Walden University’s Award-Winning Approach to Faculty Training

May 16, 2023

Effective online education at this Adtalem institution begins with an immersive new faculty orientation that emphasizes a ‘Community of Care.’ It continues with expansive evidence-based professional development.

With more than 3,000 faculty members teaching online, it’s no surprise that Adtalem’s Walden University has a robust onboarding and professional development program for faculty. To support Walden’s adult learners, they need to understand the university’s values of quality, integrity, and student-centeredness as well as its mission to effect positive social change. New faculty also get the latest evidence-based best practices in inclusive teaching and learning online at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels.

Recognized for Leading the Way

Leading this herculean effort is Walden’s Office of Teaching and Learning Excellence (OTLE). Their faculty orientation, training, development, and support initiatives recently earned the university a Silver Excellence in Distance Learning Teaching/Training Award from the U.S. Distance Learning Association. OTLE also presented their model to a packed room at the Online Learning Consortium Innovate 2023 Conference in April. 

Preparing to Teach Diverse, Online Learners

For their orientation, new faculty are enrolled in two classrooms—one as an instructor and one as a student. The dual experience immerses faculty in what they and their students will experience. In addition to helping them understand their roles and responsibilities, it focuses on engagement, positive-growth mindset, inclusivity, and social change. It also helps them realize that they need to go beyond a “one size fits all approach.” Walden meets online learners where they are and embraces their desire to advance their education. 

With faculty across the U.S. and around the world, training is online and mostly asynchronous, just as it is for the students they will be teaching. “This allows us to model best practices in distance learning while also putting faculty in their students’ shoes, building empathy for online learners, and providing a safe space for them to demonstrate effective applications that support the needs of our diverse learners,” says OTLE Director Lana Rocca. 

“For the School of Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Studies, it is crucial that faculty understand characteristics of our students and how to respond to them. For example, many of our students are adding school to already difficult schedules, so an empathetic approach to deadlines, feedback, and grading is needed,” says Academic Program Director Gaby Johnson. “The training OTLE provides aligns with our understanding of compassionate and inclusive teaching and learning.”

“When I talk to our new faculty who are in or just ended new faculty orientation, many of them say they have never experienced this much support and training at any other school,” says Dr. Aléjandra Chávez Stuart, faculty development and support coordinator in the School of Counseling. “I think this is why our student outcomes and experiences are so great, because we provide faculty with ongoing resources to be successful.”



Resources at the Ready

For faculty who are new or well-established at Walden, there are resources that range from self-service to personalized. OTLE has built a repository with hundreds of self-paced modules and other learning resources. Topics range from creating a sense of belonging to facilitating group work effectively online. Faculty Support Agents provide personalized support and instructor-led trainings. There is also a board-certified faculty coach who help faculty improve their techniques. Coaching focuses on andragogical practices in group and one-on-one sessions and provides the opportunity to strengthen presence and engagement in the classroom. 

The overall approach is vital to the success of Walden and its students. “Our Community of Care at Walden thrives when we cultivate and nurture an inclusive, caring, and supportive learning environment that promotes academic success and well-being. The Office of Teaching and Learning Excellence is one of the ways we accomplish that,” says Associate President and Provost Dr. Sue Subocz. “This furthers our mission of positive social change and affirms the inherent worth, dignity, and humanity of all engaged in the learning process.”