Peer Review

Faculty Development: The Challenge Going Forward

A midcareer faculty member in the sciences stopped at my office to ask for assistance in designing a short course that he will be teaching to colleagues at an international program in Mexico. Next, two early-career women faculty called, seeking a small grant to create a peer writing group to support their scholarship and teaching. That afternoon, a department chair in the social sciences made an appointment to brainstorm how to develop a mentoring program for his six new faculty, four of whom are women and/or faculty of color. Then a new faculty member arrived for a consultation on ways to assess student learning in the art studio—with her four-month-old son in her arms. Her child care had cancelled, so I bounced the baby while we talked.

This is a snapshot of the day-to-day work of a “faculty developer” as she partners with faculty to support and enrich their work. What will be the future challenges facing these faculty members and their institutions? What will be the issues around which faculty are likely to need support over the next few years? What future directions will be important for campuses to consider when they make decisions about faculty development? These questions are significant, especially in light of the changing context of faculty roles and responsibilities.

To find out some answers, my colleagues and I conducted a major study of the field of faculty development in higher education (Sorcinelli, Austin, Eddy, and Beach 2006). We asked developers what goals and purposes guide their programs, what are the influences on their programs and practices, and what services are currently offered and the importance of those services. Perhaps most important, our survey was the first to ask developers to identify the key challenges and pressures facing faculty members and their institutions, and what they see as potential new directions for the field of faculty development.

The individuals we asked were members of the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network in Higher Education, the oldest and largest professional association of faculty development scholars and practitioners in higher education. Five hundred directors of teaching and learning centers, faculty members, department chairs, academic deans, and other senior administrators completed our survey. They came from research and doctoral universities, comprehensive universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, Canadian universities, and other institutions such as medical and professional schools (Sorcinelli et al. 2006).

What, then, are the issues that faculty development programs, services, and resources will likely need to address in the next five or ten years? Faculty developers in our study identified a constellation of issues that coalesced around three primary challenges and forces of change:

  • The changing professoriate
  • The changing nature of the student body
  • The changing nature of teaching, learning, and scholarship

The Changing Professoriate

Professors today are facing a growing array of changing roles and responsibilities that will require them to engage in ongoing professional growth. Faculty developers in our study described faculty members as being in the midst of transformational changes to their traditional roles and tasks, and identified several fundamental challenges facing faculty and their campuses.

Expanding Faculty Roles
Faculty developers at liberal arts colleges and research and comprehensive universities identified expanding faculty roles as one of the most important issues facing faculty on their campuses. The set of tasks expected of faculty is intensifying under increasing pressure to keep up with new directions in teaching and research. Thus, for example, new faculty members may need to develop skills in grant-writing or in designing and offering online courses. Seasoned faculty members may need to keep up with emerging specialties in their fields as well as to engage in more interdisciplinary work. All faculty will continuously need to learn new skills in the face of an increasingly technological workplace. Providing opportunities for faculty to consider new ways to organize their courses and learning materials and work collaboratively across disciplinary fields will be essential.

Finding Balance
Closely related to the challenge of managing new and expanding faculty roles is the challenge of achieving balance in work and life. In our research, faculty developers identified balancing and finding time for multiple work responsibilities as a significant issue of concern for faculty at all career stages. New faculty, especially, find it a daunting challenge to simultaneously achieve distinction as a scholar, teacher, and campus citizen. Faculty members also are concerned about how to achieve balance as they handle personal as well as professional commitments. Not surprisingly, concerns about balancing work and family are especially intense among women faculty who often face the press of biological clocks for childbearing at the same time as they are trying to start their careers and, in many instances, earn tenure. Faculty development services would be well served to include programming and coaching for managing time and work–family issues as well as the more traditional emphasis on teaching and learning.

Needs of New Faculty
Significant numbers of experienced faculty will retire in the coming decade, and our study identified new faculty development as a critically important area to address. Faculty developers reported a number of “roadblocks” to the professional success and well-being of new faculty: getting oriented to the institution, excelling at teaching and research, navigating the tenure track, developing professional networks, and creating work–life balance. More opportunities to participate in new faculty orientations, mentoring programs, individual teaching consultation, “learning communities” and writing groups can only enhance newcomers’ skills and satisfactions.

