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7 Keys to Competency-Based Faculty Development

As more universities embrace competency-based education, some are looking at ways to offer a similar approach to faculty development.

As more universities embrace competency-based education for students, some of them are looking at ways to offer a similar approach to faculty. 

In competency-based education, learners shoot for specific learning objectives, take meaningful assessments, receive timely support as individuals, and apply their knowledge. And this approach could benefit faculty as well. 

Here are a few tips for education leaders who want to approach faculty development differently. 

1. Create a common standard nationwide for faculty competencies 

While this key is important, it doesn't actually exist in the U.S. 

"One of the real challenges preventing us from moving this forward across higher ed is to have a common set of competencies that all faculty should have," said Jason Rhode, director at the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at Northern Illinois University. "It's really hard to identify that." 

But if universities and their associations banded together, they could come up with a set of loose expectations for faculty members that would make it easier for faculty to understand what skills they need to have for similar positions across the country.  

2. Set clear expectations of what faculty should know and do

Aside from a national conversation about competencies for faculty, universities can create their own learning objectives. For example, job postings at the University of Maryland University College now include clear expectations about what effective education looks like, and what skills and behaviors faculty members must have.

This is especially important as the university prepares to launch competency-based degree programs this year. By laying out these expectations ahead of time, leaders can recruit faculty members who meet the expectations or are willing to develop in these areas.

3. Find the time and resources to create competency-based faculty development

Along with setting common standards, another challenge is freeing up time and resources for different ways to develop faculty. Northern Illinois University is piloting a self-paced, competency-based approach to a learning management system workshop for faculty. The university laid out competencies, posted short videos online and watched faculty demonstrate their competencies. 

While it's easy to identify competencies for something technical like a learning management system, it's more difficult in other non-technical areas. And though the pilot is going well, it can be difficult to find the time and resources to develop more programs like this. As universities start seeing results, however, it may become easier to justify devoting more time to these programs.

4. Offer credit for prior knowledge and skills

Many faculty members come into a new job with plenty of experience, but oftentimes must start over in terms of faculty development. A competency-based program allows them to take an assessment that reveals what skills and knowledge they already have. Then, instead of starting on the same track as everyone else, they can participate in the types of faculty development that address weak areas and areas they're not skilled in. 

At Northern Illinois University, faculty members assess themselves by answering questions, but in the future, the university would like to make the assessment more objective. 

5. Give faculty members flexible choices in how they develop professionally

Once faculty members have the basics down, it's important to give them flexibility in what and how they learn. That may mean online learning opportunities that fit better into their schedule and choices in what types of things they learn about. At the University of Maryland University College, a large number of students are adult and military learners. So some faculty members may opt to learn more about how to work with these types of learners, for example.

6. Provide timely learning opportunities

Faculty members have many things to do in a finite amount of time, just like everyone else. Universities can make the most out of their time by offering development opportunities that faculty members can immediately use and apply. This relevant learning is more helpful than offering opportunities that have no immediate application.

7. Model high-quality instruction in faculty development

One of the worst things that someone can do in this area is to lecture a room full of faculty about why active learning is so important — something Kara Van Dam, vice provost for the learner and faculty experience at University of Maryland University College, experienced first-hand.

"And I thought, no one's getting the irony here? You're lecturing me in the most passive way on what it means to be active," Van Dam said. 

Just don't do it. Instead, create learning activities in the style that you want faculty members to teach in.