally, some faculty feel it is an inconvenient place to go: given how our internet experiences are changing, stopping by the HL regularly simply is no longer the practice.

On the other hand, a lot of faculty are on Facebook. They already visit there regularly, often multiple times per day. The interface is quick and easy.

Not everyone is on Facebook, however. And perhaps some people who are on desire to keep their profiles entirely isolated from their work place. This is fair, and it made me reluctant to embrace the idea. But I changed my mind for two reasons:

First, Facebook may not be as inclusive as room 1046 or the Harold Lounge, because one needs a FB account to join, and some people have good reasons for not joining. But practically, CAST is exclusive in the sense that it conflicts with classes, schedules, and other activities deemed more important. The Harold Lounge is not exclusive, but at the same time, it doesn’t serve everyone: it only serves that people that show up. While this is also true of the Facebook faculty lounge, I imagine that it will reach people who do not regularly see the Lounge.

Second, I have witnessed this experiment happen before with a Facebook faculty lounge. About four years ago, the Reacting to the Past institute started its own Facebook faculty lounge as a replacement to its in-house message boards. Initially, members of the community pushed back. Particularly older faculty who were not on Facebook expressed skepticism. But over time, the membership on the Facebook lounge has grown to over 1000 faculty and higher-ed educators from across the nation and abroad. Lots of different people share their experiences about teaching, raise questions, and discuss problems. A lot of rich conversations have followed. Now, the in-house message board is effectively dead, simply because the Facebook faculty lounge is an ambiguously worthwhile place have a discussion about this particular mode of pedagogy.

Moving forward, I hope to see a lot of rich discussions on the Facebook CAST Lounge, and I will be cross-posting features like the Tuesday Teaching Topic to both pages. If you have any comments about this shift, I am happy to receive them.

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