Faculty professional development (on a budget!)

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Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living, I brace myself and mentally caution that I must not get snippy when he or she invariably says, “I wish I had summers off, must be nice!”

Most of us at small institutions never have summers off. Since I was hired, I have taught every summer a minimum of two courses a summer, but usually three. This is true for many of my colleagues who are the sole tenured/tenure-track faculty member in their areas. We get a week or two away from campus each summer. I find it can be exhausting to navigate the shortened summer semester with quick turn around times with focused, demanding students who have several classes at these quick paces. We all feel the stress. But summer somehow still holds that potential for renewal, self-reflection and growth even if we don’t have a “break.” Each summer I strive to make research productivity a goal and work to find new ideas for the next academic year. I also make it a point to work on my professional development plans for the upcoming year. In summer I ask: How am I going to advance? To push my pedagogy? To consider new research ideas? How can I explore additional grant funding opportunities? Professional development opens ALL kinds of opportunities and now is a great time to plan your development goals. 

I know, professional development CAN be expensive. Budget cuts may seem to kill your goals for professional growth. As states continue to pull from higher education funds to offset budget crises, we may see our institutions cutting travel funds, refusing conference trips, and removing programs about teaching and learning. Here are a few strategies I have embraced that have worked very well for me and cost very little (if anything). We’ll start at your home institution and branch out from there.  

Visit your Faculty Development office/site. Do you even know if you have a place on campus that works with faculty professional development? Often time new or junior faculty members are not made aware of the resources right on their own campus. More senior faculty can easily forget the great programs offered. Reacquaint yourself with your committee, office, council, or webpage for faculty development.

Get neighborly. Check your state board of regents and check in with nearby institutions to see about their programs for faculty development. Often times, collaborative efforts are appreciated and you may find yourself welcomed with open arms to events focused on professional development hosted at a neighboring institution. Additionally, your state could have a variety of programs that would assist you (and your university). We sometimes bury ourselves so much in our offices that we forget we even have colleagues, let alone neighboring institutions. If the folks at NextDoor University don’t want to collaborate or share, they will let you know and you are no worse for the wear. However, if they DO you have just created a great network for yourself, your colleagues, and your institutions to share many future endeavors together. Check their websites, too, to see what they’re offering and what might be free use for you!

Companies/Conferences. Ask for demos of new products. Though conferences are great places to roam the exhibition halls and make contacts, many of our budgets are getting cut. Click on your national or regional conference’s website, click to see who will be in the exhibitor’s hall, and scroll through to find anyone or anything that interests you. Contact a company directly for an overview about their product. Just learning about three lecture-capture software programs pushes your understanding about online learning, course delivery, and opportunities for your university’s LMS that you can share with colleagues or use to grow your approach in your own classes. 

Online. No surprise to regular readers, I find a lot of what I need online. One of the best places to go for ideas and information is the Web where we can craft and cultivate our Personal Learning Networks (PLN). From Twitter to Edublog and LiveBinders, the resources are readily available to foster professional growth. Twitter is a great source for PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) that ALSO serves as a way gate to may favorite resources: webinars.

Webinars. Granted, you may need to pay for some webinars, but you don’t HAVE to. There are so many great FREE webinar options for faculty members these days. This is, by far, my favorite way to learn about new technology, teaching trends, and emerging issues in higher education. Even if you have a busy day, you can generally access webinar archives at your convenience after a live webinar closes. Here are a few of my tried and true sources:

  • Blackboard. Check in periodically to Blackboard’s Webinar Archives. The topics are diverse and can be applicable even if your institution does not use Blackboard as their chosen LMS. They have partners who co-host some webinars and are great at having “real” faculty members comment alongside the Blackboard folks.
  • Sloan-C. Rarely free, the Sloan C webinars are full of information and may be worth a group rate or for one faculty to attend and share findings with others through your Center for Teaching and Learning or departmental meetings. You can explore Sloan Webinar offerings on their Upcoming Webinar page. 
  • Companies. Check your favorite (or your most desired) companies for their webinars. These are nearly always free and easily accessible. You can often sign up for mailing lists to stay up to date on future webinars and products. Some webinars say “by special invitation only” — this generally means YOU need to send an email and ask for an invitation. Then, you will be specially invited! Free. Easy. Often companies just need you to reach out to them to get connected to an upcoming webinar. See, for example, the way ConnectYard urges you to contact them for details about a webinar. 
  • Organizations and institutes. Explore places like the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development webinars. These webinars are free if your university is a member. Do you even know what institutional memberships your university holds? If not, find out and take advantage of it (this is true with Sloan, too!). Find a list of NISOD webinars on their page. There are many places offering free webinar series (like ASCD) that are a great benefit to educators. Organizations like the Professional and Organizational Development Network are great for resources of all kinds for its members. Remember, some of the organizations you already belong to host webinars often that you paid for in your membership dues (see National Communication Association as an example).

Get creative! If your university won’t pay for you to attend a conference, ask if they’ll cover the virtual conferences many organizations now offer in tandem with the physical conference. Or, ask if they’ll pay your individual membership to PODnetwork ($95) instead. If any financial support is out of the question, start brown bag lunches for anyone at your institution interested in teaching online, writing grants, publishing, etc. Reaching out can be easy and it might surprise you how much you can learn from the folks you see every day.

If you struggle to find the time or the funds to grow professionally, consider some of these paths toward professional growth  and make this the year of professional development!

Author of article – Lora Helvie-Mason

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