Faculty development for online teaching is an opportunity to reflect on and revise teaching perceptions and instructional practice. This study found written reflection activities aided instructors in questioning their instructional decisions. This, combined with dialogue with colleagues, became an avenue for instructors to think deeply about teaching practice, specifically as they were able to benefit from the perspective of experienced online instructors. This study’s findings suggest that having experienced instructors come in to tour their courses, discuss lessons learned, and answer questions about practice helped instructors to see alternative perspectives and contributed to perspective transformation.

Online learning has taken center stage as higher education institutions across the globe sought digital teaching and learning solutions in the wake of the novel Coronavirus. As higher education institutions continue to expand their online offerings, it is important to support instructors with quality faculty development opportunities focused on effective online, hybrid, and remote pedagogies in order to hone their craft and to create meaningful, rich online learning experiences for students.

Instructors must have a variety of pedagogical and technological skills in order to successfully navigate teaching online (Koehler et al., 2007; Puzziferro & Shelton, 2009). The challenges of designing, developing, and delivering high quality online courses are often difficult for instructors to manage on their own (Koehler et al., 2009, Martin et al., 2019). This is, in part, due to the fact that many higher educational faculty tend to draw on pedagogical approaches from their experiences in the in-person classroom to apply in the digital space (Baran et al.,, 2013; Eblen-Zayas, 2021). Yet, as instructors become more familiar with teaching practices online, they often learn pedagogical and technological skills that benefit their teaching more broadly (Scagnoli et al., 2009; Stone & Perumean-Chaney, 2011).

Contrary to what most faculty experience when they enter the college or university in-person classroom teaching space, many online programs across the nation require instructors to engage in faculty development or training that teaches them specific strategies for teaching online. This development often covers topics such as how to craft the digital environment in the learning management system, how to facilitate student interaction online, or how to measure student learning through varied assessment opportunities (Cobb, 2014; Mohr & Shelton, 2017). This process of learning to teach online through faculty development as well as the experience of teaching online may prompt instructors to rethink their teaching (Terras, 2017). Additionally, learning how to use educational technology can act as a catalyst for instructors to reflect on, question, and revise their instructional practices (King, 2002; Lowes, 2008; McQuiggan, 2012). Throughout the process of learning new strategies for online course design, development, and delivery, instructors may also question their assumptions about teaching and learning. As they navigate this new digital teaching landscape, instructors may experience disorienting dilemmas (Mezirow, 1991) that cause them to critically reflect upon their assumptions and change how they think about and approach teaching. This study was grounded in Mezirow's (1991) Transformational Learning Theory, which encapsulates the dynamic, multi-faceted, complex nature of learning to teach online as instructors confront new challenges, are often compelled to reflect on teaching practice, and make connections and construct new meaning through the experience.

In faculty development for online learning, it is important to critically reflect upon values and beliefs regarding teaching and learning and online instruction, and the role of the instructor (Baran et. al.,2011; Cranton, 1996; La Prade, et al., 2014). Kegan and Lahey (2009) highlighted the importance of criticality in instructional practice to promote “growth in our way[s] of knowing” (p. 53). Transformational learning occurs when instructors critically evaluate their assumptions, values and beliefs as they learn. As a result of this reflective process, they experience a fundamental shift and their frames of reference or perspectives (Cranton, 1996; Mezirow, 1991, 2000).

Overview of the Research Design

This qualitative case study (Yin, 2017) emerged from a university faculty development seminar for online instructors taking place within the College of Arts & Sciences at a mid-sized liberal Arts and Sciences institution in the Southeastern United States. The purpose of this study was to examine how, if at all, the online course development seminar changed participants’ perspectives of teaching as they engaged in this professional learning.


All five participants who took part in the fall 2019 Online Course Development Seminar (CDS) were invited and agreed to participate in the study. Although this is a relatively small sample, bounding the case in this way ensured that all participants experienced the same faculty development offering in the same timeframe. They all took the 10-week seminar in fall 2019 and then taught their respective newly developed courses in summer session 2020. Following is a table of participants:

Table 1

Study Participants



Prior Online Experience

Course Previously Taught Face-to-Face






Organic Chemistry

The History of Washington D.C.

