Higher Learning Commission

Professional Development Odyssey

Graceland University

Overview of the Quality Initiative

Odyssey: An intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest.

After completing HLC’s assessment academy and a five-year commitment to developing and connecting assessment, program review, budget and strategic planning processes, Graceland has created an integrated system for planning and decision-making that now needs community awareness, maturity and refinement. As we embark upon the next phase of this journey in institutional effectiveness, community members will be asked to participate in routine and new ways and it is important to affirm their many past and future contributions. There is much evidence to suggest that focusing on professional development will provide opportunities to engage faculty and staff in a way that enables them to enjoy the learning and sharing of both input and outcomes and that benefits all who participate.

For the four year project, a newly formed professional development committee (See details in Response #7) will encourage experimentation and innovation in cultivating a variety of community learning opportunities. Every event will introduce new information related to learning in order to foster dialogue; the dialogue will be captured for the committee to review and pass on to relevant individuals, groups (departments, councils, committees) for use at various levels of planning and development.

With these minimal criteria, the committee can, in the spirit of a true odyssey, invite and support creative proposals from all areas of the University. The committee will establish some offerings and invite proposals from others so that anyone at Graceland will be able to take the lead in a learning effort. Allowing individuals to select their topics, to lead, or to participate in other ways will allow people to migrate between groups or belong to different groups concurrently if they want more involvement.

The committee’s role in dialogue review and assessment will enable the committee to end the four-year period with a recommendation for a permanent, efficient and effective Graceland professional development function.

Sufficiency of the Initiative’s Scope and Significance


Since the pervasive theme of this effort is improving student learning and one of the goals is to enhance shared decision-making, the responsible committee represents faculty, student life professionals, and administration, the key target groups for the project. Participation of full- and part-time members of these groups will be encouraged. This will promote co-curricular collaboration. Because at Graceland all employees, including those from support and service departments, are aware of their impact on students, they will also be encouraged to participate. As the initiative progresses, the committee may experiment with developing special topics that will appeal to support staff and/or to students.

Significance to Graceland

Graceland’s core values have long been “learning, wholeness, and community.” Each of these values implies an ongoing commitment to personal and professional development.

Learning: While Graceland does provide resources for faculty and staff development and supervisor training, the absence of an intentional, comprehensive, and substantive professional development program that enables employees to learn about learning seems inconsistent with this core value.

Wholeness and Community: People have always been recognized as Graceland’s greatest resource. The value of the resource is diminished without an ongoing commitment to the personal and professional growth of employees. As at most small private institutions today, Graceland employees find themselves working harder and with fewer resources, struggling with knowing how to survive in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world. The ever-accelerating pace of technological change fosters fear of the unknown future and fosters competition because no institution can afford to be technologically obsolete. Unexpected economic downturns are causing not just Graceland to veer unexpectedly from collaboratively-developed strategic paths. The related tensions contribute to low morale. On annual surveys conducted by human resources, self-ratings of morale have fluctuated between 44 and 69 on a 100-point scale over the past five years.

It is no surprise then that the Program Review Committee’s (PRC) summary of the first five-year round of program review identified two overlapping needs that were cited by almost every unit:

  • A need for better technology and/or technology training and support.
  • A need/desire for more and targeted professional development opportunities.

The fact that these related needs have been cited university-wide is of great concern to a university committed to learning and wholeness. According to Graceland’s Faculty Personnel Policy:

The purpose of faculty development is to foster a community of scholar-teachers. In order to help students become lifelong learners, faculty members should themselves be lifelong learners of their own discipline, as well as the art and science of teaching. This policy calls the Graceland faculty to share freely of their teaching resources and talents, support and encourage each other in the teaching process, and take their turn at the hard task of educational leadership. Masterful teaching by everyone is the goal.

With a commitment to holistic student development, Graceland’s many student life and support personnel hold a similar respect for guiding the development and learning of students outside of the classroom. Discussions that led to selection of professional development for Graceland’s QI included a broad range of community members, including employees, students and board members; all suggest that GU can use professional development to explore and address many topics and apply related practices in the classrooms and residence halls, athletic fields, online - and in planning and decision-making. As a result, the committee’s intention is to foster development not only in classroom teaching and learning but also in advising, scholarship and administrative acumen.

