Historically members of the academy have assumed
that “knowing a subject well is sufficient training
to teach it” (Stevens, 1988, p.64). However, with
increased pressure from students, parents, and
politicians, colleges and universities are being
held more accountable than ever for quality teaching
and student learning; as a result, more emphasis has
been placed on quality teaching than ever before.
Research and publishing are still the sine qua non
for faculty success and institutional prestige;
however, faculty are now expected to be expert
teachers, as well as expert researchers (Boyer,
1990). As a result, faculty find themselves in a
difficult position; they are expected to be high
quality teachers even though they have received
little to no training on how to teach.
In this paper, the author argues that the most
logical, or perhaps most feasible, solution to the
teacher quality dilemma in this new age of
accountability is teacher training. At colleges and
universities, teacher training has manifested itself
primarily in the form of faculty development.
However, traditional faculty development practices
are not sufficient to meet the needs of faculty in
the 21st century. In this paper, the
author argues that the answer might lie in the
marriage of two unlikely partners: online learning
Despite the proliferation of centers for faculty
development, there is little evidence whether
faculty development initiatives are changing faculty
teaching and student learning. While a detailed
analysis of the shortcomings of faculty development
is beyond the scope of this paper, the author
highlights a few pervasive problems or limitations
with faculty development.
Reactive Nature of Faculty Development
One shortcoming of faculty development is its
reactive nature; faculty developers tend to respond
to requests, rather than initiating university wide
strategies for change (Fletcher & Patrick, 1998).
The current overemphasis on training faculty to
integrate technology into the classroom is an
example of this. There is a place for technology in
classrooms, but scholars have illustrated that it is
the pedagogy, not the technology, that makes the
difference in student learning (Clark, 1983; Reeves,
1998). Therefore, for technology to make a
difference in student learning (and hence teacher
quality), faculty need to have a solid understanding
of teaching and learning in the first place. Being
reactive is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it
is important to be responsive to faculty needs. For
instance, Stevens (1988) explains that faculty begin
to “tinker” with their teaching as the result of
either reflection about their teaching or reacting
to a situational problem in their teaching. However,
there is a fine line between reacting to trends or
problems and providing faculty with relevant and
timely support to improve instruction.
Changing the World in a Day
Another problem faculty developers struggle with is
aligning their methodologies and epistemologies.
While research on learning espouses a
learner-centered approach to learning and places
high importance on the transfer of learning (Bransford,
Brown, & Cocking, 1999), typical faculty development
initiatives follow a teacher “in-service” approach
of changing the world in a day. Often this is the
only successful way of attracting faculty to take
time out of their schedule to attend faculty
development in the first place. While extended
workshops are pedagogically appealing, they are
expensive and seldom attract enough faculty.
Attracting faculty to attend faculty development
remains a serious obstacle for faculty developers.
In a recent study, faculty claimed that lack of time
and competing priorities were the two major
obstacles to attending faculty development (Stevens
et al., 2005). To complicate matters, colleges and
universities are relying more and more on part-time
faculty who often have even less formal training
than full-time faculty and even more competing
priorities. In fact, Stevens et al. (2005) found, in
a study they conducted, that part-time faculty also
claimed that lack of time and competing priorities
was the number one obstacle to attending faculty
development. Therefore, for any faculty development
initiative to improve teacher quality it will not
only have to deal with the issue of how to attract
faculty but also address attracting part-time
faculty as well.
Changing Faculty Behavior
Perhaps the most daunting challenge faculty
developer’s face is helping faculty change their
teaching. Even if colleges and universities required
all faculty to attend faculty development to improve
their teaching, it would be a major challenge
“helping teachers ‘unlearn’ the beliefs, values,
assumptions, and cultures” they have learned about
teaching and learning in the academy (Dede, 2004, p.
xii). Dede (2004) explains further,
Altering deeply ingrained and strongly reinforced
rituals of schooling takes more than an
informational interchange of the kind typical in
conferences and ‘make and take’ professional
development. Intellectual, emotional, and social
support is essential for ‘unlearning’ and for
transformational relearning that can lead to deeper
behavior changes to create the next generation of
educational practices. (p. xii)
On top of all of this, faculty developers have to
contend with the issue of competing priorities;
namely, why should faculty devote time to improving
their teaching when promotion is typically tied more
Relevance, Context, and Transfer of Learning
Finally, there are issues of relevance, context, and
transfer. Some attempts at improving teacher quality
have focused on isolating “best practices” or
principles of good teaching. The most prominent work
on best practices come from the work of Chickering
and Gamson (1987, 1999) and Marzano, Pickering, and
Pollock (2001). While lists of best practices are
very popular, it is unclear whether they actually
help improve faculty teaching and student learning.