Policy Tools in U.S. National Security

Adult Development

Social Media and Global Rhetoric












All newly developed online courses within the College of Arts & Sciences must be developed through the Online Course Development Seminar (CDS). The seminar is a 10-week faculty development program that guides instructors through the design and development of an online or hybrid course. The seminar is structured in two discrete segments, each lasting five weeks. The first five weeks consist of five synchronous modules, including both online and face-to-face activities which guide instructors in mapping out course and module learning objectives, personalizing the course shell in the LMS, crafting all module entry pages, and entirely authoring the first module of the course within Blackboard. This module receives feedback from other participants in the seminar as well as the instructional designer. The feedback instructors receive throughout this process is essential to creating a module that can be used as a base for the remaining modules of the course.

The second five weeks of the seminar occur asynchronously and are used to develop the remaining modules for the course, including all course assessments and learning activities. This course development is completed by the instructor with the support of the instructional designer through weekly check-in meetings as well as with support from the production team in creating instructional media. At the end of the ten weeks, the instructional designer assesses the course’s readiness for launch using the Quality Matters rubric, an industry standard for online courses.

The research questions were as follows: 1. How did faculty participants think differently, if at all, about teaching after going through the online course development seminar? What elements of this experience in the seminar influenced any changes in thinking? 2. How did online instructors think differently about teaching, if at all, after teaching their newly developed online courses? What elements of this experience teaching online influenced any changes in thinking?


A variety of data were generated over the course of summer 2020 and fall 2020. The primary data source was two semi-structured interviews with individual participants (Appendix A) . These interviews were augmented with reflections that participants completed in fall 2019 during the seminar—one for each of the first four modules completed. Additionally, email exchanges and notes from instructional design meetings were used as part of the data collection.

The purpose of my analysis was to understand how instructors conceptualized teaching after the CDS as well as after having taught their courses online for the first time. Specifically, I wanted to know if they had experienced disorienting dilemmas (Mezirow, 1991) and if their experiences had changed their notions of the roles they played as instructors. I began my inductive analysis by coding the transcripts of the first and second rounds of interviews as well as the reflections from the seminar. Transformative Learning Theory provides words that could be used as general codes such as the essential constructs—experience, reflection, dialogue, and empathy—and words from Mezirow’s (1991) schema—disorienting dilemma and roles. In addition to these general codes, I used constant comparative analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) in order to reveal similarities and differences between participants’ experiences. According to Lincoln and Guba (1985), the constant-comparative method requires the researcher to code emerging patterns and themes. Once the data has been coded and grouped into initial categories that emerge from these themes and patterns, the analysis continues until all categories are exhaustive. In addition to the interviews and reflections, I analyzed email exchanges and instructional design meeting memos using a similar approach to category construction, constant comparative method, and subdivision and combination of categories.

A table delineating the three analytical iterations can be found in Appendix B.


The participants revealed several common themes related to specific elements of faculty development that may contribute to changes in thinking and instructional practice. All instructors experienced moments that caused them to question and reflect on their teaching practice. These moments occurred both during the seminar and while instructors taught their online courses for the first time. The transformative moments instructors experienced were varied and further support the situated nature of transformation. To illustrate this variety, the following figure captures three participants’ transformative experiences throughout the seminar and teaching online.

Figure 3
Figure 2
Figure 1

Participants’ Transformative Experiences

Given these changes in perspectives, dialogue with colleagues and reflection on course design, development, and delivery stood out most prominently as faculty development strategies that facilitated changes to thinking and instructional practice.

Dialogue with Colleagues

For the most part, dialogue with colleagues had an influence on instructors’ perspectives about teaching when that discussion engaged instructors who had previous online experience to draw upon. Throughout the seminar, dialogue with colleagues took on two forms. The first was experienced online instructors that came in to speak with the group regarding how they had designed their own courses and about the lessons they learned from teaching their courses online. The second was peer review opportunities where participants provided feedback on other participants’ course design.