Three spring semester pilot projects indicate that community members will indeed appreciate expanded opportunities for shared learning and development.

  • Each of eight sessions of a critical thinking seminar held during the Lamoni Campus’ January 2013 winter term attracted more than 20 people, some of who braved winter roads to attend even though their work responsibilities did not require them to be physically present on campus that day. Responses to end-of-session evaluation questions were very positive and reinforced the committee’s belief that there is a strong interest in professional development and a willingness to participate in it.
  • Two faculty members have now managed, for two years, a first-year faculty group that meets regularly throughout the first year to orient and help new faculty develop their skills and understand Graceland as they grow in their careers. Participants have testified to the value of this experience and the founding faculty member has been motivated by its success to chair this more extensive quality initiative.
  • Spring faculty conference included an afternoon of breakout and poster sessions presented by faculty and professional staff. Evaluations of attendees are included as Appendix A and include almost exclusively positive comments and requests for more professional development. More than twenty participants stayed for a thirty-minute focus group discussion that will provide additional guidance for the committee.

Institutional affirmation and prioritization of the proposed project has been accomplished by adoption of it as an initiative of Graceland’s strategic plan related to Strategic Goal 4, Build learning and living communities that respect the inherent worth of all persons and promote inclusivity in planning and action.

Intended Impact

Liberal arts institutions value all forms of learning, including professional development. Increased expectations, financial stress, and minimal rewards over the past few years have impacted the professionals who are directly or indirectly responsible for the quality of student learning. The literature suggests that solutions can be found in innovation and that the culture of resource reduction needs to be replaced with one of carefully evaluated resource reallocation. Again, Graceland’s greatest asset is its people - who have a demonstrated history of innovation. That spirit can be revitalized by using their passions, which frequently focus on learning, to provide learning opportunities to others who teach and guide students. This initiative creates opportunities for hope, optimism, and collegiality.

Examples of forums that the new committee has discussed that would simultaneously foster learning, collaboration, planning, and action include:

  • Taking advantage of local expertise by asking technologically-savvy professors to share their experiences utilizing a new software and/or hardware to communicate and engage faculty, student life professionals, peers and students.
  • Using a text such as Student Development in College (Evans, 1998) to bring faculty, coaches, and student life professionals together to study student development holistically and to plant the seeds for collaborative didactic and/or assessment efforts.
  • Enabling a faculty member to share his research of an institution that focuses curriculum on service and applied learning. Such a forum could work to foster ideas for in and out-of-class service opportunities and could go beyond that to inspire faculty to search for their own elements for distinctive curriculum development.
  • Giving the institutional researcher a forum for a monthly fact-sharing event that would provide faculty, administrators, and student life professionals with a specific piece of information or trend and a platform for dialogue. Sharing this information and analyzing its meaning could inform collaborative policies, procedures, and/or decisions (and that is assessment).
  • Invite Sodexho (the company that provides food service to the University) to describe their comprehensive assessment protocols to other service units in order to inspire other service providers to develop goals for their own student interactions, simultaneously affirming Sodexho’s excellent assessment practices.
  • Utilize American Association of Colleges and University’s LEAP Initiative and VALUE rubrics to foster learning and dialogue about general education assessment efforts among all levels of faculty and professional staff, providing tools and ideas for program and/or institutional level assessment.

To promote a consistent language and process, dialogue leaders will be encouraged to use Stephen Brookfield’s (2012) list of discussion factors that foster critical thinking (p. 182).

  • Structures are in place to ensure everyone is given the floor to make a contribution; power constantly moves around the group.
  • Time limits prevent any one person from dominating conversation.
  • No one feels the need to respond immediately to another person’s contribution; reflective silence is integral to critical thought.
  • Group members seek out similarities and differences.
  • Every time a new idea or concept is added to the conversation, the group strives to supply examples that illustrate its relevance.
  • Group members regard active listening to each other as the most important part of good communication.

Brookfield’s paradigm has been the topic of prior faculty development efforts and is used to prepare for the one course that Graceland requires of all freshmen, Critical Thinking in the Liberal Arts and Sciences. Sharing a critical thinking lexicon across the university will enhance its power. The committee has been in touch with Brookfield and is looking for the resources to invite him to campus to help pioneer this initiative.