Non-tenure-track and Part-time Faculty
Addressing the needs of part-time and adjunct faculty was identified as a critically needed new direction for faculty development. Many institutions are hiring more non-tenure track or part-time faculty to achieve fiscal savings, respond to changing student interests, or help students connect their academic studies to the workplace. As the faculty ranks become more diverse in terms of appointment types, faculty development should ensure that each faculty member, regardless of appointment type, feels supported. Initiatives might include orientations or seminars for part-time faculty in which departmental colleagues address common teaching issues (e.g., preparing a syllabus, understanding who their students are, testing and grading guidelines) and department policies and practices.

The Changing Nature of the Student Body

With each year, the student body has become larger and more diverse across several variables—educational background, gender, race and ethnicity, class, age, and preparation. This growing diversity of students is an admired aspect of American higher education; at the same time, it places considerable demands on faculty members. Faculty developers in our study highlighted two key challenges: the challenge presented by increased multiculturalism and diversity and the challenge presented by underprepared students.

Increasing Multiculturalism and Diversity
An emphasis on increasing diversity requires an expanded focus on how we can foster learning environments in which diversity becomes one of the resources that stimulates learning—and on how to support faculty with students who learn most effectively in different ways. Faculty developers identified the issue of multiculturalism as it relates to teaching and learning as one of the most important issues that needs to be addressed through faculty development services, but there was great disparity between perceptions of the need to address these issues and the extent of relevant faculty development services being offered (Sorcinelli et. al 2006).

Traditionally, campuses have tended to focus diversity efforts in student affairs, suggesting that diversity concerns are a student development rather than a faculty development issue. Faculty members themselves may be reticent about addressing issues of diversity in and outside of the classroom because of a lack of training. For faculty members to be able to meet the learning needs of a diverse student body, they will need to stay abreast not only of new developments in their fields, but also of the characteristics of their students, the various strategies for teaching to multiple learning styles, and the possibilities for facilitating learning offered by technology.

Faculty development programs can promote teaching methods and strategies that increase students’ capacities for problem-solving, teamwork, and collaboration —skills required in a rapidly changing and increasingly global world. Further, they can provide guidance for engaging all students, particularly in the classroom, about the sensitive issues surrounding gender, religion, race, and ethnicity. Investing in such programs offers a means of ensuring that we cultivate teachers and students who value diverse ideas, beliefs, and worldviews, and promote more inclusive student learning. In these contexts, faculty development programs can help build faculty capacity both for meeting the needs of students and incorporating new disciplinary content about issues of diversity across the curriculum.

The Challenges of the Underprepared Student
The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) reports that about half of students entering our colleges and universities are academically underprepared—lacking basic skills in at least one of the three fundamental areas of reading, writing, or mathematics (2002). AAC&U’s Greater Expectations report also notes that students lacking academic preparedness also fail to do well in college for a variety of other reasons, such as lack of self-confidence, appropriate study behaviors, and skill in navigating an institution’s bureaucracy. Our study’s respondents similarly identified the underprepared student as one of the most important educational problems facing faculty and faculty development.

As a faculty member embarks on a course and the underprepared student engages in the coursework, there is often a substantial mismatch between student and faculty expectations for academic work, especially in terms of time devoted to study outside of class. As well, faculty may be unprepared to recalibrate the course or teaching of it for students who may need additional support in college-level reading, writing, and computational work.

For these reasons, the responsibility for underprepared students often falls to academic staff in a student learning center and may be seen as a burden to individual faculty. Here faculty development programs can remind teachers to emphasize their expectations for students, help familiarize new instructors with student resources offered by the college or university (e.g., basic skills courses, tutoring, supplemental instruction), and highlight the range of effective strategies available for teaching and facilitating the learning of all students.

The Changing Nature of Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship

The changing environment for teaching, learning, and scholarship was identified as the third pressing challenge for faculty and institutions, a challenge resonant with implications for faculty development.

Emphasizing Learner-Centered Teaching
The need to engage in student-centered teaching was identified as one of the top three challenges confronting faculty members and the most important issue to address through faculty development services and activities.

For many faculty members who are accustomed to lecturing while students listen, learner-centered teaching may require new and unfamiliar teaching skills and raise fears about lack of coverage of content or less control over assessment activities. Learner-centered teaching, however, allows students to do more of the learning tasks, such as organizing content or summarizing discussions, and encourages them to learn more from and with each other. Teachers, on the other hand, can do more of the design work and provide more frequent feedback to students (Weimer 2000).

There is a large repertoire of active learning strategies from which faculty can draw, including student-led discussions, team learning, peer learning, oral presentations, writing-to-learn activities, case studies, and study groups. Faculty development programs can convene successful teachers to share these approaches with their colleagues through campus-wide seminars or forums. They can also provide course development funds to recognize faculty members who develop learner-centered activities.