Discussion with Experienced Online Instructors

Discussion with experienced online instructors and modelling of their courses influenced how participants conceptualized their own teaching. Throughout the seminar, four guest speakers came in to do course tours where they walked through their courses, discussed lessons learned, and took questions from the group delving more deeply into specific instructional practices. In these sessions, I asked the guest speakers to specifically reflect on what had worked well over the years and what they had learned through trial and error. Participants were also added to these model courses as “students” so they could explore and borrow ideas from their colleagues. Throughout this process, participants were encouraged to reach out to guest speakers to continue conversations about practice as they had specific questions regarding instructional decisions.

John discussed how one of the “primary drivers” of changes to his thinking was exemplars he saw from other experienced online instructors. Because John was grappling with how he could possibly create meaningful discussion online, a colleague who discussed how he navigated facilitating online asynchronous discussion was particularly instructive for him because he helped John to understand how he could be successful “engaging with the medium.” Similarly, Emily felt that seeing how instructors learned from their courses and revised them each year to make them more effective helped her to feel more comfortable trying new things because she didn’t feel like it had to be perfect right from the start. This allowed her to have more of a growth mindset when it came to course design. Sophie discussed how being able to “mimic” the proven instructional practices of her colleagues was helpful in being able to design her course. For Sophie, having her colleague explain to her the importance of guiding questions in leading students towards the learning objectives was transformative because she realized she needed to be more transparent about what she wants students to be able to know and do throughout learning activities to achieve the learning objectives. However, for Connor, engaging with experienced online instructors in this way was not transformative. He recognized the “really cool things” that he saw instructors doing in their courses but was not able to apply many of those conventions to his course. Both Connor’s and Amelia’s experience suggests a need to diversify the guests that come in to speak about their experiences teaching to represent an even wider variety of disciplines and teaching styles.

Peer Review

Throughout the five synchronous sessions during the seminar, we conducted three peer review activities. The first was focused on revising participants' drafted learning objectives to be more specific, actionable, and measurable. The second was geared towards finding evidence of alignment between module assessments and module learning objectives. The third asked participants to walk through the first module of a peer’s course from the student perspective. This process was meant to foster a greater sense of community as well as to strengthen participants’ understandings of online course design.

Peer review activities throughout the seminar did not have any discernible influence on perspective transformation. John suggested these peer review activities were beneficial but limited in that participants were “in the same boat.” Though peer review seemed to help some individuals generate ideas or revise elements of their courses, this activity alone had no real influence on the transformations they experienced. This is not to say that peer review does not have the power to influence perspective transformation. In hindsight, these peer review activities could have been more focused on assumptions about practice and how those may be evident in design in order to generate reflection on practice.

Reflection on Design, Development, and Delivery

Providing regular opportunities for instructors to reflect upon their instructional practice compared to new instructional approaches allowed participants to reconceptualize teaching. Throughout each of the five asynchronous modules that we covered in the seminar, there was a reflection component. For instance, I asked participants to reflect on how the notions of online presence that we covered in the modules aligned or misaligned with their current practices and how they envisioned implementing presence in their online courses.

Connor saw reflection as a mechanism to “connect what he was already doing” to this “formal language” that he was developing throughout the seminar to describe his instructional practices. Reflection activities gave him an opportunity to think about his current practices and how he might want to transform them given new strategies he was learning through the seminar. Similarly, Emily felt reflection allowed her to think about reinventing her course and how to implement new strategies because “professors fall in this trap of, It's just the way I've always done it.” She admitted to getting stuck in the same ways of teaching a course once she’s taught it a number of times. This process of actively reflecting helped to inspire her to think about possible different approaches. For Amelia, reflection of this nature was already well ingrained in her teaching process. Reflection for her is both a tool for her own individual growth and a mechanism to help students connect with the discipline. For John, the reflective writing activities were not as transformative for him as the weekly instructional design meetings. In these meetings he was able to reflect upon design possibilities and engage critically with me as part of his instructional decision-making process.

