Planning for: Professional Development for Online Faculty

Published April 6, 2020
By Sadie Wutka, Director of Content Strategy, SCUP
Planning Types: Academic Planning

Institutions referenced in this resource:
City University of Seattle

Interview with Dr. Joel Domingo, Associate Professor and Chair, Research Institute, City University of Seattle (formerly Academic Program Director/Associate Professor of the online Ed.D. in Leadership Program)

According to a press release cited in our Spring 2020 issue of Trends in Higher Education, Penn State University has ramped up its professional development offerings for online faculty, including programming that helps faculty understand different online learner populations and hone their online teaching skills in the face of evolving technology.

City University of Seattle has long offered several degree programs in a mixed-mode or online-only format, including its Ed.D. in leadership program. We recently talked with Dr. Joel Domingo, the former academic director for that program, about his institution’s experience with professional development for online faculty.

Briefly describe the use of online faculty at City University of Seattle and your role in planning for their professional development.

Our doctoral program in leadership, like several of the other programs at City University of Seattle, is offered completely online. As the head of that program, I was responsible for ensuring that online faculty knew the expectations around academic rigor, curricular and instructional quality, grading consistency, and general systems and processes. It became clear that faculty needed professional development and training on some of these topics, so I worked with our e-learning department to offer online webinars and conferences on topics ranging from instructional improvement to curriculum development. One fun webinar I created was on the nuances of lighting when producing an online instructional video.

In my current role as head of research for the entire institution, I’m working with all faculty—including online faculty—to strengthen and streamline the processes around scholarship at City University of Seattle, which also includes some professional development around research.

What are some of the biggest challenges in planning professional development for online faculty?

There are a few things that come to mind. First, many online faculty work as adjuncts at their respective institution, and while they want to participate in professional development, there has to be some incentive for them. But financial incentives can be difficult to manage, especially with limited resources available. Second, selecting an appropriate topic is a challenge. How do you know that the information you’re distilling into a webinar is actually what they need as faculty, and is it worth their time? Finally, there are the challenges of time and geography. When do you host a live webinar given the time zone differences for faculty scattered across North America, let alone other parts of the world? Does a recorded webinar provide the same experience?

What are some unexpected opportunities that have arisen from your efforts in this area?

We’ve seen how COVID-19 has changed the delivery model for colleges and universities in a very short time. We’ve been fortunate that our professional development efforts have already created opportunities for faculty to learn new online tools that improve communication, increase teaching quality, and make workflow more efficient. In addition, there’s some early evidence that those opportunities have made our communication among faculty richer and more focused on the student experience at our institution.

What relationships will colleges and universities find beneficial as they work to expand professional development for online faculty?

We have the benefit of having an internal e-learning department on campus that we’ve been able to partner with. We’ve also looked a lot at our vendors to see, for example, what features our learning management system will support or what different creative authoring tools will do.

Of course, not every institution has an e-learning department. In that case, it’s possible to leverage the existing knowledge and expertise of the faculty. Online faculty are a wealth of resources, and they learn from each other across institutions. They can often get the information they need organically through their own personal networks, especially if it’s encouraged.

What advice would you give administrators looking to expand or improve professional development for online faculty?

Again, it’s important to realize that faculty really want to learn and improve; they just need the time and resources to do so, and administrators need to consider how to make those things available. Beyond that, the culture of the institution needs to change so that professional development is not just a one-time event you attend that may or may not be timely or relevant. Instead, professional development needs to be more casual, more frequent, and more accessible—for example, small snippets of videos and tips that can be accessed from a repository any time they’re needed.

Any final thoughts?

I know our faculty have talked about certificates and credentials that recognize their online learning. The question is, how do we recognize the talents that are already out there in our faculty, especially our online faculty, and how do we communicate that throughout the institution? The communication piece is huge—when faculty get the recognition they deserve for the knowledge they have, they feel better about the institution and their role in it.

Read all of the trends and analysis from the Spring 2020 issue of Trends for Higher Education.