Vrasidas and Glass (2004) and Cross (1998) have
challenged the trend of making a list of best
practices by arguing that they oversimplify and
overcomplicate learning. However, lists like these
are still plastered over countless faculty
development websites. Just as good teaching requires
more than content knowledge, it too requires more
than a decontextualized bulleted list of best
practices. Faculty cannot afford to forget the
situated and specific nature of learning (Lave &
Wenger, 1991). Therefore, faculty development “must
honor the complexity of teachers’ practices ….
[while allowing] participants to develop the
reflective skills needed to gain new insights into
their pedagogical approaches and teaching practice”
(Vrasidas & Glass, 2004, p. 4).
Therefore, faculty development must be relevant to
faculty’s individual needs; further, it must be
situated and contextual to help encourage the
transfer of learning and changing of practice that
needs to take place. Without contextualizing and
making things relevant, attracting faculty and hence
helping support the transfer of what faculty learn
to their own classroom to improve their teaching is
A Possible Solution
Given these and other shortcomings, faculty
development might not appear to be the best place to
start to improve teacher quality. However, given the
culture of the academy (e.g., requiring teacher
training is almost as unrealistic as systematically
changing the reward structure), faculty development
appears to be one of the only realistic and viable
solutions. There is no question that each of the
previously mentioned shortcomings must be addressed
in part if any faculty development initiative or
program is going to be successful. However, the
author argues in the following pages that online
learning and storytelling can help improve faculty
development, which can ultimately improve teacher
Online learning is drastically changing the face of
higher education (Daugherty & Funke, 1998; Kezar &
Eckel, 2002). Online learning was expected to come
and go like other fads in education, but enrollments
in online courses and programs continue to grow
dramatically each year. In the fall of 2005, an
estimated 3.2 million students took at least one
online course—800,000 more than the previous year
(Allen & Seaman, 2006). As a result, a great debate
surrounding the quality of online learning has
arisen. An unintended consequence of this debate, as
well as online learning’s continued popularity, is
that online learning is serving as a catalyst
forcing colleges and universities to reconceptualize
teaching and learning (Daugherty & Funke, 1998;
Duffy & Kirkley, 2004; Speck, 2002). While, it is
the pedagogy, not the technology, that makes the
difference, different learning formats (e.g., the
internet) have certain affordances (e.g., Ryder &
Wilson, 1996). Furthermore, Wiley (2002) eloquently
argues that the online learning environment
influences how one teaches (i.e., teachers teach
differently online than in the classroom).
Therefore, given the popularity and the
possibilities of online learning with students, it
is surprising how little online
learning—specifically facilitated asynchronous
learning (the most popular form of online learning
in higher education)—has been used by colleges and
universities for faculty development.
Online Faculty Development
As the popularity and success of online learning
continues, online faulty development is beginning to
be acknowledged as a viable alternative to
face-to-face faculty development (Shea, Sherer, &
Kristensen, 2002; Vrasidas & Glass, 2004). Putting
faculty development online addresses some of the
shortcomings or limitations of faculty development.
Also, as Vrasidas and Glass (2004) explain, ‘the
demands of work and family life for teachers
[coupled with the rise in part-time faculty] . . .
underline the need for professional development
activities that can be delivered anytime, anywhere”
Online faculty development is still in its infancy,
though. However, when it has been used, it has been
used primarily to train faculty to use technology in
some form—whether for online teaching or to
integrate technology into the classroom (Irani &
Telg, 2002; Padgett & Conceicao-Runlee, 2000). This
focus, falls short of supporting the needs of all
faculty members, and loses sight of one important
issue: In this age of accountability, faculty
development’s primary objective should be to improve
faculty teaching and student learning, both in the
classroom and online.
Using online faculty development that reflects an
understanding of these issues and meets the needs of
the faculty at large is not an easy task; a few
universities have begun to do this with mixed
results (Bellows & Danos, 2002; Wood et al., 1998).
The experience of these institutions, as well as the
literature about online learning, suggests that
putting faculty development online can address some
of the problems addressed earlier in this paper.
First, by using asynchronous communication or
self-paced workshops online, all faculty can access
workshops at their convenience. Therefore, this
format can help address attracting faculty to attend
workshops by eliminating issues of time and place.
