Unbundling Faculty at the University of Wisconsin Extended Campus

Dr. Aaron Brower, Executive Director at the University of Wisconsin Extended Campus and Sr. Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs at the University of Wisconsin System, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss the difference between thinking about instructional teams vs. catch-all individual instructors.

The Historical Context of an Unbundled Faculty

Higher ed faculty roles have evolved since the beginning of higher education a thousand years ago. As recently as the early 20th century, tenure track faculty did everything from admissions to counseling to living in the dorms.

Starting around 80 years ago and then certainly after World War II and the GI Bill, those faculty roles became unbundled so that teachers focused on the classroom primarily. Out-of-classroom activities were handled with student affairs professionals and others, creating a team that was best serving students.

Universities did that first to serve students well, but they also did it to optimize roles. They realized that different people required training and support in different ways to create a team that would best educate students.

“So I think about the latest evolution of unbundling as a next step in that long arc of history,” Aaron explained.

Why Unbundle the Faculty?

“Before becoming an administrator and some people say going to the dark side, I was a professor,” Aaron said. “I taught for 25 years, and I got into it for the love of knowledge in my subject area, expertise, and engaging the students. Even so, I knew that I was better in some aspects of that learning relationship than others.”

Now, with new technologies and the greater advent of online and blended learning, there are more opportunities to specialize and create a network that wraps around the student fashioning an educational environment.

For example, instructional designers do a fantastic job crafting materials and putting them online in a way that’s going to be most attractive and engaging for students. Teachers instruct in the classroom, doing so in different ways. There’s lecture content and then there’s the engagement you have with students in seminar settings.

“Different people actually are good in certain parts of that,” Aaron explained. “Some people are really good on the stage and are very compelling, and others are much better at standing shoulder-to-shoulder with students as they’re working on material.”

What Does an Instructional Team Model Look Like?

At the UW extended campus, the university runs programs in partnership with all the other UWs, and many of those programs work with multiple partner campuses.

“So we have a new program coming online that’s a program in IT management, a master’s degree,” Aaron explained, “and there are seven UWs who are partnering, so each campus is responsible for one-seventh of the curriculum. But all of those faculty come together to create that seamless curriculum, that master’s degree, which is offered at each of those seven campuses.”

The academic administration’s job then is to identify the programs that will be most in demand and most appropriate for students and bring together the faculty to help create the necessary curriculum.

“We have all sorts of operational steps that allow that partnership to work,” Aaron said.

Instructional designers help put out the material, allowing faculty to focus on course content.

Some faculty members develop materials, others grade, and still others tutor. Plus, there are academic and instructional designers. The model doesn’t require all those roles, of course. That’s up to the partner institution to decide what’s needed.

Could students receive less personal attention under this model, though?

“Quality and learning outcomes have to be paramount no matter what model we’re talking about here,” Aaron said. “You can have instructional teams overseen and managed by faculty, and that is the model we have.”

It’s similar to healthcare where you have a whole team of healthcare professionals, but it’s a managed approach.

Next-Steps Unbundling Advice

“I like to tell people to start at the end,” Aaron told us. “So you start with learning outcomes.”

What do you want students to actually know and be able to do? How do you build the educational environment in the best way possible to get students to those learning outcomes? Work backwards from that, keeping the student right at the center.

“That’s my best advice,” Aaron said. “The reason I went into academia was I loved school, and it was shocking when I realized probably for the first, I don’t know, however many years, I assumed everyone learned like me. I was starting from my own experience rather than actually taking it from a student-focused approach.”

This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Aaron Brower from the University of Wisconsin Extended Campus. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.

Eric Olsen

Eric brings more than a decade of award-winning creative brand development, marketing analytics and higher education experience to Helix Education. Eric is a graduate of Bradley University and earned his MBA at Lewis University.