Integrating Technology into Teaching and Learning
Participants in our study from liberal arts, research, and comprehensive institutions named the integration of technology into traditional teaching and learning settings as one of the top three challenges facing their faculty colleagues. Respondents expressed a strong desire that institutions focus on ways to use technology to help students to acquire content knowledge, develop problem-solving skills, participate in learning communities, and use digital information sources.

When considering technology in teaching and learning, one immediate issue faculty members face is what tools—PowerPoint, e-mail, the Internet, course management system —might best serve their student-learning goals. But the successful integration of technology is more complex, entailing the careful consideration of course content, the capabilities of various technology tools, student access to and comfort with technology, and the instructor’s view of his or her role in the teaching and learning process (Zhu and Kaplan 2006). Faculty development programs can offer the kinds of support and training required to thoughtfully integrate technology into the classroom.

Emphasizing Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes
Assessment is an ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student learning. It involves deciding what students should be learning, making expectations for learning explicit, systematically gathering and analyzing student assignments to determine what students actually are learning, and using the resulting evidence to decide what to do to improve learning. In our findings, assessing student learning outcomes was perceived as one of the top three challenges facing faculty and their institutions, and important to address through faculty development.

There are a number of teaching resources that can help faculty members develop a better understanding of the learning process in their own classrooms and assess the impact of their teaching on it. They feature classroom assessment techniques and advice on how to adapt and administer these techniques, analyze the data, and implement improvements in teaching and learning practices (Angelo and Cross 1993).

Expanding Definitions of Scholarship
In his seminal work Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (1990), Boyer argued that it was time to move beyond the “teaching versus research” debate and to redefine and broaden the concept of scholarship to include four distinct but interrelated dimensions: the scholarship of discovery, the scholarship of teaching, the scholarship of integration, and the scholarship of application. In our study, developers from all types of institutions agreed that expanding the definition of scholarship to include the scholarship of teaching is an important issue to address through faculty development services.

In recent years, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has greatly advanced this form of scholarship through work with faculty, campuses, and disciplinary associations. Several lines of work at Carnegie have contributed to the understanding of the scholarship of teaching, notably projects exploring the peer review of teaching, the use of teaching and course portfolios, and how teaching and learning differ among the disciplines. Faculty development programs have been part of this conversation by, for example, offering seed grants, and campus conversations about course-focused research projects centered on teaching and learning.

Building Interdisciplinary Collaborations
“Building interdisciplinary connections and communities of practice” was indicated as an important new direction to address through faculty development. Interdisciplinary collaboration may involve a variety of types of connections, such as working on a research or teaching project from a multidisciplinary perspective or incorporating service learning into academic experiences.

Interdisciplinary work is often the result of individual faculty members deciding to engage in team teaching across departments or to pursue new areas in the course of their research. Faculty development programs, then, can support interdisciplinary connections by encouraging team-teaching, the development of interdisciplinary courses, and the development of learning communities for students. They can also host campus-wide cross-disciplinary learning communities around teaching and scholarship.


As we enter the twenty-first century, faculty developers have identified three areas that are driving change and shaping the future of faculty development. The impact of the changing professoriate is a major influence. How do we develop and sustain the vitality of our entire faculty—newcomers, midcareer, senior, and part-timers—as faculty roles change? A second factor is the increasingly diverse student body. How can we invest in faculty development as a means of ensuring that we cultivate more inclusive student learning environments and provide our best educational practices to all students, including those traditionally underserved by higher education? The third shaping influence is the impact of a changing paradigm for teaching, learning, and scholarly pursuits. Faculty development will require a larger investment of imagination and resources in order to strategically plan for and address new developments (e.g., teaching for student-centered learning, retention, learning technologies, assessment) while not losing sight of our core values and priorities.


Angelo, T., and Cross, K. P. 1993. Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Association of American Colleges and Universities. 2002. Greater expectations: A new vision for learning as a nation goes to college. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Boyer, E. L. 1990. Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Sorcinelli, M. D., A. E. Austin, P. L. Eddy, and A. L. Beach. 2006. Creating the future of faculty development: Learning from the past, understanding the present. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Weimer, M. 2002. Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Zhu, E., and Kaplan, M. 2006. Technology and teaching. In W. J. McKeachie (Ed.), Teaching tips: Strategies, research and theory for college and university teachers (12th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin

Mary Deane Sorcinelli is the associate provost for faculty development; associate professor in the department of Educational Policy, Research, and Administration; and founding director of the Center for Teaching at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst.

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