Thoughts on Faculty Professional Development

“Faculty who regularly reflect on their teaching are better prepared to create and sustain faculty-student interactions in which both teacher and learner flourish.”


Prologue

Welcome to the twenty-first century. We live in dynamic times when technology advances profoundly affect education at all levels and require us to react more and reflect on our actions more than at any time in our past. The demand for online or enhanced (blended) educational opportunities has placed new demands on faculty and students to develop new techniques for teaching and learning in a virtual environment. Online education has begun to redefine how learning is managed and knowledge is acquired.

To address these new demands, colleges and universities have engaged a work force of instructional designers and IT professionals to work side-by-side with faculty content experts to develop strategies for engaging students and to prepare faculty to design, deliver and evaluate courses online.

Students today have not known education without technology. The level and diversity of technology skills and experiences of students sometimes exceeds those of faculty. Further, most faculty priorities dictate that they remain up-to-date with their discipline, but not with technology. This means they have little time to discover and master new learning technologies. In fact, many faculty teach their first online course without any prior online teaching or learning experiences; with all of their preparation completed in traditional settings.

Faculty are not without technology skills. Most if not all faculty are competent at using technology to produce class materials, communicate and research. However, this is often not enough. Faculty need to be competent in using instructional technology and learning management systems to sustain successful teaching and achieve targeted student outcomes. Few faculty find the time and inspiration to emerge as true innovators in their use of technology to enhance learning and engage students. Faculty need to have access to quality professional development programs.


Transitioning to Online Teaching
Today’s teachers did not learn to teach by modeling online instructors.

The initial teaching model for many faculty is generally derived from their own learning experiences and former teachers (Layne, Froyd, Simpson, Caso & Merton, 2004) and consists of mostly teacher-centered strategies in a traditional, face-to-face environment. Online education on the other hand, is a new specialty that redirects faculty from teaching in their familiar ways and encourages them to rethink their teaching practices. What may have worked for them in their past may no longer be helpful or reliable in an online classroom. We must present faculty with new views of teaching and new strategies for engaging learners. An initial step in this process of preparing faculty to move into online teaching is to encourage them to note that which is unfamiliar, different, or absent in the online courses of experienced faculty. Shadowing experienced faculty or auditing their courses can be a catalyst for reflection and evaluation of their own teaching practices.


Transformation
Challenges to faculty self-concept as expert can result in resistance to online teaching.

In rethinking their familiar ways of teaching when moving online, faculty can easily shift from teacher-centered to student-centered instruction. As faculty discover alternative ways to deliver instruction and model teaching, they are able to shift their instructional roles to place a greater amount of responsibility for learning on the students. They soon discover that online there exists the possibility to create different teaching and learning roles. Faculty can move away from their role as deliverers of content to constructivist-based facilitators (Conrad, 2004).

If faculty development is considered within the context of adult learning, then all the theory, research, and literature from the field of adult education and its effective principles, practices, strategies, applications, and experience become the tools of the development team (Lawler, 2003). It is important to consider the characteristics of faculty as adult learners and be aware of their pressing problems, concerns, and issues in their professional lives. Faculty bring with them a diversity of life experiences, educational experiences, personalities, learning preferences, and uniqueness. This shapes their perspectives on their teaching practices, influences how they will teach in the future, and even influences their motivation to participate in professional development activities (Lawler, 2003). Therefore, I believe that faculty development initiatives should address faculty as adult learners and provide them with opportunities to reflect on their practice.


Model
Responsiveness to the individuality of the faculty member is essential.

When faculty members display a resistance to online teaching, it may be because it threatens their identity as professors and experts (Meyer, 2004). This could impact their online teaching experience. Successful relationships between the development team and faculty start with an understanding of the faculty member’s preferences for teaching and learning, prior experiences, and attitudes toward change. Next, it is important to build a community based on collegial sharing. This community will serve as a support structure for faculty.

Critically reflective thinking is an integral component in transformational learning. If teaching online brings inherent changes that challenge our old assumptions about teaching and learning, then perhaps it is time to rethink everything about face-to-face teaching practices. Reflective thinking within faculty development might be the strategy to promote this kind of transformative learning in faculty.

As a way of introducing faculty to online learning, faculty should be added to an online course as an observer to gain a better understanding of how online teaching and learning occurs (Barker, 2003). The next step would be to provide sufficient opportunity for experimentation. The need for faculty to have opportunities to experiment and apply their online skills within the context of their own curriculum is very important to their development (Hinson & LaPrairie, 2005). It is also important to provide training that can be used right away, fit into faculty schedules, match faculty learning styles, and includes support from the development team and colleagues.


Conclusion

I firmly believe that teaching can be thought of as effective communication. To effectively communicate online, a teacher must master the tools of online communication. As a veteran teacher and college professor, I have undergone my own transformation and have found effective new ways to engage students using technology. The following represents my focus and my beliefs about education and faculty development:

The following Principles for Good Practice first appeared over twenty years ago and are still valid today. I consider them an important part of online pedagogy (Chickering & Gamson, 1987):

  1. Encourage contact between students and faculty
  2. Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students
  3. Encourage active learning
  4. Give prompt feedback
  5. Emphasize time on task
  6. Communicate high expectations
  7. Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.

To these principles I add my own core of beliefs about faculty development:

  1. The best faculty development takes place when faculty are inspired.  Authentic, significant, and sustainable change occurs when faculty receive support and guidance that is aligned with their professional beliefs and goals.
  2. There is no one way to teach that works for everyone. There are some teaching practices that are more effective than others.
  3. Promoting student learning is paramount and should always guide practice, especially when it comes to adopting new technologies and methodologies.

Teaching roles have changed. The lack of physical presence in the online classroom can be difficult to overcome. Anything a faculty member wants to “say” must be communicated electronically. These are no simple challenges. They require intervention. Faculty can transform and students can adapt. The future of education may well rest on our ability to master the online learning environment.


References

Chickering, A.W. and Gamson, Z.F. (Fall, 1987). Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. Washington Center News.

Conrad, D. (2004). University instructors’ reflections on their first online teaching experiences. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 8(2), 31-44.

Hinson, J. M., & LaPrairie, K. N. (2005). Learning to teach online: Promoting success through professional development. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 29, 483-493.

Lawler, P. A. (2003, Summer). Teachers as adult learners: A new perspective. In K.P. King & P. A. Lawler (Eds.), New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education (pp. 15-22). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Layne, J., Froyd, J., Simpson, N., Caso, R., & Merton, P. (2004). Understanding and improving faculty professional development in teaching. Paper presented at the 34th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (pp. 1C 15-20), October 20-23, 2004. Savannah, GA.

Meyer, K. (2004). Putting the distance learning comparison study in perspective: Its role as personal journey research. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 7(1). Retrieved March 30, 2010, from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring71/meyer71.htm