Other parameters such as the minimum number of learning sessions individuals will be encouraged to attend each semester and identification of suitable types of learning opportunities (book groups, webinars, peer presentations, visiting other institutions) will be developed by the new committee in year one and in response to ongoing assessment findings.

Clarity of the Initiative’s Purpose


To focus the work of Gracelanders on student learning and development inside and outside of the classroom using a platform that respects collaboration, lifelong learning, inclusiveness, and the teacher-learners themselves.


  • To develop and enhance skills that advance learning and state-of-the-art methodologies for education and scholarship across the university (in and out of the classroom).
  • To take advantage of Graceland’s strengths and special expertise.
  • To build on staff willingness to learn and share together.
  • To thoroughly explore and assess at least one topic that is relevant to all learning communities, eg: Critical Thinking.

Evaluation of Progress and Accomplishments

One explicit goal of the initiative is to thoroughly explore and assess at least one topic that is relevant to all learning communities, eg: Critical Thinking. Beyond that, the requirement that dialogue is part of each learning process is intended to promote the expected outcome* that community members will routinely have shared, ongoing, deliberate conversations that assess student success. In other words, an improved climate of teaching and learning is best fostered by ongoing assessment.

An assessment tool will be designed for application at the conclusion of individual sessions. In order to create a formative process, the committee will review these and develop guidance for future learning sessions. Learning leaders will be encouraged to include surveys and/or survey items that suite their own purposes when appropriate. For example, spring sessions utilized a simple evaluation tool consisting of four questions:

  • What part(s) of the seminar did you find most useful?
  • What part(s) of the seminar did you find least useful?
  • If this seminar were offered again, what suggestions would you make to improve it?
  • If you have any other thoughts about the seminar you would like to share, please do so.

As at the spring conference workshops, committee members will also conduct focused interviews of both presenters and participants in order to assess effectiveness and impact and to provide guidance for the committee.

The most difficult part of the effort to assess will be the impact on campus climate and action. The committee has adopted and thus needs to assess the following set of community outcomes:

By 2017 Graceland personnel will:

  • *Routinely have shared, ongoing, deliberate conversations that assess student success.
  • Experience a sense of professional connectedness with colleagues.
  • Develop awareness and appreciation of the expertise of University colleagues.
  • Collaborate to relate classroom and co-curricular structures to needs of twenty-first century students.
  • Feel ownership in the process and content of professional development.
  • Feel ownership in addressing and using research, data, and best practices as part of an institution-wide, organic quality improvement/shared governance model.

The survey used to evaluate community climate for the past ten years consists of eleven items, most of which are not relevant to the outcomes identified here. The committee will use the first year of the initiative to explore standard industry surveys and/or to develop a more directly applicable assessment tool. One possibility being currently discussed is to take advantage of the cost-free The Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual Great Colleges to Work For survey that covers 12 dimensions of campus climate, six of which are directly relevant to the purposes of this initiative (Job Satisfaction & Support, Compensation/ Benefits/Work-Life Balance, Professional Development, Confidence in Senior Leadership, Respect and Appreciation). This particular survey would help Graceland monitor morale and much more, through items that include:

  • I am given the responsibility and freedom to do my job.
  • I am provided the resources I need to be effective in my job.
  • This institution’s policies and practices give me the flexibility to balance my work and personal life
  • I am given the opportunities to develop my skills at this institution
  • I understand the necessary requirements to advance my career
  • This institution actively contributes to the community.
  • Faculty, administration and staff are meaningfully involved in institutional planning.
  • There is regular and open communication among faculty, administration and staff.
  • I receive feedback from my supervisor/department chair that helps me.
  • People in my department work well together.
  • I am regularly recognized for my contributions.

Using this particular survey would enable Graceland to look for and to evaluate improvements in many areas and to benchmark results against other institutions. The information would also be used to monitor institutional progress toward strategic goals.

