Faculty development is a crucial and vital component to any college or university. For institutions with geographically dispersed faculty who are teaching online, in some cases for the very first time, faculty development takes on a new level of importance. Here the challenges are not only ensuring instructors understand the technical aspects of teaching online and have the instructional skills to meet online learners’ needs, but also instilling a sense of community.
At Columbia Southern University, a fully online institution, we consider faculty development an ongoing, continuous process. Our faculty development program consists of the following five components:
#1: New Faculty Orientation
New faculty orientation consists of a two week, self-paced training program designed to acclimate new faculty in the online classroom. In orientation training, new instructors learn the online format from the perspective of a student. In addition, they receive training on various university procedures for teaching successfully in an online environment.
Training during the new faculty orientation includes procedures on how to: participate and respond to the weekly threaded discussion board, identify and react to various academic integrity issues, administer student incompletes, recognize and curb grade inflation issues, identify and utilize the grading rubrics, create and display the faculty profile, create and set up classroom announcements, handle student complaints and grievance procedures, deal effectively with difficult students, and build the online shell for the first day of class,.
Before the new instructors start teaching their first online course, they are required to shadow a seasoned faculty member in his or her course. During this time, the new instructors can become better acclimated to the online environment, ask questions, and get clarity on issues or concerns they may have before their first teaching assignment.
#2: Teach-the-Teacher Training
This component involves teaching faculty how to become a more effective and dynamic online instructor. The main goal of the teach-the-teacher training is to introduce faculty to the various teaching methodologies that have been proven to be highly effective in an online environment.
It is during the teach-the-teacher training that instructors learn how to identify their own teaching style as well as learn the basic principles of adult learning.
#3: Quality Assurance/Online Classroom Observations
Online classroom observations are conducted each term to identify what faculty are doing correctly or incorrectly in their online classroom. Those faculty who are not meeting the classroom standards and expectations are coached and mentored one-on-one and provided with an action plan for developing the areas that need improvement.
#4: Faculty Development Webinars
Our university provides additional continuing education to its faculty through a variety of faculty development webinars. Each webinar attended helps instructors earn credits toward their professional development requirements for the year.
With topics such as principles of adult learning, dealing with difficult students, preventing academic dishonesty, and adult learning styles, these webinars serve as a major educational resource for new faculty as well as a refresher for seasoned faculty.
#5: Professional Development Administration
An important but sometimes overlooked component of professional development involves making sure that all full time and adjunct faculty are successfully completing their required annual professional development and CEUs. This includes maintaining the faculty files and professional development events that each faculty has attended during the year.
Faculty development serves as a major quality assurance factor for universities and colleges and should be viewed as more of a necessity than a luxury. There are many instructors coming out of college who are now teaching for the first time. Universities cannot assume that just because they have a graduate degree, they know how to teach.
An effective faculty development program should be implemented in every university that is interested in providing an exceptional educational experience for their students. Because faculty are considered the heart of any college or university, the better prepared they are to teach, the greater success our students will achieve.
Dr. Al Infande is the online human resources lead faculty at Columbia Southern University in Orange Beach, Ala. He also serves as a professor at several colleges and universities where he teaches courses in human resources management.