Second, by putting faculty development online,
faculty developers can increase “seat-time” by
extending the workshop over time and avoid the
problem of changing the world in a day. Third, while
online faculty development has not been shown to
specifically address the challenge of changing
faculty’s teaching, there is reason to believe it
could. For instance, Vrasidas and Glass (2004)
Students learn best when they are actively engaged
in meaningful activities; when they collaborate with
peers, exchange ideas, and provide and receive peer
feedback; when they reflect critically on what they
are doing; when they work on real-world,
challenging, authentic activities; when their work
is constantly evaluated; and when they are
intrinsically motivated. But we tend to forget that
teachers learn best in these ways too. (p. 2)
Thus, if online faculty development workshops were
approached with these same strategies in mind, there
is reason to believe that in time faculty could
begin to improve their practice.
But simply putting faculty development online will
likely not be enough to improve teacher quality. For
instance, while eliminating issues of time and place
by putting faculty development online helps address
part of the issue of attendance, it fails to address
how the content, context, and relevance (or lack
thereof) of faculty development workshops also
dissuade faculty attendance. Therefore, the author
argues in the remaining of this paper that the use
of storytelling could be the missing ingredient
needed to help improve teacher quality with online
The Power of Stories
Stories and storytelling might seem like a strange
thing to pair with online learning to improve
teacher quality, but the power of stories to improve
learning has been well documented (Abrahamson, 1998;
Connelly & Clandinin, 1994; McDrury & Alterio,
2003). While there is very little literature
specifically on the use of stories in faculty
development, the literature on storytelling in
education suggests that the intentional use of
stories and storytelling could greatly improve
faculty development by addressing among other things
the issues of content, context, and relevance.
Before elaborating, it is important to highlight
some of the reasons why people tell stories and why
faculty should tell more. The power of stories lies
in their ability to build bridges of understanding
between individuals. Stories do this through using
concrete examples rather than vague abstractions (or
bulleted distillations). Further, “story provides
the framework and context for individuals to better
understand others by providing the key to their own
experiences” (Abrahamson, 1998, p. 441). Stories
also have the ability to build connections with
personal experience, which helps facilitate meaning
making and retention. For instance, Schank (1990)
We can tell people abstract rules of thumb [e.g.,
the “seven principles”] which we have derived from
prior experiences, but it is very difficult for
other people to learn from these. We have difficulty
remembering such abstractions, but we can more
easily remember a good story. Stories give live to
past experiences. Stories make the events in memory
memorable to others and to ourselves. (p. 10)
Further, Schank adds:
Thinking involves indexing . . . [and] the more
information we are provided with about a situation,
the more places we can attach it to in memory . . .
. Thus, a story is useful because it comes with many
indices . . . the more indices we have for a story
that is being told, the more places it can reside in
memory . . . and hence the greater the learning. (p.
This should not surprise anyone though. Story is
perhaps the oldest form of education.
Storytelling and Faculty Development
Stories come to life during the social process of
sharing or telling one’s story with others. The act
of telling a story creates a sense of community,
which fosters collaboration, which then fosters
meaning making. Burk (2000) explains, “through oral
storytelling, students may feel empowered as
participants rather than passive recipients of
knowledge” (p. 7).
It is because of these reasons, and many more, that
colleges and universities need to begin
intentionally integrating and leveraging the power
of story and storytelling into faculty development.
As Burk (2000) points out, “storytelling is a
pedagogical strategy that gives students ‘voice’ in
the classroom” (p. 3). By having faculty share their
own stories, while also hearing and reading the
stories of others, faculty developers can begin to
approach faculty development from an additive rather
than a deficit or remediation model. Through sharing
their own stories, faculty can begin to become part
of the process and the solution rather than the
problem. Further, the act of sharing stories can
have a magical and humanizing effect on learners
(Kreps, 1998) while at the same time contextualizing
and adding relevance to learning.
Ackerman and Maslin-Ostrowski (1995) have perhaps
most successfully integrated the writing and sharing
of educational stories with adults. They have
developed what they call the “case story.” According
to Ackerman and Maslin-Ostrowski (1995), “a case
story is both a written and oral description of a
real life, ‘close-to-the bone’ leadership situation,
written with words meant to come fully to life when
discussed” (p. 1). More specifically, they have
developed a case story model that involves having a
group of people first free write and then write a
case story; then after they have written a case
story they share their story in small groups. After
they share their story with their colleagues, they
reflect on the writing and sharing process and then
wrap up and conclude while thinking about
professional practice (Ackerman & Maslin-Ostrowski,
While Ackerman and Maslin-Ostrowski developed the
case story and used it for educational
administrators at the K-12 level, it could be
adapted to meet the needs of higher education
faculty. For instance, faculty developers could have
faculty share stories about their best or most
effective learning experience as a student in order
to explore collective values of teaching and
learning before talking about the successes or
challenges of teaching (Lowenthal, Dunlap, Stevens,
Wray, & Bates, 2005). While integrating faculty
stories into faculty development could undoubtedly
help improve face-to-face workshops, the power of
online learning is needed to extend these learning
opportunities to all faculty.
