Staff and Faculty Inquiry Groups (SFIGs)

What is a SFIG?

Staff and Faculty Inquiry Groups are a fairly new form of sustainable grassroots professional development. They differ from some of the “hit and run” forms of professional development in that they are ongoing and grow from what faculty and staff are noticing about student learning. We will identify and investigate questions about students’ learning in a collaborative setting.

According to the Carnegie Foundation’s Advancement for Teaching, “When faculty pursue such inquiry in the company of colleagues and students, they create a Teaching Commons on their campus—a set of interconnected forums

  • conversations about learning take place,
  • where innovations in curriculum and pedagogy get tried out, and
  • where questions and answers about education are exchanged, critiqued and built upon.

Learn about SFIGs at NECC:

The following is a list of the SFIGs at NECC. Please click on a link to jump to that portion of the web page.

Campus Mentor/Sponsor Program

What is this all about?

This SFIG Core Team is led by professionals from Human Resources, Faculty and Professional Development.

    We invite staff and faculty to help us pursue the following goals:

    • Research Mentoring/Sponsoring programs for employees
    • Design mentor training program for employees at NECC
    • Embed ongoing mentoring training/orientation for all PD programs such as  NECC Leadership Academy, New Faculty Orientation.

    What Is the Process?

    Spring 2015/Spring 2016 Commitment

    One meeting per month

    For more information and to hear how YOU might fit in, please contact Justine Caron at

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    Universal Course Design and Teaching Visual Learners SFIG

    What Is This All About?

    This SFIG Core Team is led by professionals from three related fields:

    • Center for Accessibility Resources & Services (Susan Martin, NECC)
    • Universal Course Design (Lori Cooney, Universal Design Specialist and Project Coordinator of the Institute for Community Inclusion, UMass Boston)
    • Graphic Design (Lance Hidy, NECC)

    We invite staff and faculty to help us pursue two goals:

    • Design courses to be universally engaging to a full spectrum of learning styles and abilities, using multiple methods of presentation and assessment
    • Increase the use of visual content by both faculty and students.

    What Is the Process?

    During a series of four meetings per semester, we will see how the learning accommodations of Universal Course Design (UCD) improve success for all students, and not just for those with disabilities.

    We’ll look at case studies of innovative course design, including some using computer tools that have only recently become viable options. We will also focus on visual strategies to enhance communication and ultimately learning. We will introduce easy-to-use processes for working with type and images to improve student comprehension and engagement—and also for students to use in their own writing and PowerPoints.

    Fall 2011/Spring 2012 Commitment

    One meeting per month with UCD Core Team to learn about Universal Course Design strategies for instruction, assessment, curriculum, and environment. Also help interested faculty include a few UCD strategies into their courses. Meetings are both friendly, informal discussions and workshop formats.

    For more information and to hear how YOU might fit in, please contact Susan Martin at

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    Faculty and Student Academic Motivation SFIG

    As educators we have specific academic goals for our students, and specific ideas about how those goals can best be met.  However, what goals do our students bring to the NECC classroom?  Do their goals compliment or combat the goals we have for them?  How can we help students and faculty to align their goals so that everyone succeeds and feels successful?

    The purpose of this SFIG is to investigate the academic goals of both faculty and students on the Northern Essex Community College campuses.  Using an Academic Achievement Goal theory of motivation as a theoretical basis, we will unpack assumptions about the goals that we and our students set for academic tasks.  Included in this investigation will be reading and discussions about the types of goals that people work towards in academic settings, the behaviors they employ to reach those goals, and the standards they use to determine if and when they have met their goals.

    By including members from a variety of disciplines, this SFIG will be able to identify a variety of goals, behaviors, and standards across the NECC campuses. Having accomplished that, this group will then be able to start the work of identifying goals, behaviors, and standards that are mutually beneficial to both faculty and students, those which will ensure success on campus and beyond.

    This group will meet once each month to discuss readings and methods for collecting data about the Achievement Goal climate of NECC with the intention of developing ways to promote adaptive academic goals that can be shared with faculty and students on both campuses.

    This SFIG will be facilitated by Kirsten Kortz, PhD, Instructor in College Success, Academic Preparation. For more information, contact Kirsten at

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    Engagement Across the Curriculum SFIG

    This has been an interesting semester for the Engagement Across the Curriculum – A Collaborative Approach SFIG. We were charged with designing assignments and activities that will allow our students to integrate and apply learning related to the college’s five core academic skills. The skills are:  Communication, Global Awareness, Information Literacy, Quantitative Reasoning, and Science and Technology.

    We continued our work developing specific assignments and activities. Many members of the SFIG participated in a workshop on Collaborative Learning facilitated by Barbara Millis on June 1-2, 2010. On September 1, 2010, the SFIG presented a college-wide symposium called “Core Academic Skills and You!” and we shared some of our work with our colleagues.

    We also participated in larger disciussions about general education and core academic skills. Then Vice President of Academic Affairs, Lane Glenn, gave members of the committee the book The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University by Louis Menand. We met with then Academic Vice President Glenn in the Fall 2010 to discuss the general education at NECC. Later in the semester, the group met with then Academic Vice President Glenn and former President David Hartleb and we discussed the Chancellor of Higher Education’s Vision Project, which includes a
    section of student learning.

    When the Engagement Across the Curriculum Committee, had been formed to propose a plan to implement the Core Academic Skills at NECC, there was no need to continue on as a SFIG.  Many members of the SFIG have become members of that committee, under the direction of Bill Heineman, now the new Academic Vice President and Professor Kristi Arford. Once a specific plan is in place, the SFIG can be re-visited to explore the ways we can assist faculty integrating the skills into particular classes.

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    Reading for Understanding SFIG

    What do you notice about student reading?Do NECC students read and analyze what they read at the level that is necessary for them to succeed in college? Perhaps Margaret Mead said it best, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This group of dedicated citizens will be developing questions centered around student reading. We’ll meet 1–2 hours per month.Inquiry starts with noticing, and at Northern Essex Community College, what many of us have noticed is our students are challenged and overwhelmed by reading at the level that they need to in order to succeed.

    Many students practice “surface reading” very similar to the type of reading they do online, but they don’t use self-checking metacognitive skills to adjust their reading strategies in order to read and understand difficult texts, unwrap word problems or essay questions, or even answer multiple choice questions on exams.

    This cross-curricular group will investigate how we can help students become more proficient and independent readers.

    For more information, contact Patricia Schade at

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    Hispanic/Male Students in Foundational Courses SFIG

    This proposed plan (PDF) describes the development and outline of a Staff Faculty Inquiry Group (SFIG) at Northern Essex Community College (NECC), Haverhill, Massachusetts. Unlike usual faculty committees within a community college, where participants get together periodically to discuss a particular issue, this SFIG is designed to pull together key interested staff and faculty (and at times students) willing to discuss specific learning issues of a targeted population.

    Through data collection and analysis, the SFIG then determines what the specific problem areas are, and develop strategic remedies to improve learning and academic success within the student group. Working with key administrators, faculty, and staff, the SFIG then helps implement specific strategies within the college community to better serve the targeted group of students improve their academic success.

    For more information, contact Jorge Santiago at You can also read the short outline of the Hispanic Male Students in Foundational Courses SFIG (PDF).

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    Should you have any questions, please contact Kim Burns, Interim Dean of Professional Development, at ext. 3969 or at

    Sponsored by: The Center for Professional Development