Discussion and Implications for Faculty Development

Online instructors can benefit from written reflection opportunities that occur during the design, development, and delivery of courses and that focus specifically on how instructional decisions are being made. Additionally, using experienced instructors to share their lessons learned and to model their courses helped novice instructors to see different perspectives of online teaching. This helps to address misconceptions about the modality as well as to aid novice instructors in envisioning how teaching in the online modality differs from their in-person experiences.

Promote Varied Forms of Reflection

Providing varied opportunities for ongoing reflection throughout the design, development, and delivery of online courses can help to embed reflection in instructional practice (Eblen-Zayas, 2021;Torrisi & Davis, 2000 ). This was evident as Connor used reflection to “wrap [his] mind around” his own teaching so he could figure out ways to “grow” as an instructor. Much in line with Kegan (2000), this study’s findings suggest that faculty development for online teaching can act as a trigger for critical reflection that causes instructors to question previously unchallenged assumptions about teaching. Reflection prompted Sophie to overcome her resistance to a different approach to constructing learning objectives, which then led to perspective change regarding how she perceived History as a discipline. McVey (2014) also found that reflection on practice is essential to overcoming faculty resistance to change. The more faculty development can encourage critical self-reflection on beliefs about practice, the more instructors may experience perspective transformation. It was interesting to note that Amelia regarded herself as highly reflective yet did not experience perspective transformation. It is essential faculty developers do not lead with the assumption that instructors need transformation.

Additionally, Brookfield (2000) points out that reflection is not, by definition, always critical, arguing that practitioners can oftentimes reflect on the “nuts and bolts” of classroom practice without uncovering paradigmatic assumptions. Ali and Wright (2017) advocate for reflection on design, development, and delivery processes as a way to transform instructional practice. I suggest pushing instructors further to ask what assumptions are guiding instructional decisions rather than simply how new approaches compare to old. This can be achieved using strategies like the five-by-five

method where online faculty reflect on the following criteria: communication, responsiveness, engagement, expertise, and use of quality instruction techniques (La Prade et al., 2014) in combination with reflecting upon the assumptions underlying instructional practice in those areas.

Provide Critical Mirrors

Dialogue with colleagues became an avenue for instructors to think deeply about teaching practice, specifically as they were able to benefit from the perspective of experienced online instructors. This study’s findings suggest that having experienced instructors come in to tour their courses, discuss lessons learned, and answer questions about practice helped instructors to see alternative perspectives. This is reflective of McQuiggan (2012) who also found online instructors valued discussing ideas with others, hearing other people’s perspectives, and figuring out how all the pieces fit together. Engaging in reflective discourse with colleagues can help instructors to unearth their own assumptions. This was evident as Emily learned about the iterative nature of course design from discussion with her more experienced colleague. Rather than taking a fixed approach to course design, she realized she would be able to make changes in real-time as she discovered new things about using the technology, teaching in the modality, and engaging with her students. This finding coincides with King (2001) which found that as online instructors engage in reflective discourse during faculty development, they delve more deeply into their assumptions about teaching with technology. The relationship between these experienced online instructors and novice instructors reflects the notion of critical mirrors, individuals who can provide “reports from the front” of their own critical journeys and lessons learned throughout their online teaching experiences (Brookfield, 1994). I suggest building upon this relationship between experienced and novice instructors by having them workshop and peer review together in order to foster more critical dialogue regarding instructional decisions. Additionally, ensure a wider variety of courses represented in order to represent various disciplines and teaching styles.


It is clear that there is much potential in faculty development for online instructors to influence thinking and therefore teaching practices, which has the possibility to extend beyond the digital classroom. This kind of formal faculty development has the potential to not only shape what instructors know about online teaching but how they know, which presents many possibilities for not only online teaching but for teaching across modalities. Given the results from this small sample of instructors, it would be worthwhile to conduct similar studies among larger participant pools throughout other faculty development offerings for online educators.


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Appendix A

Semi- Structured Interview Protocol

Interview Questions: Interview 1

This interview has 11 questions. The first part deals with how your experiences may have shaped you as a teacher. The second part asks about any changes in thinking and/or practice you may have experienced as you participated in the Online Course Development Seminar.

