Maryville University faculty will get extra time to develop professionally this year as they prepare for students who are used to learning in a digital environment. Photo credit: Dan Donovan/Maryville University

As freshmen receive new tablets at Maryville University in St. Louis, their professors are receiving training on how to integrate such technology into their instruction.

This year, the university extended faculty contracts by one week at the beginning and end of the school year to make time for faculty development. That's a big deal because previously, they just had one faculty development day in January.

"It's absolutely critical not just to invest in a technology or devices, but also in the training and tools to make faculty better able to use that technology," said Dustin R. Loeffler, an assistant professor at Maryville University who is involved with faculty development.

This faculty investment is even more critical because students often come from K-12 school districts that provide mobile devices for each student, and they expect a similar experience in college, particularly when it comes to how faculty teach with technology.

By taking advantage of these training opportunities, faculty members can make sure their technology integration skills are sharp as new students come into their classrooms. 

"We hear about them, we know they're coming and we talk about it, but this is our effort to really get prepared for them as soon as they show," Loeffler said.

For a week in August, faculty members will attend conference-style faculty development where they can choose which sessions to go to based on the skills or concepts they're interested in. They'll talk about concepts including engaging students, changing up their curriculum for tablets and dealing with failure in the classroom.

Loeffler will be leading a session on failure with technology so faculty members will know to expect failure and understand how to overcome it. That way, they won't be surprised when something goes wrong in the classroom because it goes wrong even for "technical faculty." In fact, every time there's a failure in Loeffler's classroom, his students put their hands up in the air and yell, "Whoo!"

At the end of the day, this faculty development week is all about giving faculty time to share best practices and take away one or two ideas that they can integrate into their classrooms this fall to complement what they're already doing. And that will help them teach a generation of students that's used to learning in a digital environment.