Promoting Alternative Professional Learning

Group of people sitting with computers in a workshop

Andresmh. (2008). Workshop [Photograph]. Retrieved from (CC BY-SA 2.0

The image above looks a little like professional development looks at my institution. We have a block of time where faculty come in to a classroom or computer lab to be ‘trained’ and then they are sent on their way. We do not follow up with them. We often receive the same questions repeatedly, even over material that we have provided training over. And we really do not have any way to measure the efficacy of the training we have provided. So how can we make this better? How can we move from a model of providing an hour of training over material that may not even be relevant, to a model of effective, evidence-based professional learning?

In the article What Works in Professional Developmen? ( Guskey & Yoon, 2009), research on professional development is summarised and analysed to suggest what is effective in improving learning outcomes through professional development. According to the research, instructional leadership tends to consider workshops ineffective and a waste of time and other resources. But they continue from that point, adding that this is possibly true for the “one-shot variety” with no opportunity for reflection, application, or follow up. However, when the workshop focuses on research based instructional practices and incorporates active-learning, provides opportunity for application and for reflection, the workshop environment is much more successful and well-received.

At my institution, we are moving from a model of the “one-stop” variety of workshop offered to faculty during “Welcome Week” (the week before classes start each semestre.) This was time set aside specifically for faculty professional development. However, as pointed out by Guskey and Yoon, providing workshops in this type of environment is not necessarily effective. We have been pushing for “Welcome Week” being used more for faculty preparation, allowing them time to get their courses ready, on-board new faculty, and participate in some required training activities, with professional development being provided throughout the year, not just during that one week each term.

Using the strategies suggested by Nancy Duarte in her videos, I created a presentation that will encourage the instructional leadership to embrace a change the way we provide professional learning to faculty… to develop a support network that provides opportunities for learning and growth throughout the year, coupled with peer support and mentoring, as well networking and sharing opportunities for our faculty. Sustained professional learning opportunities will be provided throughout the year by my team and the Division of Teaching and Learning over educational technologies, teaching strategies, engaging learners, etc. Other activities will include an Innovation Exchange, where faculty present innovative strategies that they have implemented with success, professional learning communities, and workshop opportunities in course building for online course delivery and much more.


What should effective professional learning look like?

People collaborating. Networking. Sharing. Innovating. Strategising. Brainstorming. Creating…

Group of people working collaboratively .

Creative Sustainability. (2013). Practical Project Based Active Learning. Retrieved from

Reflecting on Alternatives to Professional Learning

The “Why?”

Imagine your first day on the job. You have been hired to teach at mid-sized community college in west Texas. You know that the college has progressive ideas, and has received awards for high rates of retention and persistence, and exceptional success rates, where students complete courses with a grade of C or better. You’re excited… a little nervous… but ready to get started. Your first day is a full week before your classes start, so you’re looking forward to getting your courses ready for your learners. But wait! You learn that the entire first day is filled with mandatory meetings. Looking at the calendar for the week you learn that every day is filled with meetings and workshops. Trying to prepare for your courses… trying to learn the culture of your new environment… trying to learn all the requirements… and faced with training called mandatory… how do you keep from becoming overwhelmed? And it’s no better for seasoned faculty. Face it. Everyone needs time to prepare, and how can you prepare when you’re required to be in meetings and trainings

Odessa College has a history of academic excellence, as evidenced by the multitudes of awards received. In 2017, Odessa College was identified by the Aspen Institute as a Rising Star, based on success and retention/persistence rates of students. That essentially means that of 1,100 community colleges in the United States, Odessa College is in the top 5 based on data analysed by this independent agency. In 2019, Odessa College is again identified as one of the top ten colleges in the nation. Of the ten colleges identified by Aspen as the best in the nation, one of those colleges will be identified as the best and will be awarded the Aspen prize. However, a recent local analysis of data from Fall of 2018 indicates rates of retention/persistence and overall success have dropped significantly than in previous terms. These rates were particularly  We cannot be perceived as among the best in the nation if our rates of retention/persistence and success continue on a downward trend.

We know that our faculty need continuous opportunities to learn and grow, but they also need time to prepare courses, on-board new faculty members, network, and share information with colleagues. In our situation, having two weeks dedicated to professional development sounds great. But positioning those weeks when our faculty are (and should be) focused on preparing to teach each semester has resulted in ineffective training events, and has added undue stress to faculty and support staff. This format also does not allow for sustained learning opportunities that are delivered over significant periods of time. Faculty who have participated in these training sessions have not had opportunity for application or reflection, two additional elements that are critical for effective professional learning experiences.

The “What?”

In order to ensure that our students are successful learners who are prepared for the workforce and/or to further their education, our faculty need and deserve professional learning experiences that are:

  • designed intentionally, around their busy schedules, and offered at multiple times/ sessions;
  • delivered over significant blocks of time to allow faculty to apply, practice and reflect;
  • created for online delivery; or if created as for face-to-face delivery, mirrored in the learning management system so that our remote faculty have opportunity to participate;
  • developed with faculty input.

Additional supports that will enhance professional learning among the faculty will include:

  • The existing Faculty Mentoring Program should by be expanded to include part-time faculty. Part-time faculty will be mentored a full-time faculty member, or by a seasoned part-time faculty member.
  • Instructional documents and tutorials will be developed and provided in an on-demand capacity through Blackboard Learning Management System.
  • Weekly educational technology tips will be provided in a blog format to help acclimate faculty to changing technologies.


The “How?”

A presentation outlining this proposal was created using Microsoft PowerPoint

Presentation development through PowerPoint

Figure 1: Image of presentation development: PowerPoint Screen



and TechSmith Camtasia.

Presentation development through Camtasia

Figure 2: Image of presentation development: Camtasia screen.


Intro music SummerWhisling.mp3 was provided through Camtasia’s stock library, and is licensed for reuse without modification.



Of course, I experienced this a few times… where your screen completely freezes, and nothing responds.

Camtasia Not Responding Screen

But we just power through and wait. Or restart!




Andresmh. (2008). Workshop [Photograph]. Retrieved from (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Creative Sustainability. (2013). Practical Project Based Active Learning [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Gulamhussein, A. (2013). Teaching the Teachers Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability. Center for Public Education. Retrieved from

Duarte, N. (2009, December 16). Duarte Design’s five rules for presentation [Video file]. . Retrieved from YouTube

Duarte, N. (2013, February 19). How to create better visual presentations [Video file]. Stanford Graduate School of Business. Retrieved from YouTube

Duarte, N. (2013, March 21). How to tell a story [Video file]. Stanford Graduate School of Business. Retrieved from YouTube

Duarte, N. (2010, December 10). Nancy Duarte uncovers common structure of greatest communicators [Video file].. TEDx Talks. (N.D.). Presentation Icons. Retrieved from

Guskey, T. R., & Yoon, K. S. (2009). What Works in Professional Development? Phi Delta Kappan, 90(7), 495–500. Retrieved from