5-Step Professional Development Plan for Online Faculty

professional development for online facultyContinued learning is as important for college faculty members as it is for any working professional. As we enter a new year, professional development resources in higher education continue to be limited in terms of the time and money available, even as the demands to stay current and tech-savvy increase.

How and where should online instructors focus their attention and resources this year? If you are like me, you often find yourself moving professional development to the end of the to-do list. With a little advanced planning and research, however, we can make the most of low- and no-cost opportunities, especially those offered online.

1. Focus on a Few Topics

Before selecting a professional development event or resource, think about what you want to learn. Where do you need to improve your skills this year? Here are a few general categories you may be interested in exploring as an online instructor, but don’t limit yourself to this list. Use it as a starting point and create something more specific and customized to frame your approach for 2015.

  • Instructional Strategies: How do you teach? MERLOT’s Pedagogy Portal and the Illinois Online Network provide brief definitions and examples of a wide range of methods you can use to engage students, foster interaction, and facilitate learning in a virtual environment.
  • Curriculum and Instructional Development: Do you have experience aligning learning objectives across lessons and courses, choosing course materials, or designing assessments? This category includes a wide range of topics centered on planning and preparing a high-quality learning experience.
  • Discipline-specific Subjects: Whether or not you are working “off campus” in a field related to the topics you teach, staying up-to-date can be difficult to manage. Consider areas within your industry and academic discipline that interest you this year.
  • Educational Technology: The world of online education continues to evolve as new tools for communication, collaboration, and content creation emerge. Take your tech skills to the next level by taking on web design, programming, multimedia interaction, live meeting software, social media integration, or another tech-oriented topic.
  • Career Development: Would it be helpful to document your existing skills? Does your field value formal certificates and professional certification? This could be the year to work toward a new credential, especially if you have career transition or advancement in mind. Don’t forget to plan for continuing education hours/credits as required by any current certifications you may hold.

2. Find Helpful Sources and Formats

Convenience is part of the professional development puzzle – what can you fit into your busy schedule and where? A one-hour session may make more sense than a multi-week course right now, and self-paced tutorials are always available online.

  • MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses are still popular among educators as a low-cost learning experience that includes self-paced and cohort formats, as well as structured content and assessments. Browse the Coursera, edX, and Udemy catalogs for course descriptions that match your needs and interests.
  • Workshops, Webinars, and Seminars: Short-term training and education opportunities can be found in single-session workshops and their online counterpart, the webinar. ASCD’s free professional development webinar archive offers an example of what you can find online. Bookmark these resources for times when you have an hour or two to log in, listen, and learn.
  • Professional Association Events: I often write about conference attendance, but this can be expensive and a challenge to schedule. Fortunately, many organizations, such as the Online Learning Consortium and Teaching, Colleges and Community, offer virtual attendance options at more affordable rates with no travel or lodging required. Check your field’s associations for more details and other professional development resources, such as publications, workshops, and local networking sessions.
  • Open Educational Resources: Many institutions and individual educators are openly sharing their teaching and learning materials online. Exploring these resources can lead to everything from additional references for your professional library to new ideas for your online courses and beyond. Search one of the many OER repositories, like OER Commons and Open4Us.org, to discover the possibilities.
  • Social Media: If you are new to social media, or an experienced user that’s in a rut, make this the year you enhance your professional learning, networking, and web presence efforts via social platforms. Try a live chat (e.g., #IOLchat) with Twitter, participate in a LinkedIn Group discussion, or experiment with the brief video capabilities of Instagram. My social media challenge for online faculty provides additional ideas to get the ball rolling.
  • Do-It-Yourself: A DIY approach can take on almost any size and shape. Start a virtual book club with your colleagues, watch a TED Talk and write a blog post about it (maybe make it a series), or volunteer with a local organization to share your area of expertise. This category encourages us all to be as creative as possible.

3. Participate in Education and EdTech Events

Educators across the country and the globe come together each year to share experiences, resources, and ways to collaborate. The dates for many of this year’s education-related activities are already available. Here are some of the events I try to follow each year as a presenter, participant, and hashtag follower.

4. Seek Institutional Support

While funding for formal training and education for higher education professionals is often non-existent, especially for adjuncts and other non-tenured and part-time educators, there may still be helpful resources available through your institution. Ask about some of the following opportunities, which may not be well known or widely advertised.

  • Faculty Development Resources: Check for school-based teams of instructional designers, multimedia specialists, and other learning professionals who present workshops, offer one-on-one assistance, and post web-based tutorials designed to improve your online teaching skills set.
  • Lecture Series: Check the school’s main events calendar for a variety of sessions and venues, such as speakers’ series and receptions, which provide an opportunity to hear, and sometimes meet, leaders in the education field.
  • Educational Discounts: Ask about ways to make purchases as a professional educator that help you participate in professional development activities while also saving money and time. Hardware, software, publications, and more, are often available through school bookstores, academic technology offices, and faculty development centers.
  • Institutional Memberships: Paid subscriptions to professional services can be expensive, but group discounts are a common benefit of institutional membership. Find out more about access to training tutorials through sites like Atomic Learning and Lynda.com, which may be free for students and instructors through a school’s account. Organizations like the Online Learning Consortium also offer group access to streamed workshops and conferences.

5. Add Activities to Your Schedule

It’s already mid-January; do you have a plan for professional development? Time flies, and before we know it Spring Break will be upon us with Summer and Fall class schedules soon to follow.

Prioritize your current professional development needs and set a few realistic goals that factor in the time, money, and energy you have available. Keep in mind that as the months get busier and projects change, your plan may need revision. Create a place to start and add professional development activity to your calendar now.

Follow Melissa Venable on Twitter and Google+.

Source: Inside Online Learning Blog