The past 10 years have witnessed some massive growing pains in education. Nearly all aspects at all levels have been touched by efforts to reform in an attempt to create meaningful learning opportunities for today’s students. New tools, skills, approaches, and media have redefined the way we create those experiences, and educators who don’t learn and engage in them will see themselves become increasingly irrelevant. In short, faculty development now more than ever is necessary to an institution’s viability.
But as my fellow faculty developers know, the task is not an easy one. Before any effective program can be implemented, three major challenges must be overcome.
Challenge of input/output
One might naturally assume that with such a pressing need for pedagogical revision, instructors would be breaking down the doors of faculty development offices, demanding to be retrained. The reality is that oftentimes workshop events are organized—speakers are invited (and often paid), food is catered, rooms are reserved, schedules are put in place, advertising is sent out across multiple media—and just a few people show up. This, unfortunately, is often the case with most of the faculty developers I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with.
Challenge of scope
As noted above, academia is currently undergoing some massive changes. Chief among those is technology, particularly online education, which runs the gamut from typical online courses to blended learning to massive open online courses (MOOCs). And then there are mobile and tablet computing, flipped classrooms, and social media, each one of which has been touted in countless articles for its pivotal role in revolutionizing education. But that’s all just technology as a means to engage and interact with students. What about the substance of education, such as crafting strong learning objectives, designing meaningful assessment opportunities, and connecting one with the other? There must be a balanced and comprehensive fluency with both technology and pedagogy, and that is no small feat for an educator to learn or for a faculty developer to teach.
Challenge of culture
As is the case at my institution and at most others across the country, professional development is purely elective. And with the intense demands of teaching loads, committee obligations, and research agendas, why would an instructor spend two precious hours of the week learning about “the latest teaching fad that will probably disappear in six months, when what I’ve been doing for the past 20 years works just fine for me”? Add to that the potentially ego-deflating experience of being the greenhorn in the room when the rest of the time on campus is spent being the master.
All things considered, the odds of creating effective faculty development seem woefully stacked against success. And yet it would be a gross disservice to faculty—and especially to students—to offer subpar learning opportunities.
So what’s the solution?
After struggling with the three challenges outlined above, I have found that, yes, there are ways to make faculty development work. Below is a list of recommendations that taken together can transform any faculty development program from rusty to robust.
Of course, the above suggestions are just that—suggestions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to faculty development. A number of factors such as campus size, funding, and available technology all can vary widely and impact how programs are executed. But improvements can always be made, and these suggestions are a great place to start. A well-developed faculty is key to an institution’s ability to stay relevant and effective, and faculty developers play a vital role in ensuring that.
James Kowalski is the faculty development specialist at Chicago State University. He holds a master of science in education and social policy from Northwestern University and a bachelor of arts from the University of Chicago.