Evidence of Commitment to and Capacity for Accomplishing the Initiative

Internal and External Support

Faculty and staff development is a professional need for the institution and a personal need for each Gracelander. This need is apparent in Appendix A, a list of responses from attendees at our spring faculty conference pilot workshop of breakout and poster sessions, where the preponderance of responses are positive and ask for more and more often. Additionally, this proposal and the leadership committee have been developed as a grass roots effort. Three potential Quality Initiative topics were tested among various community groups and this was by far the most popular in all groups. Response to a few experiments with in-house professional development this semester have been well-received by participants (Twenty attended January critical thinking sessions; 41 are attending five supervisor training sessions; two spontaneous book clubs have been well-attended).

Groups and Individuals Involved in Implementation

The number of individuals who volunteered for the leadership committee also testifies to the level of community support for this initiative. When faculty development was identified as the potential QI topic in Fall 2012, volunteers were invited to take leadership. As a result, the following representative group was developed. Because the project is designed for four years and will hopefully lead to a formal professional development function or structure, the committee has been formally adopted as a Graceland University standing committee. At their first meeting, the group elected Brian Smith, a full professor, faculty member and division chair, to facilitate the committee.

Quality Initiative Leadership Team

Member Representing
B.Smith, Chair
Chair, Social Science
Faculty Chairs and Faculty
K. Bash, Secretary
VP Institutional Effectiveness
University Administration and University Budget Committee
T. Foster
Professor, Chemistry
J. McElroy
D. Leialoha
Professor, School of Education
Graduate Faculty and Independence Campus
D. Kepple-Mamros
Assistant Registrar
Academic Support Professionals, Registrar’s Office
A. Martinez
Hall Director
Student Life and Student Government
J. Whitworth
IC Program Consultant
Independence Campus Professionals and Staff
D. Bartholomew, Advisor
Chair, Health & Movement Science
Faculty Chairs, Faculty, and Program Review Committee (PRC)
G. Heisserer, Advisor
Dean, College of Liberal Arts
University Administration, Deans, Faculty, and
Student Learning Improvement Committee (SLIC)
O. Dory, Advisor
Director, Human Resources
Human Resources, LC Supervisors , and All Staff

: To build, guide, and monitor a four-year schedule of professional development activities that will engage all levels of Gracelanders in collaborative exploration of factors relevant to student learning, development, and support. Each activity will present information or data and will foster dialogue that can be captured to contribute to the strategic planning/governance process with the ultimate goal of enabling all Gracelanders to directly or indirectly participate in the institution’s ability to enhance student learning.

Tasks: Build on staff willingness to learn and share together; take advantage of the strengths and special expertise of Gracelanders; develop a university-wide shared understanding of Critical Thinking theory and relevant aspects of HLC’s new criteria (to be woven into the 4 year plan); explore and assess at least one topic that is relevant to all Graceland learning communities, eg: Critical Thinking.

Committed Resources

Human Resources
The Office of Institutional Effectiveness (IE) will support the effort. At the present time, the office supports a single human resource, the vice president for IE. Appropriate to the project’s purposes, the designated leadership team consists of community volunteers who will receive committee credit for their efforts. Members of the committee have prepared this proposal with enthusiasm for the potential of the initiative.

Financial Resources
One of the initiative’s goals is to encourage creativity in structuring professional development opportunities. Naturally, a pool of funds would increase the types of opportunities and incentives that could be made available. The current financial environment does not guarantee that dollars will be available beyond Graceland’s current faculty development program and stipends ($500/year is allocated to each faculty member and stipends of up to $1,000 may be granted upon application) and supervisor training program (which currently offers a series of five 1-day workshops for 41 supervisors at a cost of $18,000). Fortunately, there is a great deal of talent among Graceland’s faculty and staff and we will begin by encouraging groups to use in-house expertise to develop in-house learning opportunities. At the same time, year 1 objectives include an application for operations budget (with a good chance of some success since the project is an appropriate initiative for a standing strategic goal) and a search for grant and/or donor funding. Resources obtained will be used to purchase learning materials, provide travel reimbursements and speaker stipends, and to provide tools and incentives for those who participate. The committee does not underestimate the value of food in promoting attendance, and given the busy schedules of faculty and staff, would like to use a lunchtime format where meals are provided when possible. This format worked well for a recent professional development effort.

Technological Resources
A webpage has been established on the local My Graceland network that allows the committee to share resources and conversations amongst themselves and with the entire Graceland community. Technology is available to enable interactive sessions among representatives from both campuses (Lamoni, Iowa and Independence, Missouri) and from other locations, even from personal residences. Graceland’s contract with e-College makes e-Companion resources available for use.