Online Faculty Development and Teacher Stories
Faculty, even more than students, are skeptical of
online learning. Therefore, as mentioned earlier,
putting faculty development online is not a panacea
for faculty development. In fact, in a recent
study, even faculty who taught online did not
express interest in doing faculty development online
(Stevens et al., 2005). Similarly, the intentional
use of teaching stories is not enough to motivate
and change behavior for all faculty at all times.
There is not a silver bullet to improve teacher
quality. The fact that teaching is often a private
enterprise and not valued by many only complicates
matters further. However, people share things online
(whether in a discussion forum or an email) that
they normally would not in person. Therefore, it is
possible to think that one of the often drawbacks to
online learning, the fact that learners cannot see
each other, might be an asset when it comes to
putting faculty development online that entails
sharing personal stories about ones practice.
Last but not least, using digital media in the form
of digital storytelling can add another dimension to
using teacher stories in online faculty development
to improve teacher quality. Digital Storytelling is
the process of using digital media (e.g., pictures,
audio, video) to tell a story. This definition over
simplifies what digital storytelling is just as the
act of writing about digital storytelling over
complicates it. According to Porter (2004), “digital
storytelling takes the ancient art of oral
storytelling and engages a palette of technical
tools to weave personal tales using images,
graphics, music and sound mixed together with the
author’s own story voice” (p. 1). Despite recent
trends to incorporate digital storytelling in K-12 (Banaszewski,
2002) and higher education classrooms (Lowenthal, in
press; Robin & Pierson, 2005), there is an absence
of literature documenting its use for faculty
development. However, there is reason to believe
that digital storytelling could be a very effective
faculty development tool (Lowenthal, Stevens, &
Digital stories could and should be used like case
studies (Lowenthal et al., 2005). However, unlike a
case, a story does not have to begin or center on a
“problem” that is to be “solved.” Rather, faculty
and faculty developers could create digital stories
to document both good and bad teaching experiences.
But unlike a case, digital stories not only bear a
higher fidelity, they also invite the listener to
experience their story. The power of the voice is
something that cannot be captured the same simply in
An example of what this might look like would be to
have faculty develop their own digital stories
documenting their most memorable learning experience
or a recent classroom challenge. An example of this
can be seen online at:
Through creating a digital story like this, faculty
could not only indirectly receive training on how to
use technology, while reflecting and connecting with
colleagues about best teaching practices, but they
could also reflect on best practices in action.
Further, digital stories like these could be
uploaded and shared online—across universities—at
places like Story Circles (http://storycircles.org)
or Youtube (http://www.youtube.com).
Vrasidas and Glass (2004) remind us that “research
has shown that teachers tend to teach as they were
taught” (p. 3); however, teachers often emulate
average teachers, not the spectacular. Digital
stories, whether one’s own or others, have the
ability to change the way faculty developers can
motivate faculty to think about their teaching and
to take part in faculty development. While the
academy has instilled a culture in which teaching is
a private, isolated, experience—digital stories
coupled with online faculty development have the
potential to slowly open the doors and minds by
giving faculty a safe, semi-anonymous, accessible,
and inviting place to learn by sharing stories about
our experiences in the classroom.
Institutions of higher education expect faculty to
be exceptional teachers as well as active
researchers and prolific writers. While faculty
developers are expected to help faculty—who are not
naturally high quality teachers or who have received
previous teacher training, traditional faculty
development initiatives have struggled attracting
faculty to attend workshops, trying to change the
world in a day, and changing the way faculty teach.
As a result, some institutions have begun to explore
the possibilities of putting faculty development
online to address these problems. However, just
because workshops are accessible from anytime and
anyplace does not mean that faculty are going to
make any more free time to devote to these
activities. Storytelling, though, has the ability to
not only attract and maintain faculty’s interest by
contextualizing and situating their experiences in
story but also has the ability to help faculty
reflect on and possibly change the way faculty teach
by presenting material in a novel and fresh, yet
traditional and intuitive manner. It is unclear
exactly where faculty development is going, but one
thing is clear—if what you are doing, is not
working, then it is time to try something new; that
something new should involve online learning and
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