In interviews, both WAT Institute participants and coordinators spoke at length about program design and how the professional development opportunity might have been improved. This section discusses study findings relevant to program design and poses two key questions for TPD programs to ask during the design process, followed by some recommendations.
What goals should TPD programs have?
According to Cox et al. (2018), programs that can articulate specific and realistic goals clearly “at the outset . . . have a much greater chance of building sustainable projects and programs” and will make such programs easier to assess. In addition to promoting sustainability, communicating goals clearly to participants is likely to improve participant satisfaction and head off unnecessary frustration. Different contexts will necessitate different goals. The case study of the WAT Institute offers a few lessons for goal development.
Conduct a needs assessment
Interview participants consistently drew my attention to the fact that their expertise and comfort level varied considerably. Some participants wanted to develop assignments, some wanted to learn software skills, and others wanted to engage conceptually with the curriculum’s underlying philosophies. A needs assessment can help identify not only what kind of expertise might be lacking in a program, but also who has specific skills they might be willing to share. Consider using survey and focus group methods. Mina (2019) offers one example of how to conduct a survey-based needs assessment, while Obermark et al. (2015) provide a portrait of how goals can be collaboratively defined with stakeholders during focus groups. Although assessments will likely identify more than one need worth addressing, the process will also help with prioritizing these needs and defining a TPD program’s format.
Limit scope and prioritize goals
As the section on expertise explores in detail, there are numerous kinds of expertise involved in multimodal composition instruction. Limiting scope realistically to a small handful of targeted competencies is essential in order to both avoid overwhelming participants and engender learning that lasts and can be applied.
Make use of locally available expertise
Rodrigo and Romberger (2017) have noted that WPAs are often called upon to be “technology experts,” even though the labor of obtaining and sharing this expertise is not always rewarded or recognized. Meanwhile, many WPAs do not have a wealth of technology expertise even as they feel a responsibility to support program faculty in updating pedagogical practices to incorporate the multimodal literacies our field’s position statements now widely endorse. Rather than trying to manufacture expertise out of nothing, WPAs might look for where expertise already exists in a program. When I interviewed WAT institute participants and coordinators about their experiences with multimodal composition, many of them stated their confidence in composing beyond academic print was shaky at best. But when encouraged to think about their full range of composing experiences, including those beyond the academy, all participants identified certain multimodal skillsets they possessed—including music mixing, blogging, furniture design, and making memes for PowerPoints—even though they often hadn’t considered bringing those skillsets into their teaching or research work. WPAs should consider working “asset-mapping” (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993) into needs assessments to inventory the multimodal composition skills and resources community members have and would be willing to share.
How should TPD programs be structured to achieve their goals?
Once goals are established, the best format for achieving those goals can be explored. The WAT Institute attempted to provide development in technopedagogy expertise (studio pedagogy methods), multimodal composition and technology applied expertise (how to leverage digital tools to create multimedia texts), and multimodal composition pedagogy conceptual expertise (learning the new curriculum, designing assignments). While this was probably too many objectives, as discussed above, the institute’s format tended to reinforce the technology and multimodal composition applied expertises.
As the first diagram in the figure above demonstrates, each workshop centered on a different mode or technology for composing. The “flipped” method of supplementing in-person workshops with technology how-to modules reinforced this emphasis. Because the digital platform they were learning shifted each workshop, participants still reported feeling they had only gotten their feet wet with each tool.
A more effective format might have resembled the second diagram in the above figure. One session is devoted to conceptual expertise; two sessions feature “breakout groups” for developing deeper expertise in one composing technology of the participant’s choosing; and one session is devoted to turning the experience in previous workshops into lesson plans and assignments.
Institutional constraints may determine some of these decisions. The WAT Institute’s coordinators stated that they had originally envisioned an intensive TPD model similar to DMAC where participants convened during the summer for a string of day-long sessions. Funding decisions outside the writing program’s control, however, reduced the WAT Institute to a series of monthly workshops with supplemental, self-paced online content in between sessions.
Feedback from the WAT Institute recommends a number of practices can be effective for TPD in the right context:
- “Flipping” PD. Although they admitted some frustration with troubleshooting technology on their own, most WAT Institute participants found the practice of going though software tutorials in advance of each session to be valuable. This can be particularly helpful for developing technical expertise, which might be cumbersome to walk through in group settings when participants have varying levels of competence.
- Taking on the role of a student. Those who wanted to gain applied multimodal composition expertise found this exercise valuable. It may be important to devote considerable time to reflecting on this process if the end goal is pedagogical development.
- Collaboration. WAT Institute participants found trying new things less daunting when they could do so alongside their peers. Making professional development more focused on peer interaction and less focused on content delivery opens the potential for more transformative learning.
- Attending to incentives. Participation in the WAT Institute was incentivized in part through a curriculum mandate: First-Year Writing instructors would soon be required to teach multimodal composition in the redesigned course. Without such a clear exigence, instructors may be reluctant to opt into TPD, which provokes anxiety for many. Stipends and micro-credentialing may motivate people to sign up, but institutional recognition—for instance, acknowledging participation in tenure files or annual reviews—that signals the professional development is a meaningful contribution to instructors’ professional careers and communities may be necessary to prompt authentic engagement and make TPD programs have a lasting impact.