2020 – A New Decade for Faculty Professional Development


Sandra Mohr, Dean for Academic Resources and Administration, New England College of Optometry.

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2020 has arrived and creates the opportunity to set or recalibrate professional development goals.  For institutions, this might be evaluating what skills and knowledge faculty need to deploy the best pedagogical approaches for their institution and learners.  For faculty, this might be an evaluation of skills to become more effective in their role given changing students, enhanced use of technology for learning, or increased work pressures.  One thing is certain, each of us will come up with a different priority list for where to spend and allocate our time based on our future goals, prior knowledge, and experience.  Charles Eliot (1869) stated that the dominant ideas of higher education should focus around a broad culture to inform the mind and enthusiastic study for the love of learning which still remains true in 2020.

As an administrator when developing and offering professional development, do you hear:

It’s time for another professional development session, I can’t wait! 


Another required professional development session where I could be using my time more effectively doing something else.  Is this mandatory?

Faculty members believe in lifelong learning and skill development which in turn helps students, but faculty don’t want to waste their time on offerings that fail to meet their needs and interests.  Ongoing professional development often doesn’t make the list of faculty “want to do” activities. Why is that?  How can we turn professional development into opportunities that help us become more dynamic educators? 

Faculty development has the potential to expand faculty effectiveness and lead academic transformation on campuses when executed properly. In 2016, $359 billion dollars was spent globally on professional development, but the return on investment has been limited by flaws in purpose, timing and content (Glaveski, 2019). How can faculty development be flexible to provide equitable support with a diverse offering of opportunities that create knowledge and skills that allow faculty to teach using the best pedagogical approaches (Ramsay & Dick, 2019)? Development needs to be an ongoing process that allows one to learn, reflect, and implement different techniques into practice. Faculty development cannot be discrete events with concrete outcomes.

Why is faculty development important?

Faculty members are key to students’ learning journeys.  Faculty need support, resources, and ongoing development to help them provide the best educational experiences. Molly Corbett Broad, President Emerita, for the American Council on Education, stated: “High-quality instruction has been the backbone of an American Higher Education System that remains the envy of the world.  But how to measure effective teaching and gauge its impact on an ever more diverse population of students is vital if we are to dramatically increase the number of Americans able to earn a college degree” (Haras, Taylor, Sorcinelli, & von Hoene, 2017).  Regardless of learning modality, faculty need skills to create inclusive and equitable learning environments to support learner growth and development.

Higher education is being disrupted as the world is moving into a knowledge-based economy.  Institutions of higher learning are known as stewards of human capital and are tasked with preparing people for a skilled global workforce (Belsky, 2019).  As the workplace changes, higher education institutions will need to adapt and prepare faculty to teach and to create learning opportunities that meet the needs society.  Efforts to enhance faculty professional development capacity and systematically assess its impacts are essential to measure the quality of current offerings and provide recommendations for designing programs that meet the changing needs of learners, faculty, and institutions (Haras, Taylor, Sorcinelli, & von Hoene, 2017). 

An example of how higher education institutions adapt and provide professional development comes from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, a regional accrediting agency. They require that accredited institutions develop a Quality Enhancement Plan based on their institutional assessment that focuses on learning outcomes and environments that support student learning.  The Quality Enhancement Plan provides an opportunity to engage faculty with the goal of enhancing overall institutional quality and effectiveness (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, 2018).

What are current trends in faculty professional development?

Just like our students, faculty are looking for professional development that is personalized.  It is a good idea to involve students in the selection and planning process to understand the learning and skills they hope to learn.

Another trend for professional development is creating online networks which provides faculty the opportunity to engage with their peers, makes information available for learning on demand, provides opportunities for active and passive learning engagement, and can potentially lead towards collaborative innovation.

What do you see as goals for faculty professional development in the next decade?  Are there additional professional development trends that should be considered when creating the goals?



Belsky, L. (2019). Where Online Learning Goes Next; Harvard Business Review.  Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/10/where-online-learning-goes-next

Eliot, C. W. (1869). The new education. Atlantic Monthly23(136), 203-20.

Glaveski, S. (2019, October 2). Where Companies Go Wrong with Learning and Development; Harvard Business Review.  Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/10/where-companies-go-wrong-with-learning-and-development.

Haras, C., Taylor, S. C., Sorcinelli, M. D., & von Hoene, L. (2017).  Institutional Commitment to Teaching Excellence:  Assessing the Impacts and Outcomes of Faculty Development.  American Council on Education.  Retrieved from https://www.acenet.edu/Documents/Institutional-Commitment-to-Teaching-Excellence.pdf

Ramsay, C. & Dick, A. (2019).  Pedagogical Agility in Flexible Learning Spaces:  Why Faculty Development Needs to be as Adaptable as Classroom.  Educause Review. https://er.educause.edu/blogs/2019/5/pedagogical-agility-in-flexible-learning-spaces

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (2018).  The Quality Enhancement Plan.  Retrieved from http://www.sacscoc.org/pdf/081705/Quality%20Enhancement%20Plan.pdf

Sandra Mohr

Sandra serves as the Dean for Academic Resources and Administration at the New England College of Optometry.  For over 20 years, she has worked in higher education supporting student learning and faculty career growth.  Sandra holds her Doctorate in Global Educational Leadership from Lamar University where her research focused on best practices for online faculty professional development in higher education.  She also holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from West Virginia University and a Master’s degree in Counseling and Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from California University of PA.



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