Other Resources
A physical location provides a sense of place, permanence, and actuality. A Lamoni Campus room that was designated for faculty development went unused for two years because, according to reports, the only time faculty felt they could afford to leave their offices and classrooms was at mealtime and the room was not located near a food vendor. The committee is working with administration to find a central location where faculty and staff can comfortably gather to share and discuss resources comfortably and conveniently, as part of their daily routines, is being sought out.

The Independence Campus has two sizeable rooms for community gatherings that include kitchen, office, and some classroom tools. Both campuses can connect meeting rooms and auditoriums. Many faculty and staff routinely use Skype to interact across distances.

Appropriateness of the Timeline for the Initiative

The committee intends to start small with a concrete, measurable activity and is in the process of helping to develop such an activity for the spring 2013 faculty conference (May 20-21). Interested faculty and professional staff have responded to the request for proposals for breakouts and poster sessions.

During the conference, the committee will promote their website by pointing participants to a new community webpage that enables the learning and sharing of resources, such as a summer reading list and a suggestion forum. The first year will be mostly exploratory, engaging faculty, administrators, and professional staff in offering and assessing the value of in-house efforts and the committee expects that the initiative will become more inclusive and sophisticated as we proceed to year four.

During year one, the committee will also work through university protocols to:

  • Negotiate an allocation for professional development ‘convocation time’,
  • Work with the University Budget Committee to secure an annual funding allocation,
  • Work with Institutional Advancement to access donor and/or grant funds,
  • Consult colleagues at peer institutions to consider sharing expertise
  • Pomote active physical and web presences, and
  • Develop a timeline of activities and expectations for the first four years of the initiative.

The focus of topics and the expectation for application and strategic use of learning will gradually increase in each of years three, four and five. Targeted audiences and participation expectations will expand to include students and support staff and perhaps other audiences, such as the Board of Trustees. There is evidence that supporting resources can be found in existing and new donors, through grant efforts and through communication of favorable impact.

In the true spirit of improving student learning, ongoing assessment of the many discrete learning efforts and of the impact of the project as a whole on campus climate, is likely to drive other changes in a strategic manner. The committee is excited about the project and has already begun to share that excitement with colleagues, peers, and other Gracelanders.

Appendix A

Spring Faculty Conference Feedback from Participants

May 19, 2013

What part(s) of the professional development did you find most useful?

  • Good just to be able to talk to each other
  • Talking with other colleagues/sharing ideas
  • Having student life, CAP Center, etc. staff in with faculty.
  • Discussion on student learning, classroom practices
  • That it starts the conversation across disciplines
  • Great connecting with others
  • Sharing ideas – interacting with other faculty. Why would nurses not find this useful?
  • Time to listen and share. Experiencing friends and colleagues as teachers/facilitators/experts. I saw quality.
  • Talking about problems with peers from other disciplines
  • Peer-to-peer sidebar conversations.
  • Learning from others’ experiences.
  • Opportunity to network and listen to expert and ways to do things differently
  • Hearing from colleagues.
  • See what faculty are doing – share expertise.
  • Talking with colleagues.
  • Diverse sessions
  • Break-out sessions were great – good topics.
  • Flipped classroom.
  • Emergence of college students.
  • Specific examples
  • Kotz (Marginality & Mattering, Schlossberg)
  • Michele was good
  • Book recommendation by various speakers (Julia)
  • All 3 sessions I went to were great. Loved the posters.
  • All! All of it. [3]
  • I enjoyed the classes I attended – very informative
  • It was all good – probably SES presentation.
  • Good sessions.
  • Good programs
  • Attitudes of students’ discussion (Smith). Wish we could have spent more time with this conversation.
  • Knowing who our current students are and how to serve them.
  • I like how we were given a menu of choices.
  • I liked the abstract available to better make session selection.
  • Ability to give feedback and fill out surveys about future development.
  • Would like development 4x/year.
  • All sessions I attended were useful.
  • All of it.
  • All of it. I liked the presentation idea of choice (like a conference with multiple talks). I liked the posters – especially the 10 PPT tips.
  • I enjoyed all the sessions.
  • I normally dread “prof development” at spring/fall conferences. This approach was vastly better.
  • I liked all the sessions I attended. It was good to have choices.
  • Handouts, short (30 min) sessions, range of topics, posters, refreshments, opportunity to socialize.
  • Presentation of data/information.