  1. Could you talk about one or two significant experiences that made you the teacher you are today?
  2. How would you describe your role as a teacher before you began participating in the online course development seminar. What about after?
  3. Could you describe any moments, if any, throughout the CDS that felt disorienting to you, where you questioned your teaching practice?
  4. Have you noticed any changes in how you think about teaching since taking part in the CDS? What do you think sparked this change?
  5. What. if anything, will you do differently in your online teaching because of this change?
    1. Will your class preparation change? Please describe.
    2. Will your teaching style change? If so, how?
    3. Will student learning activities change? If so, how?
    4. Will your learning objectives for students change? If so, how?
    5. How might this change affect other aspects of your online teaching?
  6. What, if anything, will you do differently in your face-to-face teaching because of this change?
    1. Will your class preparation change? Please describe.
    2. Will your teaching style change? If so, how?
    3. Will student learning activities change? If so, how?
    4. Will your learning objectives for students change? If so, how?
    5. How might this change affect other aspects of your face-to-face teaching?
  7. How do you feel about this change in perspective?
  8. How, if at all, did dialogue with colleagues affect any change in the way you think about teaching and/ or your teaching practice?
  9. How, if at all, did seminar reflection exercises affect any changes in the way you think about teaching an/or in your teaching practice.
  10. How, if at all, has taking part in the online course development seminar affected the way you plan with the student experience in mind?
  11. How, if at all, has anything else outside of the online course development seminar, for instance remote teaching, affected your teaching?

Interview Questions: Interview 2

  1. How, if at all, did anything you experienced while teaching online this summer affect your current approach to teaching?
  2. Could you describe any moments, if any, throughout the summer teaching online that felt disorienting to you, where you questioned your teaching practice?
  3. How, if at all, did anything you experienced while teaching online this summer affect how you currently characterize your role as an instructor?
  4. What. if anything, will you do differently in your online teaching because of this experience?
    1. Will your class preparation change? Please describe.
    2. Will your teaching style change? If so, how?
    3. Will student learning activities change? If so, how?
    4. Will your learning objectives for students change? If so, how?
    5. How might this change affect other aspects of your online teaching?
  5. What, if anything, will you do differently in your face-to-face teaching because of this change?
    1. Will your class preparation change? Please describe.
    2. Will your teaching style change? If so, how?
    3. Will student learning activities change? If so, how?
    4. Will your learning objectives for students change? If so, how?
    5. How might this change affect other aspects of your face-to-face teaching?
  6. How, if at all, has teaching online this summer affected the way you plan with the student experience in mind?
  7. How, if at all, has anything else outside of teaching online this summer affected your current approach to teaching?
  8. Given the changes to face-to-face teaching practice you mentioned earlier, could I possibly come to observe how these are being implemented in your classes? (specify which might be observable or which might be covered by course artfacts)

Appendix B

Analytical Iterations

Iteration 1 Codes

Iteration 2 Codes

Iteration 3 Themes





Disorienting Dilemma Seminar

Disorienting Dilemma Online


Changes in thinking

Changes in practice



  • Mentorship
  • Practice
  • Work with colleagues


  • Student feedback
  • Disrupted lives
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Trust

Disorienting Dilemma Seminar

  • Self-consciousness
  • Course design
  • Technology
  • Peer feedback

Disorienting Dilemma Online

  • Technology
  • Lack of student engagement
  • Inhibiting structure
  • Stress

Initial role

  • Bridge
  • Entertainer
  • Content expert
Changing role
  • Guide
  • Facilitator
  • Sharing the stage
  • mentor
Changes in thinking
  • Dialogue
  • Reflection
  • Confidence
Change in practice


  • Clarity
  • Connection
  • Engaging students
  • Intentionality


  • Bringing in the digital
  • Clarity

Work with colleagues

  • Remote teaching
  • Other development

Instructors teach the way they were taught

Dialogue with experienced colleagues guides perspective transformation

Reflecting is connecting

Empathy humanizing the digital space

Perspective transformation is situated