As Director for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment in the Office of Academic Innovation at Portland State University (PSU), Janelle Voegele provides strategic direction for educational development programming and campus activities that explore and promote excellence in teaching and learning, encourage practices that respond to changing college environments, and support multiple dimensions of faculty life and work. Janelle has a doctorate in Educational Leadership and has won two student-nominated teaching awards while at PSU.
In her role as Director of Teaching, Learning, and Assesment, Janelle has been extremely supportive of PSU’s academic writing programs. Here she shares her insights on building a thriving faculty writing community.
TAA: Can you explain the evolution of Portland State University’s faculty writing program?
Janelle Voegele: “The primary credit goes to former Associate Vice Provost and Director of Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Leslie McBride, along with Education Professor Dannelle Stevens, whom Leslie discovered was doing research in the area of faculty academic life, including issues related to writing, promotion and tenure. Dannelle is someone with a commitment to addressing problems she discovers in her research, and was already forming opportunities for faculty to meet and discuss academic writing issues. Meanwhile, Leslie and I were working together in the faculty development office and heard often from faculty about the challenges they faced in establishing and maintaining a productive writing practice, given the multiple roles and responsibilities they have in addition to writing. Leslie worked with Dannelle to begin a campus-wide conversation about these challenges, and also established regular writing retreat opportunities open to all faculty (these remain some of our most popular program events to this day). Dannelle then expanded her efforts in collaboration with our office and created the highly successful Jumpstart Academic Writing Program, which involves dozens of faculty each year. When I recently became Director of Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, I was committed to building on Leslie’s and Dannelle’s work and continuing the academic writing programs. With support from the Vice Provost for Academic Innovation and Student Success, a Faculty-in-Residence (FIR) for Academic Writing was created, a position that would allow a faculty member to devote a portion of FTE to collaborate with our office. Dannelle was chosen by a faculty committee as our first academic writing FIR, and has had a tremendous impact in this role.”
TAA: How were you able to gain support and funding from the University for the program?
JV: “This is a great question. When I took the role of Director, it was at a time of budget reductions across campus, and I faced legitimate questions about the rationale for academic writing programming facilitated through an office that had traditionally focused on professional development for teaching and learning. There were three ways that I responded to those questions.
First, I pointed to the growing research and national conversations that increasingly urge offices like mine to work toward a more holistic response to faculty professional life, meaning primarily that we should see various aspects of faculty academic roles (teaching, writing, researching, service, leading, grantwriting, etc.) as interconnected. If faculty are repeatedly telling us that their writing responsibilities are getting in the way of satisfying and engaging teaching experiences, we should consider responding with more than just additional ideas to energize teaching.
Second, thanks to Dannelle’s ongoing research, I was able to provide assessment data and feedback from faculty on the impact of these programs not just on writing, but on many aspects of faculty professional practice. We learned that more relaxed and productive writing practices led to more energy for teaching and other responsibilities. Faculty were also sharing what they learned in Jumpstart with their classes to improve their students’ writing. We also had evidence that people who got involved in Jumpstart were showing up in greater numbers for our teaching-related programs, showing that these professional activities are indeed interconnected.
And third, strong feedback from faculty themselves given directly to campus administration about the value of writing programs was also illustrative of the impact in a powerful and personal way. Taken together, these three strategies communicated the impact of the program not just on writing productivity, but professional development more broadly, including the connection to effective teaching.”
TAA: In your opinion, what are the key components of creating a successful faculty writing community?
JV: “The key term for me in this question is ‘community’. First, in the beginning focus not on academic writing, but how strong communities-of-practice can be created connected to academic writing. The Jumpstart Program is a great example. It is designed to bring people together in both large groups and, for those who choose, smaller supportive sub-groups. Dannelle creates a space where people can feel comfortable expressing their challenges and supporting each other to develop strong writing practices. They become accountable to one another. The writing retreats, particularly the week-long break and summer retreats we have added more recently, also create a lot of community and camaraderie across departments. In addition to lots of writing time, there are optional workshops throughout the week facilitated by Dannelle, and we try to create an enjoyable “summer camp” feeling with writing buddies and prizes for answers to daily ‘writing not-so-trivia’ questions. Retreat feedback shows that participants love these touches – they are fun, but also create space for very rich conversations about faculty experiences with writing and professional life. When budget allows, food is also important to creating community. For example, we provide a light sandwich bar during writing retreats – nothing extravagant, but the effort is appreciated by participants as it communicates support from the University for their efforts, and leads to opportunities for people take a brief break and share ideas over lunch.
Second, create partnerships with clear roles that can support writing community efforts. Dannelles’ role as Faculty-in-Residence for Academic Writing is to provide strategic leadership for and research on the program. My office’s role is to offer meeting spaces away from participants’ home departments, facilitate campus communications that advertise writing events, provide needed supplies such as journals, and provide logistical support for the writing retreats, as well as celebratory events. The Provost’s office, Associate Deans and Department Chairs are increasingly partners in these efforts, as they provide support by reviewing results of research on the program and encouraging participation throughout the colleges.
Finally, celebrate successes often! We set time aside regularly to acknowledge successfully submitted work, accepted conference proposals, articles and books, and many other successes that faculty share as indicators of more productive and satisfying writing practice. At the end of the academic year, we have established a tradition of having a campus-wide culminating event where accomplishments are highlighted and celebrated. Our office also features this event and faculty work prominently on our campus-wide communication channels.”
TAA: What is your favorite benefit of TAA?
JV: “TAA is a partner in our efforts. It’s very helpful that with the Portland State University institutional membership, faculty can become members without membership fees. They get the benefit of further strategies and ideas for strong writing practices, and it connects our campus conversations to national conversations on academic writing. Faculty also have found the newsletter helpful and informative, and have shared some of the newsletter ideas with their students.”