Professional Development and Its Future
May 2014, Volume 17, Number 5
By Jon Mandrell
With community colleges facing some of our most trying and challenging times, professional development continues to be the lifeblood of an institution. As resources and budgets become strained, many institutions understand that the path to innovation and advancement is based upon their willingness to train and develop their staff. This steadfast commitment to professional development ensures that an institution is forward-thinking and committed to its team, and recognizes how professional development benefits the most important individual—the student. Altany (2012) states, “Professional development promotes faculty responsibility for continuous, career-long growth based upon not only the trial and error of experience, but also theory, research, and professional collaboration with colleagues.” Altany’s views reinforce that professional development is more than just refining the classroom experience and pedagogy; it is also how rewards extend deep into an institution and its constituency.
Offerings of professional development vary by institution. We are all familiar with in-service training, workshops, conferences, and even the occasional web-based training. Professional development is evolving and becoming a more robust package of services. Additionally, many seek to further their education and take advantage of tuition reimbursement as a means of professional development. With community colleges being forced to do more with less and to remain committed to their mission, offering professional development is critical and absolute, but must be affordable and accessible.
Current and Future Trends
Current trends in professional development vary and are advancing in many ways, particularly in their delivery. Internal offerings at community colleges are now expanding into web-based and hybrid courses or professional development. The teaching and learning centers of community colleges are expanding and reaching out to individuals, both at the student and staff level. The creation of incentive-based programs is expanding, such as providing faculty, including adjunct faculty, with an increase in pay for the completion of a series of programs, activities, or courses. Many courses focus on the student learner and future technologies, such as online courses and classroom pedagogy.
Sharing New Knowledge. Aside from internal professional development offerings, colleges are instituting several other strategies. Attending conferences, mentoring, and more peer-to-peer sharing opportunities are just a few examples. This not only ensures that the attendee is acquiring the maximum amount of knowledge, but it also brings back that knowledge to pass along to others. A common example of this is a faculty member attending a conference on web-based technologies for the classroom, then returning home to the campus and demonstrating the tool to other faculty members.
Mentoring. College faculty and leaders are also relying upon the historically valuable art of mentoring to instill growth within faculty. Many new faculty are now required to participate in mentoring programs upon hire. Experienced full-time faculty generally play the role of the mentor and are often compensated for their time. Many faculty can speak to the success of having had a mentor and they pay it forward by becoming mentors themselves. Such programs, whether they are established formally or take place informally, provide new instructors with a point of contact for guidance regarding campus processes and policies, as well as classroom assistance and management.
MOOCs. In a world of access, locating open source material or seeking professional development online can provide flexibility in scheduling, a more comprehensive offering of professional development, and the opportunity to seek growth within a focused topic. With the discussion of massive open online courses (MOOCs) being the latest buzz, such courses can serve as a refresher or to provide knowledge in a given discipline. Enrolling in courses through Coursera is free and provides an open door to some of the most well-known and accomplished institutions, as well as access to some of the most effective teaching resources. Bali (2013) states that MOOCs provide faculty with opportunities to see how other instructors teach online, join community conversations, better understand what it is like to be on the student side of online courses, and find new resources to improve instruction. MOOCs can be an effective means of providing faculty with flexibility in pursuing professional development at no cost, not to mention gaining insight to the MOOC phenomenon.
Curtis Bonk (2012), Professor of Education at Indiana University, teaches a MOOC course for educators around the world that emphasizes online pedagogy, titled, Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success. Bonk states, “It is more like a summer workshop experience for college instructors than an introductory course on computer science or engineering that you might hear about from Stanford or MITx.” In reference to the outcomes of the course and its usefulness, Bonk states, “What surprises me the most is how quickly the MOOC participants have grasped and adapted some of the ideas presented and embedded them in their own online and blended courses.” Such opportunities could prove to be convenient for adjunct faculty with their varying schedules.
Colleges across the nation are working diligently to refine their professional development offerings. From coast to coast, new programs and initiatives are becoming best practices and opening the door to personal and professional growth. Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, offers adjunct faculty certification. This module-based online program facilitates the growth of new adjunct faculty members. Upon completion, adjunct faculty receive a one-time stipend of $800.
At Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, adjunct faculty can participate in the Associate Faculty Certification program, where they enroll in professional development courses offered through the college’s Teaching and Learning Center. The program initially requires that adjunct instructors enroll in the 30-hour Teaching in Our Learning College course, which introduces participants to the campus’s essential competencies and provides faculty with tools and resources. Participants then complete a My Development Plan to outline the professional development opportunities they will pursue. Courses are typically taught using a hybrid model, in which students meet with instructors only on the first day and last day, and complete additional work online. Upon completion of these 30 hours, participants must complete 30 additional hours of their choosing from Valencia’s robust offering of professional development courses Adjunct faculty who complete the course receive an increase in pay and are recognized as Associate Faculty members. Recertification must take place each year by completing 20 additional professional development hours. Classes address topics such as classroom management, engaging lectures, peer observations, and assessment techniques.
Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon, also offers a grant exclusively for faculty, known as the Discipline Contact Grant, where faculty members can receive up to $500 a year to join professional organizations, subscribe to publications, or connect with industry groups. The idea of such grants is to promote networking and facilitate personal growth within faculty disciplines.
Threats to Professional Development
There are some obvious threats to professional development. The most frequent concern is the funding of such programs. Many programs and offerings require funding to maintain or to pay stipends for completion, and some require both. With budgets being analyzed and cuts being made across the board, professional development can be vulnerable. While dedicated community college leaders have remained firm in their commitment to funding professional development, as human capital is quite possibly their best investment, refining the way in which they offer professional development may be necessary. Hosting more internal offerings and taking advantage of technology, such as MOOCs and web-based offerings, can alleviate budget constraints.
An assurance that all individuals are participating in some sort of professional growth varies among campuses. Tying professional development to policy is becoming more common, and requirements are often included in faculty contract negotiations. Much as students are expected to demonstrate growth and competency-based outcomes within the classroom, faculty should also commit to the same and take advantage of a great opportunity to create a culture of learning.
Commitment to Continuous Improvement
Higher education is continually changing to meet academic and workforce needs. As programs and course offerings are modified to address those needs, professional development should follow suit to remain consistent with expectations. Without such a commitment, faculty can become idle and may eventually lack the necessary skills to facilitate student advancement and growth. As higher education becomes increasingly global in nature, students will seek the most innovative institutions with the most dynamic faculty, in addition to value and convenience. Community colleges easily provide value and open access, but providing the community with the finest instruction starts with a commitment to the continuous improvement of faculty development.
Altany, A. (2012, June 29). Professional faculty development: The necessary fourth leg. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/faculty-development/professional-faculty-development-the-necessary-fourth-leg/
Bali, M. (2013, July 12). 5 reasons teachers should dip into MOOCs for professional development. MOOC News and Reviews. Retrieved from http://moocnewsandreviews.com/5-reasons-teachers-should-dip-into-moocs-for-professional-development-2/
Bonk, C. J. (2012, June 11). Building different MOOC's for different pedagogical needs. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Building-Different-MOOCs-for/132127/
Jon Mandrell is Dean of Instruction at Sauk Valley Community College.
Opinions expressed in Learning Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.s