Online professional development: How to keep faculty coming back for more

October 21, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Students are in class, but Penn State is doing what it can to get faculty who teach online to come back to class, too – as students.

When Penn State World Campus created its faculty development unit in 2008, it offered just one course: Essentials of Online Teaching, or OL 2000.

Today, World Campus Faculty Development offers 17 different courses free of charge to Penn State faculty, staff and graduate students, as well as six certificates, including a Graduate Student Online Teaching Certificate and its newest offering, a certificate in Course Authoring.

“As Penn State’s online offerings have expanded over the years, our faculty development goals have also evolved – from a “one-and-done” approach to a new mission of career-long professional development,” said Shawna Cassick, senior program associate and faculty adviser for World Campus Faculty Development.

Cassick said constant technological advances mean the online teaching and learning environment is always changing, and faculty who teach online need to stay up to date. In addition, because online education attracts a different student demographic than on-campus learning, World Campus Faculty Development offers courses such as “Serving the military and veteran student,” “Teaching the adult learner,” and “Teaching the international student” to help faculty be as prepared as possible to meet the needs of the students they will face. Penn State is a leader in faculty development for online educators, which it believes creates a better student experience and leads to greater student success and retention, Cassick said.

Penn State first started offering online courses in 1998 and now has more than 20,000 students from 85 countries enrolled in more than 150 degree and certificate programs. But faculty members work for their individual departments, not for World Campus, so World Campus Faculty Development can’t mandate that anyone take their courses.

Cassick said Penn State uses a variety of incentives to encourage faculty to take time out of their busy lives to take faculty development courses:

  1. Certificates:

More than 1,300 faculty members and graduate students, including more than 200 faculty members, have earned at least one certificate through World Campus Faculty Development. A few dozen have earned two certificates, and some have even earned three. More than 500 other faculty and graduate students have taken classes but not yet earned a certificate.

More than 1,250 graduate students have enrolled in the free class OL 2050: Essentials of Online Teaching for Graduate Students, which many students see as an important CV builder in the 21st century job market, Cassick said.

  1. Advising:

An advising program for online instructors – set up to mimic the advising program for World Campus students – helps faculty decide which courses to take and certificates to pursue. Cassick said she made almost 4,000 individual contacts with faculty last year in an effort to build relationships and create personal connections.

A course snapshot, similar to the one students see, tells faculty which courses they have registered for and completed, as well as which certificates the completed courses fit into and what they need to do to finish those certificates.

  1. Financial incentives:

World Campus can’t require faculty to complete professional development courses, but individual departments can and do. Penn State’s colleges of the liberal arts, nursing, and earth and mineral sciences, for example, require faculty who want to teach online to take Essentials of Online Teaching. The College of Health and Human Development offers faculty members a $500 incentive for completing an online learning certificate program.

Another financial incentive is the opportunity for faculty who complete the four-course Foundations for Online Teaching Certificate to become paid online learning instructors, teaching other faculty.

With the help of these incentives, World Campus Faculty Development had more than 1,000 course enrollments in both 2018 and 2017, and is on track to exceed that number in 2019, Cassick said.

For more information about faculty development courses, contact Cassick at

Last Updated October 21, 2019