What part(s) of the professional development did you find least useful?

  • Sessions were pretty short; would like more time for discussion
  • Too short of time allowed
  • I enjoyed today. I would not change anything beyond length of time.
  • More discussion time needed.
  • ½ hour was too short. Good topics were just skimmed because of time constraint.
  • Presentations seemed rushed.
  • The sessions were too short – national and regional conferences provide at least 60 minutes for sessions, and these are frequently too short.
  • Lack of time for discussions, examples of how others implemented ideas in classroom.
  • Fewer sessions with a little more time.
  • A bit more time. Delighted some colleagues are willing to work on it.
  • Have more time for each session.
  • Three sessions instead of 4 – longer time.
  • Repeat sessions so we don’t miss some that interest us.
  • Critical thinking, advising, syllabus
  • The rooms were not arranged well for interaction
  • Room set up
  • Hate to not give you something, but I enjoyed it all.
  • Enjoyed all of it.
  • None were not useful.
  • All were helpful.
  • Posters – not enough
  • Posters should have been short presentations.
  • Generic information
  • Need service after the sale. Follow up.
  • Flipping the classroom – not informational on the how to do it.
  • None

If we dedicated time again to professional development, what suggestions would you make to improve it?

  • It’s hard to find the right balance, but maybe fewer, longer sessions would be better.
  • Longer sessions [3]
  • Some sessions need more time
  • More sessions
  • Give more time to presenters. We could expand our thinking & dig into the topic more than today.
  • Increase individual session time.
  • Longer speaker times
  • Frequency and reiteration of PD – keep the conversation going.
  • Time for discussions, workshops.
  • Should be 1 ½ hour sessions
  • I like the 30 minutes presentations. More of it.
  • Duplicate the sessions so they are not so exclusive – I wanted a choice to return to one I missed (two actually)
  • Breakout sessions like today!
  • I’m sorry I missed a couple – I hope they will be offered again.
  • I liked the variety of classes to choose from.
  • Have presentations more than once. Some I wanted to do where at the same time. Others weren’t of interest but no options.
  • More on student learning- motivating students – being a better critical thinker and teacher
  • Discussion about the amount of student cheating and skipping classes
  • Input on research focus from grad faculty
  • Nothing specific – thought first time went very well
  • Do it again!
  • I like the set-up. I’d like to see more sessions with specific examples of what I can do.
  • Could the PD be at the beginning of the year instead of the end of the year? I think it would be more well received.
  • Make it clear that it goes until 4:45PM (the program that was emailed said 1-4).
  • I felt my time was well used.
  • Put out a “call for papers” at the beginning of the semester.
  • Give testimonials from low-achieving students on the environment they came from and challenges they face.

If you have any other thoughts about professional development you would like to share, please feel free to do so.

  • We must do more of it. I hope we can create ongoing critical thinking discussion.
  • Thank you for doing this. It’s a great start.
  • Most productive afternoon I’ve taken part in all year.
  • We should do this regularly – 3-4x/year or at least fall and spring faculty conference
  • More and more often.
  • More
  • More of the same.
  • It was great breaking into smaller sessions to interact w/ the other faculty.
  • Lots of good topics!
  • Keep this going throughout the year.
  • Simply logistical – put the food in mid-building, past the posters, etc.
  • Would enjoy faculty development 4x/year. I love interacting and learning from others in different divisions.
  • I like how the PD sessions were limited to ½ hour. 45 minutes might be OK, but I wouldn’t do an hour.
  • PD at the end of the year is difficulty and hard to motivate.
  • Online resource base.
  • Thank you!
  • This afternoon worked well.
  • This is time well spent. Maybe a monthly reading group or some other (voluntary) means of honing our skills.
  • How to make meaningful changes rather than info that this needs to be made – redo 1st year experience – not all academic!

Institution Contact

Kate Clauson

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NOTE: The papers included in this collection offer the viewpoints of their authors. HLC highly recommends them for study and for the advice they contain, but none represent official HLC directions, rules or policies.

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