Is POD Flat?
Globalization profoundly shapes our lives. According to Thomas Friedman’s 2005 The World is Flat, recent technological advances have transformed global economics and culture, creating a level playing field that allows innovators anywhere to influence the entire planet. Although critics have pointed out that resources and expertise are not as evenly distributed as Friedman contends (in the words of one skeptic, “the world is spiky”), the “flat world” thesis and concerns with globalization have become a virtual mantra among higher education leaders; the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), for example, has titled its January 2011 conference “Global Positioning,” emphasizing “competitive notions of ‘world class’ education [and] the imperatives of changing international economic and political power.”
My travels this summer have prompted me to think often about globalization in our common work. As POD president, I traveled to Toronto for the annual conference of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE), a Canadian partner of POD. My university then sent me to Barcelona where I represented POD at the annual council meeting of the International Consortium for Educational Development (ICED) and participated in ICED’s biennial conference.
I connected with many POD colleagues in both places, but I also discovered a new professional world that stretched and challenged me. At STLHE, for instance, Joy Mighty and Julia Christensen Hughes facilitated a boundary-crossing preconference workshop building on their new book Taking Stock (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010) that analyzes emerging global research on teaching and learning. At ICED, Zenawi Zerihun and his colleagues from Ethiopia presented a compelling model for teaching evaluation that made my campus’s recent efforts to reform our evaluation system seem something less than “world class.”
My ICED and STLHE experiences led me to reflect on whether the “flat world” thesis applies to POD. How effectively are we learning from and contributing to innovation in our profession around the world? As a partial answer to that question, I conducted an informal research project comparing citations from the most recent volume of POD’s annual To Improve the Academy (#28, 2010) with a similar sample from ICED’s journal International Journal for Academic Development (3 issues, September 2008 - June 2009). Over that period of time, TIA and IJAD each published 21 articles, representing perhaps the best collection of academic development scholarship in the world. All 48 of the authors from the TIA articles reported being at North American institutions, while only 8 of 52 IJAD authors were. The works cited in these articles echoed the institutional affiliation of the authors. Of the nearly 250 books cited in TIA, some 94% were published in the United States, while 39% of the books referenced in IJAD were published in the United States. Journal citations followed a similar pattern. More than 400 journals were referenced in the TIA and IJAD articles that I examined, yet only 25% of those journals were cited at least once in both TIA and IJAD. Although some variation should be expected, the lack of overlap is striking. We are doing similar work but reading and producing different scholarly literature.
If To Improve the Academy captures the best of POD’s scholarship, which I believe it does, then our professional world is not flat. We have not entered a full partnership with our global colleagues. There’s a world of scholarly literature and effective practice that we as POD members may not be utilizing fully to help us do our work. As an organization and as individuals, we should challenge ourselves to learn from innovators in our field, whether they are down the road or across the planet.
Of course, POD and its members also have a lot to contribute to the world. One sign of that influence is that the new network of faculty developers in Thailand has named itself ThaiPOD. Similarly, scholarship by POD members is read across the globe, with publications by Mary Deane Sorcinelli, Nancy Chism, Dee Fink, and others, being as well known in Asia as they are in North America.
Virginia Lee, POD’s president from 2008-2009, has an excellent article in the forthcoming issue of To Improve the Academy (#29) that explores the complexity of academic development in an increasingly international higher education environment. Drawing on insights from Australian colleagues Anna Carew, Geraldine Lafoe, and others, Lee calls for POD members to develop more “elastic practice” — an expanded capacity to tailor our local work to reflect both a deep knowledge of our own context and an adaptive view of our profession’s best practices.
As we begin a new academic year in a world (whether flat or spiky) characterized by accelerating change and interchange, elastic practice should become our mantra. What are we, alone and together, learning from and contributing to our increasingly global profession?--Peter Felten, Presid