When the calendar turned to January 1, 2021, many experienced a collective sigh of relief. A new year brings expectancy, excitement, hope, and the promise of a new beginning. While 2020 was a challenging, uncertain, and crazy year, we learned so much through it in many aspects of life, including in the fields of Education, eLearning, and Instructional Design.
As this new year begins, what changes do we as eLearning personnel and instructional designers want and, dare I say, need to make in the year ahead? What lessons did we learn from 2020 that we need to carry with us and build upon? One lesson I’d like to address is the need to offer faculty increased support and opportunities for training and development.
Why Faculty Training?
I can’t begin to tell you how many times this thought crossed my mind in 2020: “We need to provide our faculty with training and support to prepare them for remote and online teaching.” My thought was confirmed when I overheard faculty asking each other how they were adapting their classes for students amidst the pandemic or when faculty called or emailed me with questions.
As I mentioned in my blog post on Self-Care for Essential Designers, when the world stopped in March 2020 due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, life for essential workers, including educators, became fast paced, muddled, and stressful. While some may have taught classes online in the past, many had never considered preparing their face-to-face class for a hybrid or completely online learning environment. Some faculty had no idea where to start, while others who knew or were able to get their bearings still felt that they were barely getting by, their courses were lacking, and/or that they could be doing more for their students.
As an instructional designer in higher education, I believe that one of my responsibilities is to empower faculty to teach their courses with confidence, whether they are face-to-face, hybrid/virtual, or completely online. I readily send resources to faculty via email such as videos, documentation, web articles, etc. However, these resources aren’t always the resources that faculty crave, and they may not always provide the reassurance and support that they need.
What Works in Faculty Support
Instructional designers and eLearning teams can provide ongoing training and support for faculty in multiple ways, including offering faculty opportunities to come together and discuss ideas about teaching and curriculum as a whole, as a department, or even offering one-on-one faculty training. Let’s look at each of these options in a little more detail:
Faculty Development Conference:
Hosting an annual faculty development conference, in person or in an online webinar format, for all faculty (face-to-face, hybrid, blended) can be incredibly beneficial for training, support, and development. Inviting diverse speakers, from within and outside the university, and hosting different breakout sessions allows faculty to gain new skills and perspectives. In addition, a faculty development conference allows faculty to hear their colleague’s questions and ideas, both from within and outside their department. This sharing of ideas affords faculty the unique, valuable opportunity to connect, interact, and collaborate.
Monthly Department Meetings/Training:
Departments and programs often hold monthly meetings. These meetings allow faculty to have a more focused conversation about topics specifically related to their program(s), including topics related to curriculum. If a meeting is directly related to curriculum for a specific program, it might be helpful to invite an instructional designer, especially if you are transferring a course from solely face-to-face to a hybrid/remote course or fully online course. Although the instructional designer may not be able to speak to the course learning outcomes and course objectives, they can offer suggestions and guidance about course design that will help students achieve the course learning outcomes and objectives. Ultimately, it is up to the faculty and professionals in each program to decide what activities, projects, and assessments best meet students’ needs and prepare them for work in the field after graduation. However, instructional designers can help bring those unique learning experiences to life in organized, creative, and accessible ways.
Sometimes, faculty have questions specific to their course and it is easier for them to process and brainstorm one-on-one with an instructional designer. On several occasions in 2020, faculty with various levels of teaching experience emailed me and asked about the best way to set up certain tools, activities, or rubrics in their courses. Through a quick Zoom meeting, I shared my screen with them so they could see me walk through the process of setting up that tool, activity, or rubric before they attempted to implement it on their own.
Other times, a faculty member wanted to see if they could set up the activity while I was on the Zoom call with them. In those cases, I shared the host role with them and they demonstrated how they were going to set up their tools, activities, and/or rubrics. In most cases, faculty simply need the visual and/or verbal reassurance that they are headed in the right direction, which gives them the confidence to continue creating and teaching their course, even in uncertain and challenging teaching situations.
In his article, Mintz (2020) asserts, “However painful and wrenching the pandemic has been, colleges and universities now have an opportunity to rethink time-honored but outmoded traditions and adopt practices better suited to meeting today’s challenges.” He concludes, “If our colleges and universities are to embrace their professed mission — to serve as an engine of social mobility and a force for equity and inclusion — then fundamental changes need to take place.”
If faculty are to make necessary fundamental changes to meet today’s challenges in academia, they must be adequately prepared and empowered to do so. Providing more opportunities for faculty training and development is one of the first steps we must take in order to empower faculty to make the mission of higher education a reality.
Mintz, S. (2020, December 17). The crisis higher education needs. Inside Higher Education.