J. Lynn Zimmerman
Lynn Zimmerman coordinates Emory’s online education efforts, serving as an ex officio member of the Faculty Advisory Committee on Online Education and helping to facilitate the university’s Coursera courses. She was a participant in the 2013-14 Academic Learning Community titled “The Changing Landscape of Higher Education,” which was convened by the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence to explore the shifting contexts of higher education.
The Academic Exchange: You serve as an ex officio member of the Faculty Advisory Committee on Online Education. What does this body do in terms of faculty governance?
Lynn Zimmerman: The connection between the Faculty Advisory Committee on Online Education (FACOE) and faculty governance takes two forms. First, one ex officio member of FACOE is an elected member of the Faculty Council. This year the former Faculty Council chair is serving on FACOE, and it is our intention to always have this presence on the committee. The purpose of this formal connection with the Faculty Council is to ensure there is information flow between FACOE and the Faculty Council members. Secondly, almost the entire FACOE committee is made up of faculty, with representation from each school and from all levels of faculty. This was deliberate in the creation of the committee in order to create an opportunity for a representational faculty voice to advise the Provost on this important issue.
AE: What does the term “faculty governance” mean to you?
LZ: In its strictest definition, faculty governance refers to the opportunity for faculty to share in key decision making processes, often through elected representatives. But I think that faculty governance has also come to mean any kind of significant faculty input to a process. In this context it’s important to note that all of the work of the Faculty Advisory Committee on Online Education is being driven and accomplished with faculty input, so by this definition, it is faculty governance in action.
AE: You were part of the Academic Learning Community convened in Fall 2013 on the Changing Landscape of Higher Education. What was that experience like? What sorts of topics were covered?
LZ: The topics that have been covered there have been more recently focused on activities around online education, but prior to that we really looked at some of the trends that are changing and pushing higher education to move beyond where it has been, and frankly a lot of those things are technology-driven.
AE: How do you see Emory’s online education efforts, faculty governance at Emory, and the changing landscape of higher education as interlinked?
LZ: They are very clearly interlinked. I do believe that technology-enabled education, whether it’s strictly online or things that are happening in the classroom, in a flipped classroom kind of setting, are changing both what we can and can’t do, with and for our students, and what we perhaps would like to do. Whether it’s what we should do is a different question, and I think it’s a question that Emory needs to answer for itself. We are our own institution, we have our own goals, we have our own identity, we have our own values, and whatever we do in the future needs to be consistent with those things.
I think in particular, it’s essential to always ask the questions, “Is this good for Emory students? Is it better for Emory students? Is it consistent with who we believe we are and who we want to be? Does it move us forward toward those goals?” I think we’ve been really quite thoughtful about not wanting to just jump on a bandwagon because it happens to be close by or accessible to us, so I think that, although we did get involved with Coursera in a fairly rapid way, or at least it appeared that way, we did it on a very small scale. And we really are seeing these things as kind of experiments and not major new directions for Emory. I think we have to do the experiments to understand the pros and cons, to see how our students react, to see how our faculty react. And I don’t think we are ready at this point, either through the Academic Learning Community or through the Faculty Advisory Committee, to say, “We’re going in this direction, and we’re not going in this direction.” We’re in the process at this point. It’s not a small question, it shouldn’t have a quick answer, and faculty need to be very much at the center of finding that answer.