A Case Study of Faculty Development Needs in Distance Education; presented at the International Council for Open and Distance Education, Santo Domingo, DO.
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As distance education practices continue to evolve, so do the needs for effective faculty development practices. Faculty development needs can be somewhat unique in distance education. Faculty concerns relate to centralized service delivery, technology, course development time, concerns over the lack of autonomy, a sense of isolation, and feeling overworked. Such issues, if not addressed or clarified in the context of how distance education courses are delivered, can further isolate and disillusion faculty. In light of these challenges, we were interested in assessing our own university’s faculty development needs. In this paper, we present an overview of the scope of faculty development programs, related issues in distance education, and critical success factors. Thereafter, we discuss our university’s experience with faculty development. We conducted an online survey of our faculty that included open-ended questions (n=182, 31% response rate). The open-ended responses from participants focused on the need for a mentoring program, concerns over course development processes, issues related to information technology (IT), feelings of isolation, and the importance of collegial social interactions. The most striking and positive finding is that a majority of respondents believe their contributions to the teaching process to be important; there is a deep desire for good relationships with colleagues and the development of an effective teaching environment. The desire to develop teaching skills is an essential foundation to improving teaching practices. The results of the survey indicate that the preferred delivery methods for learning activities include both digitally based Web-spaces and face-to-face workshops facilitated by invited experts (outside of the institution). The findings confirmed a four-factor model for faculty development: (a) Technical (Internet / Web resources); (b) Social (interpersonal); (c) Moderating (cognitive / pedagogical); and (d) Management (teaching). The commitment to faculty development warrants more attention. As supported by the literature, effective faculty development programs involve needs assessments, responsiveness to faculty concerns, meaningful incentives, and faculty involvement. Continuing learning opportunities can reduce feelings of isolation, provide social interaction, and help improve teaching practices. New faculty that feel engaged and well supported in terms of teaching effectiveness and instructional support will be essential to our ability to achieve our strategic goals.