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Author: Joseph Fees, Alexa Silver, and Tina Petrovic

External faculty development has many benefits for improving teaching and academic programs, but these courses and training also come with limitations. The direct creation of an academic institution’s own faculty training and courses is one practical option to expand faculty professional development opportunities aligned with evidence-based teaching practices, institutional needs, and policy changes. Constructing in-house faculty courses at the university level has a number of advantages and can be cost effective.

During summer 2020, faculty and staff at Delaware State University designed an in-house training course, titled Online Course Conversion, with the support of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant. The goal of the one-month course was to prepare all faculty to implement online and virtual classes in response to the pandemic for the 2020–2021 academic year. The course simulated an online class for faculty with learning modules focused on tools and strategies for effective online teaching, including tech programs, interactive activities, student engagement, and optimal online course design. Based on the experience of the Online Conversion Course at Delaware State University, this article will highlight a number of key takeaways to guide and encourage the development of internal training and courses for successful implementation at other institutions.

External professional development limitations

External professional development courses have much value, and they are an excellent resource for research-based teaching and high-quality programs. External programs also have national recognition and promote evidence-based pedagogy for improved teaching and course delivery. Costs vary based on the provider and universities often pay per participant, but these programs are an efficient use of resources for universities with limited budgets for teaching and technology support staff. One of the main challenges of these programs is that they can be too general; they do not address particular university policies, program requirements, or different disciplines. Additionally, they do not focus on the needs of the specific student population, and individual universities cannot modify or condense them, particularly those certifications with large time commitments.

Advantages of internal training

Internal training and courses remove some of these barriers of external professional development and have many additional advantages. In contrast to external professional development, the most substantial edge of internal training is it can address precise university needs with a design based on specific university policies and resources used by faculty and staff, including the learning management systems, technology subscriptions, and other operating systems. University-specific training help faculty not only improve as teachers, but also become more familiar with their institution’s resources and policies. Another asset of internal training is an increased sense of comradery among faculty and collaboration with members of other departments, fostering new relationships with members of the university from different segments of the campus. Fellow faculty and staff design and demonstrate the learning content and videos of the courses, which gives the materials a familiar and relatable touch. With so many free tech tools, open educational resources, and the institution’s learning management system at their disposal, universities can develop engaging training in-house with the resources to which the university already has access, while minimizing external technology costs. Trainers can provide participants with completion certificates that can count toward any professional development requirements of faculty.

There is another substantial advantage to internal professional development. Because the university is managing its own training and courses, there are additional opportunities to monitor completion progress with enhanced feedback as well as collect data for the institution. The training team can gather and analyze abundant survey data from these courses to improve the institution and incorporate as a supplement to required accreditation data. For the Delaware State University course, the leaders collected survey data from each module (eight in total) as well as from the self-evaluation tools. These surveys also allowed for course improvements as the later cohorts started the class. Additionally, a post-semester survey in December 2020 gave valuable data about how the course improved teaching that semester and asked for faculty feedback for future training possibilities. The post-semester survey results were encouraging, with faculty overwhelmingly agreeing that the course helped prepare their courses and teaching for an online setting. Based on the feedback, the surveys also provided Delaware State with meaningful suggestions for future training directions.

Steps to implement internal training

There are several crucial steps to initiate the design and implementation of internal training. A recommended systematic blueprint to carry out this process is as follows: 

  1. Gather data and surveys from faculty, students, and administrators to identify university needs and opportunities for improvement and skill development.
  2. Identify talents of particular faculty and staff. Ensure they have the needed training and resources to develop courses and modules. Select the faculty experts to create training materials and work as coordinators.
  3. Develop courses as a group with individual tasks and a peer-review process. The more people with diverse perspectives involved in the review, the better the final product will be.
  4. Have the reviewers work through training, suggest revisions, and pilot a practice cohort for the training.
  5. Implement training and courses in a cohort module and develop relationships with participants through the course moderators and interactive assignments. Modify and improve the course based on cohort feedback. Design the course so that faculty can directly implement what they create into the courses they teach.
  6. Offer small incentives and certificates to faculty upon completion.
  7. Collect data and surveys from the training. Use the data to guide the future implementations of training topics and skills as well as evaluate institutional effectiveness.

Training moderation and the cohort model

As soon as the courses commence, effective moderation is essential for successful participation and training outcomes. The cohort model, selecting small groups of 10 to 20 participants to complete the course together, can help to develop a rapport with the facilitators and a sense of community with the rest of the group, just like a small, interactive online course. The leaders should train the moderators carefully on the course and the guidelines. Successful moderation not only promotes course completion, but also models effective online and virtual teaching, discussion post responses, and exemplary assignments. Just like in online courses, the moderators can steer the faculty through challenging sections; post announcements; and give them feedback, suggestions, and encouragement while keeping everyone within the set deadlines. They can also provide one-on-one help and guidance. In summary, the dedicated task of the moderator is to develop a community of learners and encourage meaningful and engaging interactions in a supportive environment.

Topics for faculty development

There are many vital topics of faculty development for universities to create. Some areas for internal training may include learning management systems, quality video creation, testing tools, student success strategies, assessment data systems, tech tools, online course design, open educational resources, and accessibility. Be sure to ask for faculty input and tailor all training to the individual university’s needs, policies, goals, and operating systems.

Conclusion

Internal training, workshops, and courses are a way to move the university forward, improve teaching, and guide faculty to make the student learning experience more transformative with fewer allocated resources. This is increasingly important as institutions of higher education continue to navigate a more competitive academic market with declining student enrollments. The expansion and accessibility of these types of training will be essential to prepare faculty as our field goes through the rapid and needed changes it must undertake over the next few years to increase its relevance, impact, marketability, and student success.


Joseph Fees, PhD, is an assistant professor of Spanish and online coordinator for the College of Humanities, Education, and Social Sciences at Delaware State University. He was the lead course designer and moderator for the HHMI Online Conversion Course. His research interests include teaching with technology, student engagement, and language pedagogy.

Alexa Silver, PhD, is a professor of history at Delaware State University. She is currently a faculty fellow, the faculty senate president, and the director of the HHMI grant. Her research interests include online teaching, assessment, faculty development, and student success.

Tina Petrovic, MA, is a lecturer of English as a foreign language at Delaware State University. She moderated six of the HHMI Online Course Conversion cohorts. Her research interests include increasing student engagement for international students and implementing gamification in instruction.