University of Maryland University College Undergoes Faculty Development Shift

A college that primarily serves adult learners is making faculty training more globally accessible and relevant online.

by / July 8, 2016
Accessible courses are nice to have, but not all higher education leaders do what it takes to provide them.

Faculty members in Europe, Asia and the United States work as practitioners in their fields by day. Then at night, they shift gears to teach primarily military and adult learners online, in hybrid environments and face-to-face at the University of Maryland University College. 

But these faculty experienced a disconnect between the way they were teaching and the way they were being taught — and Kara Van Dam decided to do something about it.

Van Dam, who came to the university a little over two years ago as the vice provost for faculty affairs, said that at first glance, two major problems stood out. First off, the existing faculty development training primarily took place at a specific time during a specific week, even though faculty taught all over the world in different time zones. Even though some of the training was online, it put a heavy burden on an already full faculty plate. Second, the initial faculty development orientation course everyone goes through didn't model the kind of teaching the university wanted faculty to practice in the classroom. 

On top of those problems, faculty development sessions were stuffed full of information that not everyone needed to know right then. 

"The end result was clutter and chaos," said Van Dam, who is now the vice provost for the learner and faculty experience. "Our faculty couldn't distill what the stuff they really needed to pay attention to was." 

Van Dam led the university to move all the faculty development training online with a mix of on-demand sessions and time-based sessions at a time of day that worked for faculty in Europe and Asia. All the sessions are also archived in case faculty can't make that time. 

Along with changing up the time and delivery method, the university looked at what faculty members really needed to know — and when they needed to know it. For the faculty orientation course in particular, Van Dam and her team asked current faculty members what they really needed to know right away and what they could learn later. They also got back to their roots by sharing more of the university's mission and core values, as well as the pedagogy of effective online teaching for adults. 

About a year and a half ago, Van Dam hired Alli Woods — a former colleague at Kaplan University —  as the associate vice provost of faculty development to continue this work. Woods works remotely from Columbus, Ohio, and travels to Maryland about once a month. Because the majority of faculty at the university work remotely around the globe, this remote position allows Woods to relate to their experience and help them feel more connected with the university.

"When you're a remote faculty member, sometimes you feel lost, you don't feel like you have some of the connections," like you would on campus, Woods said. 

Some of those connection opportunities included moving the annual faculty awards program online so everyone could participate instead of just the recipients who were flown to campus. They've also recognized specific faculty for their efforts each month, publicly thanked them and sent them gifts. 

Woods spent the first two months meeting with about 150 faculty and academic administrators to find out how they could do a better job of faculty development and what areas faculty members need help with. When faculty go through the initial training, about 60 percent of them say they want an optional follow-up phone call to talk about what they thought of the training, how the experience could be better and what areas they still want help with. For example, a faculty member might want to understand something specific, so the faculty development team may create an online workshop on that topic and send that information to the faculty member once it's live.

After the initial orientation and a class on teaching hybrid courses, the university hosts weekly webinars for one hour every Wednesday. A 30-minute Thursday webinar at 8:30 a.m. EST — a time that works well for European and Asian faculty members — covers something practical that they can apply immediately, such as how to add audio into grading comments. The faculty development team also provides 12 workshops online that faculty members can enroll in at any time and move through at their own pace on various topics, including building connections at a distance.

Through all their efforts, the development team looks through the lens of the faculty experience to see how they can help faculty improve without burdening them. And they also want their orientation to reflect how they want faculty to teach in the classroom.

"My dream is that the best class in our entire curriculum across the entire university is the new faculty training," Van Dam said, "because if we have this showpiece that is just the gold standard, then when faculty members go into their classes and see something less than that, they're going to report it."

Long-term, she said she wants to help faculty develop the way they want to develop in areas they're interested in, and help them create a professional development plan that can be tied to promotion and opportunities to develop a new course. In the meantime, the university will continue to serve its global faculty in ways that make more sense for them, including hosting its first online faculty conference in October.

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.