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Faculty Development as Flexible Performance: Competency-Based Curriculum Using the Teaching for Understanding Framework

Andrew Tatusko (The Pennsylvania State University, USA)
Session Information
October 14, 2015 - 3:45pm
Faculty and Professional Development & Support
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Theory/Conceptual Framework
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Northern Hemisphere E4
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 4

An online faculty development program fuses competency-based curriculum design with the Teaching for Understanding (TfU) framework.

Extended Abstract

There is a movement in education that is transforming the way that we understand and assess knowledge and skills students acquire during their academic careers. For centuries the successful completion of a course has been a solid enough inference to conclude a student is well enough trained and loaded with the right knowledge to progress through an academic program on the way to graduation. But how this system produces evidence that students are truly able and knowledgeable in the outcomes of their programs of study has been under scrutiny suggesting a more personalized and performance based framework. There has been a parallel trend in professional development.

"As calls for improving achievement and increasing personalization of student learning echo across the national discourse, new adult learning models are creating the potential for personalized preparation and development pathways for teachers. As student roles change in a personalized learning environment, teacher preparation and professional learning should evolve accordingly in order to offer teacher control over time, place, path and/or pace; balanced goals; meaningful integration and competency-based progression" (Cator, et. al., 2014, p. ii).

Solid groundwork has been achieved in defining online teacher competencies. One exploratory study that identified and categorized "critical competencies for online teaching success from the perspective of experienced online faculty and professionals such as instructional designers, online program managers, support and technical staff, and administrators" formed the foundation for one faculty development program (Ragan, et. al., 2012). Bigatel, et. al. (2012) identified 62 teaching behaviors that were then organized into 7 competency clusters: active learning, administration/leadership, active teaching/responsiveness, multimedia technology, classroom decorum, technological competence, and policy enforcement. The study further supports the claim that professional development of faculty impacts student learning, faculty and student satisfaction, and improved retention rates for faculty and possible for students. As a follow-up to this exploratory study, the same research group will be analyzing student perspectives and outcomes based on the competencies that it previously defined.

While the study lays sufficient groundwork to identify potential competencies, it can be enriched with a theoretical basis to define what competence means and how we can assess it. The study locates teaching competence primarily through Chickering and Gamson's (1987) seven principles of effective teaching and various applications of these principles to online teaching. "Competence" is identified in terms of "teaching behaviors" supported by the material that Bigatel, et. al. (2012) references. For example, Smith (2005) proposed a set of 51 competencies for online teaching that were derived from several studies on online teaching. Even in those materials, competence is rather weakly defined. When it is defined it is done so almost invariably according to behaviorist and functionalist understandings.

Klein, et. al. (2004) list "18 instructor competencies clustered in five general domains and supported by 98 performance statements" (p. 23). These form the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction (ibstpi) instructor competencies and performance statements.

In another study that amends survey results from University of Illinois students with a selection of research on teaching competencies, approximately 247 competencies are identified making this by far the most extensive list. As with the previous competency lists, this study again focuses primarily on both functional and behavioral characteristics of teaching. These categories were the basis for how the competencies were organized. "Functions or roles eventually constructed the primary organization of the competencies" (Varvel, 2007). However, the list also emphasizes social competencies in part because the context in which the study was conducted is formed around a social-constructivist paradigm. The competency document that the study produced then makes a distinction between those competencies that are "considered core necessities" for a competent instructor and those that are not core necessities but are considered exemplary practices.

While faculty development programming often trains faculty to understand online teaching competencies, it can be weak in assessing actual faculty competence for online teaching. There is, therefore, a significant gap between affirming whether or not faculty understand teaching competencies and whether or not they can actually demonstrate them in an occupational context such as a classroom or online space. As Hager & Gonczi (1996) observe, assessing competence is complicated even when specific behaviors relevant to job-performance are observed in context. "(A)ssessing attributes in isolation from actual work practice bears little relation to future occupational performance." This is an important criticism of any model that limits an understanding of competence to specific behaviors as "assessment of competence will inevitably be based on inference from a sample of performance" (Hager & Gonczi, 1996).

Teaching behaviors as a measure of competence needs to be deepened. Why this is so, with what model of competence it needs to be deepened, and how this will be done is the purpose of this paper. This impacts not only how we determine what online teaching competence is, but also how we assess and credential competent online teaching. To do this, I am proposing an holistic model of online teaching competence. Reframing faculty development with this model will build in assessments of competence that will significantly close the gap between the sample of performances of competency that occur in training and development courses and programs and demonstration of these competencies in live occupational contexts. It will also break the notion of competence free from static demonstrations of specific behaviors and skills to a progressive model in order to incentivize increased complexity in competency assessments.

This faculty development model fuses research in competency-based curriculum and the Teaching for Understanding (TfU) framework (Wiske, 1998) in order for faculty to demonstrate understanding of online teaching and learning through flexible performances. The foundation for the new framework is a curriculum map that faculty can use to support and improve their online teaching consistent with both the occupational context and prior learning and experience. The curriculum also breaks ground by using digital badging as a way to track and credential faculty achievements and progress.

Lead Presenter

Andrew holds the Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership, Management, and Policy from Seton Hall University in 2013. His dissertation is titled, The Strained Partnership Between Secularization and Sectarianism in Higher Education. He earned my B.A. in religion from Westminster College (PA) followed by my M.Div. and Th.M. from Princeton Theological Seminary where he won the Fellowship in Practical Theology.

Andrew began work in faculty development as a Senior Instructional Designer at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ and then as a Federal Title III Grant Program Director at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA.

He has published in the TeacherÕs College Record, the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, and the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. He has also co-written a book chapter in the volume, Private Higher Education in Post-Communist Europe: In Search of Legitimacy (2007). Andrew has presented at conferences such as The Association for the Study of Higher Education, the Online Learning Consortium, Educause, and the Educause Learning Initiative.

He is the proud father of two young boys and have an adorable black lab. He is an avid reader, drummer, insatiable consumer of music, coffee fiend, and cycling novice.